Saturday, April 25, 2015

Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form

Above: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark in the BBC One television series Poldark, which premiered in the UK on Sunday, March 8, 2015.
(Photo: BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan)

I'm happy to report that Poldark, BBC One's television series based on Winston Graham's acclaimed series of historical novels (written between 1945 and 2002), is both a critical and ratings success.

Indeed, not only has a second season of Poldark already been commissioned, but none other than Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has praised the program, going so far as to call for its continuation for another eight years, presumably the time it will take to film all twelve Poldark novels.

The first series actually concludes this weekend in the United Kingdom, while in both Australia and New Zealand it's still underway. Folks in the U.S. won't see Poldark until it premieres on PBS on June 14. (Thanks to my friend Karen in the U.K., I've already viewed a number of episodes of the first series. But I'm going to hold off on sharing my thoughts – all positive, I should say – until a future post!)

Over the past month or so in the U.K., there has been a number of insightful comments and reflections shared about various aspects of Poldark. Following is a sampling.

It’s no surprise that Poldark’s appeal had endured. From 1945, when Winston Graham first published Ross Poldark, to the first TV dramatisation in the '70s, when apparently vicars had to change the times of evensong because the pews were empty of parishioners who needed their Poldark fix, he is a hero for any age. He’s imbued with a social conscience, sees the heroine as an equal rather than a commodity to be conquered and possessed, and manages to do all this in a pair of pleasingly tight breeches without banging on about his feelings all the time.

– Sarra Manning
Excerpted from "In Ross Poldark, We Have Reached Romantic Hero Nirvana"
The Guardian
March 25, 2015

Poldark fever is all about us. Red-headed and feral, Demelza Carne, the scamp [played by Eleanor Tomlinson (left)], is up against the impetuous yet generous temperament of Ross Poldark [Aidan Turner (above)], always championing the underdog. Cornwall beckoning, even though some of the film has been shot in the Cotswolds. The men could learn a thing or two about the finer arts of scything and some of the women ought to eat a few more pasties. But in Poldark, geology, coastline and landscape are as important as tides, weather and human emotions. Mining, like film directing, is an expensive and dark art. You never know until the end whether you have succeeded.

Much of the film script is drawn from smelting down ideas and refining the characters portrayed in the Poldark books written by Winston Graham, but let us not lose sight of the man, the novelist. This time dialogue and plot is more faithful to the original novels which would please Winston.

– James Pascoe Crowden
Excerpted from "The Solitude of Wartime Coastguard Duty
That Led to Poldark’s Birth
Western Morning News
April 24, 2015

[Poldark is] a splendid series and proof that, in the right hands, romantic historical drama can be just as satisfying as the recent and more intellectually rigorous Wolf Hall, which is another BBC triumph.

It's also a career-making series for Dubliner Aidan Turner, who brought all the requisite good looks and smouldering flair to the role of Ross, and a real sense of decency, too. And it's also given us Eleanor Tomlinson, whose Demelza was even more winning than Angharad Rees' portrayal in the 1970s series and whose rapport with her co-star is the real making of this new and improved version.

– John Boland
Excerpted from "This Poldark is the Real ­Romantic Thing
The Independent
May 4, 2015

The beauty of Poldark [is that] time after time it sets up splendidly melodramatic situations, and makes heroes of its characters by forcing them through hellfire.

– Gerard O'Donovan
Excerpted from "Poldark, Series 1, Episode 7 Review
The Telegraph
April 20, 2015

[The makers of Poldark start with] 1940s novels that mirror the dark times just after World War Two, and to give them credit, they are doing this far more authentically with the central characters than the progressive 1970s series. And as [Poldark author Winston] Graham did, they are given voice to the marginalized and powerless, the abject, the lowest of the low, in a wide ranging perspective which includes underlying economic realities.

– Ellen Moody
Excerpted from "This Year’s Consuming Costume Historical Film Adaptations: Poldark and Wolf Hall
Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two
April 13, 2015

One thing that Poldark is capturing quite nicely is the sweeping social change that was beginning to happen in the late 18th century. Revolution is in the air all over Europe and the old order is beginning to worry just a tad about their place in society. The miners are revolting, sons of labourers run the banks, and women (women!) are starting to get all uppity. . . . However, this is the 1780s and the social order is being rattled more violently by nouveau riche gents [such as George Warleggan, played by Jack Farthing (left)] rather than frustrated wives and sisters.

– Chris Bennion
Excerpted from "Revolution is in the Air as Women Fling Mud
in the Eyes of the Silly Chaps
The Independent
April 20, 2015

Professor Steven Fielding – director of the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham University – points in a recent article to the radical context of [Winston Graham's Poldark novels]: "The first Poldark novel was published in 1945, the year Britain elected a Labour government intent on building a more egalitarian society. Graham's work was shaped by that context." Fielding even sees the maid-marrying hero as "a kind of 18th-century Robin Hood" whose "romantic life echoes his ambiguous place in the social order." . . . To Fleming, "Contemporary Britain resembles the world of Poldark, with elites of various sorts appearing to run roughshod over laws and morals in pursuit of advantage." He wonders whether there might be "a real political force out there, able to tap into their inner Poldark." Tops off, comrades, and let's whet those scythes.

– Boyd Tonkin
Excerpted from "Heroic and Tragic Truth Behind Poldark
The Independent
April 10, 2015

[Aidan Turner's Ross Poldark is] a man who cares about the poor and dispossessed, who thinks nothing of marrying his kitchen maid and comes up with the genius, enlightened idea of a business co-operative, in an attempt to end the Warleggan stranglehold on copper prices. What powerful stuff, what a fairytale, what devastating Sunday viewing – who is thinking of Downton Abbey now? The BBC does know how to cast their leading men and they also know how to spin a great story.

. . . [T]here is far more to Winston Graham’s colourful, picaresque tale of 18th Century Cornish life, than the battle for a largely female Sunday night audience. On a simple level, Poldark is a love story, across the social divide, with the scandalous union between Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne and all the delicious opportunity, this throws up for scandal and social and financial ruin for Ross – as the gentry punish him by refusing to do business with him.

In the seventies' version, coming hot on the heels of the swinging sixties, the political overtones of Graham’s novels are largely toned down, and overlooked, in favour of much bed-hopping, debauchery, and comic Cornish accents, with the Spectator's famously louche columnist, Geoffrey Barnard, declaring he loved the series, but lamented its "lack of a message."

No one could accuse [screenwriter] Debbie Horsfield’s 21st Century version of lacking a message.

– Alison Jane Reid
Excerpted from "Poldark: A Meditation on Love, Compassion and Power"
Ethical Hedonist Magazine
April 26, 2015

Friends of mine in both Britain and Australia are also weighing-in on Poldark. Here's what some them have to say via Facebook . . .

Watching this beloved story unfurl once more in such perfect form is a quite unbelievable and overwhelming experience. The years we have dreamed and schemed for this and deliberated over who could ever take on the precious roles. And now, to see the whole thing emerging so gloriously, thanks to Debbie Horsfield's inspired script and the phenomenal way in which Aidan and Eleanor are interpreting their roles, is exquisitely wonderful. I feel like I've come home somehow when I watch the slow budding of their relationship develop delicately from master and servant, to master and friend, and then the beauty of seeing affection softly awakening into sexual attraction and the dawning of love. It's blissfully in keeping with the tender romance of Winston Graham's original story and to see it played out against the captivating splendour of the magical Cornish landscape is breath-taking. Poldark has come home to our screens and back to its cherished home in our hearts forever.

– Karen Knight
West Wittering, West Sussex, United Kingdom
March 23, 2015

Watched it and am hooked! Thanks for recommending it, Michael.

Kristy Naughton
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
April 12, 2015

I enjoyed it and will definitely keep watching. Costuming, script and cinematography was excellent for a TV series (as was the makeup with lots of dirty faces and bad teeth for the peasantry), although the weather was just a bit too good (WT, blue skies in England?) – sombre weather would have set the tone better for his unwelcome and dispiriting homecoming (but is that just too much of a cliche?).

Haven’t read the books (or even seen the 1970s series), but perhaps also a bit more background to his suggested wayward/carefree life before the war would have helped as it seems to come across that he was a bit of a lad – sort of return of the prodigal son, but without the welcoming father (and his money).

My only real peeve is that surrounded by a number of good attempts at earthy 18th century Cornish/West Country dialects, Aidan Turner’s trans-Atlantic accent was just that bit bland for ancient landed (but impoverished) gentry. Oh, and that Demelza sorely needs a good feed!

Andrew Worthington
Brisbane, Australia
April 12, 2015

Enjoying the series, Michael. I love historical romance. Reminds me of one of Judith McNaught books.

Heather Sills
Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia
April 24, 2015

Enjoying it . . . looking forward to the next episode.

Margaret Bayly
Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
April 22, 2015

In conclusion, I share the following clip from a beautiful and pivotal scene from the fourth episode of season 1 of Poldark (written by Debbie Horsfield and directed by Ed Bazalgette).

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Poldark Gets Second Series After Ratings Help BBC1 to 10-year High – Jasper Jackson (The Guardian, April 8, 2015).
BBC Plans to Make Poldark and Other Hit Shows 'Internet First' – Hugo Gye (Daily Mail, April 9, 2015).
Poldark's Return: Everything You Need to Know About the BBC Remake – Dominic Midgley (Express, February 26, 2015).
The First Reviews of Poldark Are In . . . – Rachel McGrath (The Huffington Post UK, March 9, 2015).
Author Winston Graham's Family Give Thumbs Up to BBC's Poldark – Simon Parker (Western Morning News, March 9, 2015).
Meet the Cast of Poldark – Ben Dowell (Radio Times, March 8, 2015).
BBC's Poldark Adapts to Our Times – Tara Conlan (The Guardian, March 9, 2015).
Poldark and Handsome – Michael O'Sullivan (Mike's Movie Projector, March 23, 2015).
Seven Reasons Poldark is the New Downton Abbey – Evie Bowman (The Window Seat, April 2015).
Don’t Be Sad – Poldark Will Return! Here’s the Writer on What You Can Expect in Series Two – Debbie Horsfield (BBC TV Blog, April 23, 2015).

See also the previous Poldark-related Wild Reed posts:
Poldark Rides Again
Ross Poldark: Renegade of Principle
Return of the (Cornish) Native
"A Token of Wildness and Intractability"
Passion, Tide and Time
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
A Fateful Reunion
Cornwall's – and Winston Graham's – Angry Tide
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"


Michael O'Sullivan said...

Great Post. Yes, season one ends this evening here in UK, literally with a cliff-hanger, but there will be a second series.
Its an enormous success here, as the original was back in the 1970s. Here is my review from a few weeks ago:

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Michael . . . for both your comment and the link to your review. I've added it to this post's list of "Recommended Links."



Andrew Worthington said...

Great read Michael. Now I've had the benefit of seeing the first few episodes its moving a lot faster than I would have thought for an 18th C period drama. I was expecting Ross and Demelza to be exchanging furtive looks for at least a couple of series! What on earth will they fill the series (and the several more based on the books) with? I love the surrounding economic and social context.