Thursday, November 30, 2017

Celebrating Poldark

Season 3 of Poldark, to be precise!

Here in the U.S., PBS recently concluded its broadcasting of the third season of the British TV drama, Poldark. This particular season (or series as they say in the U.K.) was shown earlier this year in Britain, Australia, and elsewhere. I actually watched it when I was home in Australia in July and August.

Of course,that didn't stop me watching it again when it hit TV screens in the U.S. on October 1. In fact, I hosted a "Poldark party" at my home not only on the night of season three's premiere but each Sunday night thereafter until the season ended two weeks ago.

Above: My "Poldark party" on the night of the show's season 3 premiere – Sunday, October 1, 2017. From left: John, Lisa, me, Brent, Jim, Brent, Kathy, and Pete.

I'm not going to go into what Poldark is about because, as regular readers of this blog would know, I've long been an admirer of author Winston Graham's series of twelve novels that Poldark is based upon . . . and have been since I first read them as a teenager in the late 1970s. For those unfamiliar with Poldark, I suggest the previous Wild Reed posts that can be found here, here, here, and here.

Suffice to say that season 3, like the previous two seasons, is set against the beautiful and rugged Cornish coast in the closing years of the eighteenth century. It's a troubled time, with social unrest in Cornwall and war and revolution across the English Channel in France. There is personal strife, too, with Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) and his wife Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) rebuilding their lives after experiencing marital turmoil and financial hardship.

Season 3 covers the fifth Poldark novel, The Black Moon, and part of the sixth, The Four Swans. Of course, I recommend all the Poldark novels, but have to admit that The Black Moon is one of my favorites. For one thing it introduces a number of new characters, including Demelza's brothers Sam and Drake Carne, Elizabeth's young cousin Morwenna Chynoweth, the handsome navel officer Hugh Armitage, and the truly odious Rev. Osbourne Whitworth.

Production-wise Poldark is exceptional – solid scripts, beautiful cinematography, impeccable acting, complex characters, and engaging storylines involving personal passions, political intrigue . . . oh, and a daring raid on a French prison camp!

The following screencaps from season 2 provide a good example of Poldark's very cinematic look. I just love it, especially the use of light to create truly memorable, vignette-like scenes.

Following are excerpts from a number of reviews of Poldark, season/series 3, along with a few pics from this latest season of the show. And, yes, there will be a fourth season!

It's quite an achievement that Poldark's series 3 opener makes a lot of set-up and introduction feel easy and involving. Ross is still Head Haircut, and Aidan Turner still a magnetic lead, but Series Three feels like the point where the show puts greater emphasis on activities beyond Ross's copper-finding strops, and demonstrates the strengths of an excellent – and expanding – ensemble cast.

– Rob Smedley
Excerpted from "Poldark Series 3, Episode 1 Review:
Sunny and Sexy, But Things Get Real Dark, Real Fast
Digital Spy
June 11, 2017

We can measure the distance of the first four Poldark books (written 1945-53, Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan) from the trilogy written 20 years later, (1973-77, The Black Moon, The Four Swans, The Angry Tide), upon which the third and two seasons at least next must be based. In the [1973-77 trilogy], [author Winston] Graham chooses to realize truly historical characters (not just invented ones), linchpin capitalists and great landowners, Tory (Lord Falmouth, from his mother’s side a Boscawen) or Whig (Sir Francis Basset, later Lord Dunstanville). Not fantasy figures at all. And in [season three] Ross is deeply conflicted over what he has done in the past, and what he should do for the future, and [for a while] seems to have decided retreat into his nuclear family and friends is the best right option. He will discover that he is wrong here.

. . . My first response is as all previous encounters [with the 2015-present Poldark TV series]: I think how [each new season] is not as good as [the previous one] (in this third season the dressers of Ross are back to allowing him to have utterly unkempt hair), and neither as effective . . . as the 1970s [TV series]. . . . Yet, as in previous encounters, I admit [screenwriter Debbie] Horsfield is following the general story and at moments more literally true, elaborating seriously on what is in the books. The 1970s equivalent did not show Elizabeth trying to get rid of the child or bring on parturition as crudely or melodramatically as Horsfield had the actors clash (Ross just happens to be on a cliff where Elizabeth seems to be trying to throw herself over); these are incidents George half-glimpses in the book and whose significance he fails to understand. It is made pointedly clear in episode 1 that Ross and Demelza believe Elizabeth’s second baby’s father is Ross. Ross cannot resist hanging around Trenwith; after the baby is born, we see him running frantically on the beach to calm himself, bending over in twisted ways frustrated that he can do nothing for this son; Demelza justifies her returning to see her father die despite his abuse of her because there is a special bond between father and child which must not be ignored. Horsfield is developing cores of the books.

– Ellen Moody
Excerpted from "Poldark, Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2:
Again Changing Emphases, Bringing Out Sense of Community
Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two
July 2, 2017)

Above: Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her brothers Drake (Harry Richardson) and Sam (Tom York).

It was all births, deaths and marriages in this belter of a series opener. Lead the fallen souls of Cornwall! ‘Tis the coming of the shadow of death – and the curse of the black moon. Bang the drums and hear the waves crashing on the shore, Poldark’s back.

There was enough going on in this episode to fuel an entire series of any other drama. And yet it all seemed fairly normal because this is just the pace at which things move in Trenwith and Nampara: let’s call it a lively mare’s gallop.

. . . [Season 3's premiere] episode did a good job of getting us back up to speed if we had forgotten the drowning of Francis; the long-standing feud between Evil George and Ross; Elizabeth and Ross’s ambiguous night of (coerced?) passion; and Aunt Agatha’s premonitions about a baby who would be coming suspiciously soon. Why, Elizabeth, all this heavy book-lifting and those three-mile walks; anyone would think you were trying to induce the birth. I felt like sending round a vindaloo to speed things up less dangerously.

– Viv Groskop
Excerpted from "Series Three, Episode One
– Ross Gallops Back Into Our Lives
The Guardian
July 30, 2017

Above: Heida Reed as Elizabeth Warleggan (née Poldark, née Chynoweth).

Above: Jack Farthing as George Warleggan.

Above: Caroline Blakiston as Aunt Agatha in her BIG scene of season three.

[Poldark's third season] has turned out to be pure class. I admit I got confused by the politics, but there were shenanigans aplenty what with medically censored marital relations, a pining blacksmith, and an exceptionally generous sister to distract us from the more complicated plot points.

– Viv Groskop
Excerpted from "Series Three, Episode Eight
– Bigamy Has Never Looked So Romantic
The Guardian
July 30, 2017

[Season 3's final] episode is dominated by the stories of the female characters, staying true to the sixth Winston Graham novel, The Four Swans. This gives Poldark's female cast a chance to truly shine, a rare sight in a show which can be somewhat male-centric. Eleanor Tomlinson is always superb when bringing the character of Demelza to life. The actress continues to develop the character, expertly portraying both the betrayed wife and her own infidelity. Another star of the episode is Ellise Chappell as Morwenna, the wife of the ghastly Reverend Whitworth (Christian Brassington). She brilliantly depicts Morwenna’s suffering at the hands of her husband and her slow transformation as she begins to stick up for herself. It is perhaps Morwenna who has had the most development throughout the series, shifting from an innocent to the survivor of sexual assault.

Despite the finale’s female focus, Jack Farthing still gives a superb performance as George Warleggan. Although it takes great skill to make a character as unlikeable as Warleggan, Farthing proves his talent when he actually makes the audience feel sorry for the unlikeable monster. In the episode’s standout scene, George is confronted and lied to by his wife Elizabeth. For once Warleggan is shown to be fallible. Heida Reed is excellent as Elizabeth in this scene too. Brilliantly confronting George, it’s an exchange that really shows off how talented an actress Reed is.

Overall, the Series 3 finale of Poldark is amazing. As the audience have come to expect from Poldark, the cinematography and production values are flawless – what would a Sunday evening be without a few ominous shots of the Cornish coast. After the epic finale of Series 2, it was difficult for Series 3 to raise the bar, but the long-awaited shift to focus on the female characters manages it. The incredibly talented female cast are finally allowed to take centre stage in this expertly crafted episode. With Series 4 already confirmed, it’s an exciting wait to see how Poldark will develop further. I have only one suggestion for further improvement; more Horace the Pug!

– Megan Isaac
Excerpted from "Review: Poldark (Series 3, Episode 9)"
The Edge
August 7, 2017

Above: Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Enys (née Penvenen)
and Luke Norris as Dr Dwight Enys.

Above: Josh Whitehouse as Lieutenant Hugh Armitage.

Above: Christian Brassington as Reverend Osborne Whitworth.

Above: Ellise Chappell as Morwenna Whitworth (née Chynoweth).

[T]he novels of Winston Graham cast Ross Poldark as a paragon of decency in a troubled world. There is some complexity in the current adaptation, notably the question of whether Poldark rapes Elizabeth, ignoring her repeated protestations of “You will not dare”.

Graham considered himself to be “an instinctive feminist” – a level of commitment to gender equality which might not pass muster today – and it’s notable that Alfred Hitchcock considered the rape scene in his adaptation of Graham’s novel Marnie to be central to his 1964 psycho-sexual thriller. (Critics did too, which is one reason Marnie is not well-regarded).

But should historical figures in popular fiction be bound by contemporary mores? Or, to put it another way, would Poldark be more interesting if his moral flaws were more pronounced?

– Alastair McKay
Excerpted from "What Makes Poldark
the Epitome of Post-feminist Crumpet TV?
BBC Arts
June 6, 2017

Above and below: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, "renegade of principle."

Following are a few more pics of the various Poldark-viewing parties I hosted throughout the duration of season three.

Above: At left with my friend Pete (center) and his boyfriend Jeffrey – October 22, 2017 (the night before my 52nd birthday!).

Above: Friends (from left) John, James, and Don – November 5, 2017. John made those Cornish pasties you can see! . . . And, yes, they were delicious!

Above (from left): Javier, my boyfriend Brent, Pete,
Jeffrey, LeMonte, John, and Jim – November 12, 2017.

Above: Gathered for the Season 3 finale! From left: Pete, Tim, Kathy, Raul, Javier, Brent, Jeffrey, and John – November 19, 2017.

Above: Another pic from the November 19 Poldark, season three finale gathering. From left: Me, Raul, my boyfriend Brent, Pete, Jeffrey, Kathy, John, Jim, and James.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Return of the (Cornish) Native
"A Token of Wildness and Intractability"
Ross Poldark: Renegade of Principle
Poldark Rides Again
Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form
Thoughts on the PBS Premiere of Poldark
Meanwhile in Cornwall
The Renegade Returns
He's Back!

For more excerpts from the Poldark novels, see:
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels
Passion, Tide and Time
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
A Fateful Reunion
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Cornwall's – and Winston Graham's – Angry Tide
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

Related Off-site Links:
Meet the Cast and Characters of Season 3 of Poldark – Alex Flether (BT, June 9, 2017).
Poldark Stars Pose in Promo Shots for Third Series – Julia Pritchard (Daily Mail, June 5, 2017).
Poldark Season 3: French Revolution "Casts a Shadow" on Cornwall – Sachin Trivedi (International Business Times, May 31, 2017).
Poldark Season 3 Review: Drama Returns with a Cursed Child, Two Deaths and a Truce – Jessica Earnshaw (Express, June 11, 2017).
Poldark, Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2: Again Changing Emphases, Bringing Out Sense of Community – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, July 2, 2017).
Poldark, Season 3, Episodes 3 and 4: The Difficulty of Returning to Material 20 Years Dormant
Poldark, Season 3, Episodes 4 and 5: A Deeper Emotionalism; a Loss of Verbal Subtleties; Late Stage Capitalism Replaces Exciting Adventure – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, July 25, 2017).
Poldark, Season 3, Episodes 6 and 7: Coerced and Reluctant Relationships; Agatha’s Death, Ross’s Refusal, Demelza Charmed – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, August 6, 2017).
Is Poldark Going to End After Five Seasons? – Ben Dowell (Radio Times, May 29, 2017).
Poldark: Episode by EpisodeThe Guardian (2017).
Poldark Series Four Likely to Air in Early Summer 2018 – Ben Dowell (Radio Times, November 1, 2017).

Images: Mammoth Screen/BBC and Michael J. Bayly.

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