Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ross Poldark: Renegade of Principle

BBC One has released an official trailer for Poldark, its "epic eight-part adaptation of Winston Graham’s acclaimed saga" . . .

Poldark will premiere on Sunday, March 8 in the UK. Here in the US, the series will be presented by PBS Masterpiece and debut on the evening of Sunday, June 21. I intend hosting a "Poldark party," to which my guests will be encouraged to come in eighteenth-century garb! Won't that be fun?

But seriously, I'm very excited about this new adaptation of a series of novels I've long respected and enjoyed. New editions of the first two Poldark novels, Ross Poldark and Demelza, are set to be published, and the thought of them being prominently displayed in bookstores and libraries everywhere is something I look forward to. For me, it really is all about the books, and I'm very much hoping that the BBC's adaptation brings people to experience and recognize them as the beautiful and powerful works of literature that they are.

The books' publisher, Pan Macmillan, notes that Andrew Graham, Winston Graham's son, says that his father "was deeply attached to Cornwall [the setting of the novels]. He loved the ever-changing sea, Cornwall’s mining tradition, its people and the Poldark characters he created. Most writers wish for a lasting legacy and here we see his – in wonderful new editions of the Poldark novels, their fresh adaptation for television by Mammoth Screen, and in the reissue of Poldark’s Cornwall with brilliant new photos. He would be thrilled."

The twelve Poldark novels and the first TV adaptation in the 1970s remain immensely beloved by many people, and when in 2008 he was asked why this was the case, Richard Morant, who played Dr. Dwight Enys in the 1970s series, offered the following as an explanation.

It's about love; it's about betrayal – the things that hurt us, the things that give us joy. Like any kind of creation where people are going through their emotions, expressing their feelings of love, life and death, it evokes strong attachments, strong passion. And you love it! You love them, you love the people, you cherish them, you honor them, you respect them.

Above: Aidan Turner as Ross, the "dark Poldark."

Notes series writer Debbie Horsfield:

Ross Poldark is one of literature's great heroes: a gentleman who is also a rebel, who has a keen sense of morality and social justice but without any priggishness or moralizing. He's also a great romantic figure – caught between two women from two completely different backgrounds. A gentleman who marries his kitchen maid. A man who doesn't stand on ceremony, who doesn't play by the rules and often falls foul of authority.

Adds series executive producer Karen Thrussell:

Cornwall is a massive part of the books and our adaptation. Nowhere else looks like it: the huge skies, four seasons in one day climate, the quality of light, it's rugged beauty scarred with mines, the powerful surging sea and the wind beaten moors. The elemental passion of the landscape and changeable nature of the place has echoes of Ross Poldark's personality.

His scar was very noticeable this morning. Often it was as if that chance sword-thrust in Pennsylvania remained with him and had become a symbol of the nonconformity of his nature, the unabiding renegade.

– Winston Graham
Excerpted from Warleggan (the fourth Poldark novel)

Says Aidan Turner about his character:

Ross Poldark is very fair and honest but he's not just this benevolent saint; he's quite lawless and he doesn't have much respect for authority. He's a bit of a renegade . . . [but also] a man of principle, a man of real moral code – a proper sort of old school hero.

Above: Ross and Elizabeth (Aidan Turner and Heida Reed).

Says Reed about her role in Poldark:

Elizabeth is fundamentally a nice, genuinely warm person and [series writer] Debbie [Horsfield] has done an amazing job at bringing her alive and making my job so easy!

I think she is very much a lady of her time, trapped in her own world. It is important for Elizabeth to know her place in society and be respected by those around her. She could follow her heart more but she feels morally she must do the right thing even if she suffers for it. Elizabeth never voices regret but I think her predicament will strike a chord with people today.

Above: Ruby Bentall (left) as Verity and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza.

Says Tomlinson of her chararcter:

Demelza starts off as an urchin [who Ross] mistakes for a boy. Poldark decides to take her under his wing and almost brings her up [as] she's pretty much a child when he first meets her. . . . She gets very lucky and she can't quite believe her situation, but she never loses sight of where she's come from. She's a good person through and through.

About the series, Tominson says: "It's about love, about passion, and about people working together. Above all it's this fantastic romance, this love triangle between Poldark, Demelza and Elizabeth."

Above: Jack Farthing as the ruthlessly ambitious banker George Warleggan.

Says Farthing about his role in Poldark:

George is a layered and elaborate character. Some people would call him a villain but I shy away from that description. What makes him so exciting is that he is like any one of us; full of jealousy and resentment, he motivates himself and has this vast ambition and inability to decide what he wants. It has been very satisfying to get my teeth into the character.

Ross and George haven’t seen eye to eye since they were at school and it hasn’t been explained why, which is really interesting as it could be any number of things and we talk through all these different alternatives. When we find them at the beginning of the series, there have been years of simmering resentment and it's grown into something bigger. They absolutely are pitched against each other.

Above: Ross and Demelza – passion, tide and time!

I close with an excerpt from The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795, Winston Graham's fifth Poldark novel, first published in 1973. In this excerpt, Ross shares with Demelza his thoughts on religion. This sharing is prompted by a request by Demelza's two brothers, Sam and Drake, for a corner of Ross' land to build a meeting house for their small Methodist community.

His pipe had gone out and he lit it again.

. . . "I suppose I have nothing really against the Wesleyans," he said. "And I know I should examine my prejudices from time to time to see if they should not be abandoned. But for one thing I mistrust folk who are always bringing God or Christ into their conversations. If it is not an actual blasphemy it is at least a presumption. It smacks of self-conceit, doesn't it?"

"Perhaps if you –"

"Oh, they always claim to be humble, I grant you; but their humility does not show in their opinions. They may be fully conscious of their own sins, but they always are more concerned with other people's. In their own view they have found salvation, and unless the rest of us follow in their path we are damned . . ."

Demelza put down the tiny pair of trousers and picked up a sock. "What are your religious views, Ross? Do you have any? I wish I knew."

"Oh – practically none, my love." He stared into the sulky fire. "I imbibed from my father a skeptical attitude to all religions; he considered them foolish fairy-tales. But I don't go so far as that. I have little use for religion as it is practiced, or for astrology, or for belief in witchcraft or omens of good or ill-luck. I think they all stem from some insufficiency in men's minds, perhaps from a lack of a willingness to feel themselves utterly alone. But now and then I feel that there is something beyond the material world, something we all feel intimations of but cannot explain. Underneath the religious vision there is the harsh fundamental reality of all our lives, because we know we must live and die as the animals we are. But sometimes I suspect that under that harsh reality there is a further vision, still deeper based, that comes nearer to true reality than the reality we know."

"Hm," said Demelza, rocking gently. "I am not sure that I know what you mean but I think I do."

"When you are fully conversant with it," Ross said, "pray explain it to me."

She laughed.

"My political views," he said, "are similarly substantial. This war [against France] is bringing out all the contradictions in them. I have always urged reform, even to the lengths of being considered a traitor to my birth and situation. I saw much that was good in this revolution in France; but as it has gone on I am as eager to fight it and destroy it as any man . . ." He blew out a thin trail of smoke. "Perhaps it is in my nature to be contrary, for I always see the opposite side from that of the company I am in. Even though I did not like the American war I went to fight the Americans!"

Silence fell. . . .

For my Wild Reed writings on Poldark, see the following posts:
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"

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Gravity of Love

Recommended Off-site Links and Updates:
The Poldark Novels in Context: A Syllabus – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, February 15, 2015).
Poldark: An Adaptation of the First Two Novels in Winston Graham's Poldark Series – BBC One Media Center (February 17, 2015).
Aidan Turner Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 17, 2015).
Eleanor Tomlinson Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 17, 2015).
Jack Farthing Talks About Playing WarlegganPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Heida Reed (Elizabeth) Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Kyle Soller (Francis) Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Ruby Bentall on Playing VerityPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Poldark Fan? Why Not Visit the Top Seven Locations Used in New TV Adaptation?The Falmouth Packet (February 18, 2015).
PoldarkCornwall Today (2015).
New Poldark Series Not a Bodice Ripper – Chris Hastings (Daily Mail, February 21, 2015).
Poldark: The Return of Romance – Emily Hourican (The Independent, February 23, 2015).
BBC's Poldark Remake: Stars Speak of 'Pressure' of 1970s Hit – Tara Conlan (The Guardian, February 24, 2015).
Poldark's Back on TV! Now Find Out What Happened to the Stars of the '70s Drama – Sam Creighton (Daily Mail, February 25, 2015).
Can Poldark Recapture the Glory Days?BBC News: Entertainment and Arts (March 4, 2015).

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