Sooner or later, everything that is old is new again—if we wait long enough! Masterpiece Theatre, and its phoenix Masterpiece Classic, is well-aware of this. Having successfully presented period drama for over forty years they have been a bit redundant at times. I lost track years ago of which version of David Copperfield we were on, so when I heard the news last year that the BBC and PBS were joining forces again to retool Poldark, one of my all-time favorites, I was jubilant. Enough time had passed to ride the Cornish cliffs with Ross Poldark again.
Based on the cherished historical fiction novels by Winston Graham, Poldark was originally adapted for the screen and presented in 29 episodes in 1975 and 1977. It was a sensation on both sides of the pond. Period drama fans still rave about it, including this one! As one of Masterpiece’s early landmark productions it remains the second best-selling period drama series ever created, only surpassed by the monumental Pride and Prejudice of 1995 staring Colin Firth. That is some pedigree.
Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark and Heida Reed as Elizabeth Chynoweth
The new seven part series of Poldark premiers on Masterpiece Classic PBS on Sunday, June 21 and continues through August 2. After following the media frenzy as it aired in the UK in March and April of this year, and seeing the new series myself, I can share that period drama fans have the summer to fall in love with Poldark. I can assure you that it will only take about five minutes to be totally besotted.
Happily, this new adaptation by Debbie Horsfield closely follows the plot and characterizations in Winston Graham’s fabulous novels. In 1783, Royal Army officer Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returns home to Cornwall a scarred soldier from fighting in the American Revolutionary War. It is a disheartening homecoming. His father Joshua has recently died, his sweetheart Elizabeth Chynoweth (Heida Reed) is engaged to his cousin Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller) and his inheritance, the family estate of Nampara House, farmland and tin mines totally derelict. There does not appear to be any reason for him to stay and he contemplates his Uncle Charles Poldark’s (Warren Clark) advice and financial support to move on and find a new life elsewhere.
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Carne
The local economy does not fare much better. The tin and copper mines owned by landed gentry are in serious decline, while upstart banker George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) extends credit, forecloses and builds an empire on the hard work of others. Bonded to the land, his tenant farmers, and the hope that Elizabeth will return to him, the temptation to leave and take the easy road is not even a serious option for this Poldark. With the help of two of his father’s idle servants, Jud and Prudie Paynter (Philip Davis and Beatie Edney) and a street urchin turned kitchen maid Demelza Carne (Eleanor Tomlinson), Ross fights to rebuild his pride and his family fortune.
If you have not seen the original series or read the twelve book Poldark Saga, let me tell you that there are some big shoes to fill. Captain Ross Poldark is an iconic romantic hero to rival Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester and John Thornton. He’s rebellious. He’s broody. He’s the dark Poldark; the one with the youthful reputation as a wastrel, gamester and smuggler floating over his left shoulder. Deeply committed to helping the local villagers, his proletariat views are not welcomed by his own class. In his mind, what is right to be done cannot be done soon enough regardless of the consequences. He abhors aristocrats and their privileged way of life—delighting in thumbing his nose at them in scandalous ways. His two love interests (yes there is a love triangle) are entire opposites physically and socially. Elizabeth, a well-bred, accomplished fair-haired beauty whose duty to her family weighs heavier than her heart’s desire and Demelza, a spunky red-headed miner’s daughter with no education or social skills, but a loyal and compassionate spirit, vie for his affection. He marries one, but is haunted by the loss of the other. The curse of the Poldarks—once their hearts are given they are not easily withdrawn.
Demelza and Ross ride together along the scenic Cornish coast
While the story is strongly character driven, the land is the un-credited star of the series. Produced by Mammoth Screen, Ltd, Poldark was filmed entirely in England with stunning shots of scenic Cornish coastline and moors. Some of the most breathtaking views are of Ross galloping across the seaside clifftops with the sweeping music by Anne Dudley playing over the cinematography by Adam Etherington and Cinders Forshaw. Directors Edward Bazalgette (episodes 1-4) and William McGregor (episodes 5-7) reveal the life struggles of the community and the intimate lives of our key players with sensitivity and aplomb, keenly aware of the challenges of those who live off of nature’s bounties and shortfalls through farming, fishing and mining.
Ross and Elizabeth share a country dance at the local Assembly Ball
Poldark may be about as far from the refined and controlled elegance of Jane Austen’s drawing room comedies as one could be, but there is no reason for Janeites to repine. There are manor houses, balls, frocks, witty banter and moving love stories to satisfy the romantic in all of us. And for those who crave adventure, get ready for fist fights, riots, prison breaks, duels and pillaging.
Fine fashions, a handsome hero, romance and swashbuckling action may draw many viewers to this new adaptation, but I believe they will stay because the heart of Poldark lies in its compelling story of the struggles and transformation of its characters who face good and evil, greed and revenge, and love and redemption. I hope you will join me this summer as I review all seven episodes—visiting the hearts and lives of fascinating characters.
Cheers, Laurel Ann
- Visit the official Poldark page at Masterpiece Classic PBS
- Read the PBS Poldark Season One Episode Guide
- Follow The Poldarkian for all the series news with me on Twitter
Images courtesy of Mammoth Screen, Ltd., Masterpiece Classic PBS © 2015, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2015, Austenprose.com