Dwight Ennys (Richard Morant), the idealistic doctor come to study diseases and help Cornish miners, bandaging up Keren’s sprained ankle (1975 Poldark, Episode 5 written Paul Wheeler, directed by Paul Annett)
‘You must be new to the profession’ … [Clive Francis as France to Dr Ennys who says he cares not for money] … ‘it fare tears your heart” — Robin Ellis to anyone listening a quiet irony on the absurdity of the play they have all just witnessed] … (Paul Annett’s script, 1975 Poldark).
Dear friends and readers,
As in Episode 5, Horsfield’s mini-series turns to adapt the Graham’s second book, Demelza, I thought I’d remind people these comparative blogs assume the reader has read at least the first seven books; though I usually only refer to the first quartet, Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark & Warleggean (1945-53), conceived of as a single continuous story, since the later trilogy, The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide (1973-77), take the series in a somewhat new direction socially. At the outset I suggested how the twelfth and last book, Bella Poldark (2003) resolves the tragedy of The Angry Tide (the 7th book), and the opening estrangement of Ross and Elizabeth in the first (Ross Poldark); now if a coming event is contingent upon and shapes what happens earlier (as is common in good romans fleuves) I reserve the liberty to describe events in the second quartet, The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword (1981-90) if needed.
I specify the first seven as these were the books adapted in 1975-78 by the BBC in 29 episodes, over 3 years with a one-year hiatus, and I assume the reader has watched this earlier series. I offer no recaps, snarky or worshipful. So don’t read on, if you don’t want to know anything at all about the books beyond what is mis-, or accurately represented by this week of the present new series and know nothing and care less about the previous best-selling mini-series (see The First Season, Episodes 1-4 of the second).
I regret to have to say with the best will in the world to like this new mini-series, the fifth episode moves to a new direction: it is about mines heavily, about Verity and Blamey indirectly, the breakdown of the Francis-Elizabeth Poldark relationship, but there are new characterizations which are hard to fit in with what is to come. The second is more obvious than the first, easier to state. The presentation of Francis in 1975 as a semi-tragic figure (Clive Francis had the part right, he also played in Joe Orton plays in the 1960s) and Elizabeth as angry at Ross, mercenary, selfish in the books and 1975 series leads into his death by drowning (so wasted, like a helpless dog in a pit, says Ross) and Ross’s enraged rape of her. Horsfield has scuttled all this entirely for the present Elizabeth (Heidi Reed) as pious mother, as the series opens come to tell Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (as if she needs telling as she is continually presented with a doll or live baby attached to her) how motherhood is central to a woman’s existence and men just don’t understand. This new Elizabeth is made into an upholder of patriarchy in the person of the (nasty, sordid, mean Charles in 2015) to whom Francis (Kyle Soller), says Elizabeth, standing worshipfully in front of Charles’s picture, cannot hold a candle. I, for one, felt great empathy when the new Francis’s strongest desire was to escape her, and cannot see how the series can adapt Warleggan except to change these central complex events or erase them.
It takes time to discover how it is that with 58 minutes Horsfield omits (erases) most of what is riveting and important about central Othello romance of Demelza between Mark Daniels and Keren, the traveling actress, an apparent daughter of low status working class people, while in 1975 with a mere 48 (50 with the paratextual music at the close), Annett does more than includes what matter fully: as in Pullman’s rendition of the fair in Ross Poldark where we witness a St George and the Dragon play, Annett dramatizes a typical later 18th century sentimental tragedy, one which foreshadows what is to come, and is undercut by Jud (Paul Curren ever droll, ever mocking) and Ross himself (Ellis with an ability at irony says quietly “it fare tears your heart” — the best line and best delivered in all this material).
Horsfield has many scenes in the mines as she tracks the creation of the smelting scheme: she opens there with men hard at work, sweating away, and she closes with the closing of Grambler, Francis’s mine and (as in all the episodes thus far) the figures of Ross and Demelza against the landscape (her option to be sure), with some unfortunate sentiment about from Ross about how much richer his life is for being poorer. Not to distract, Horsfield keeps presenting us with Demelza and Ross to the forefront in little vignettes of just this type, we see them in their relationship eating, walking, he returns from wherever he’s been (as if he worked an 8 hour day and she was at home with the baby) or in bed together. These are not about their relationship developing or deepening, but about the creation of the mine as a basis for a new community. The wedding of Mark and Keren repeats the motifs of Jim and Jinny Carter’s wedding,and I find myself distressed to see how Keren is characterized simply as a heartless whore. .
Demelza is a book about the heroine coming to adulthood, maturity, signalled by her having to cope with some decisions of hers that lead to disaster at the close of the book; to be fair, Annett glided over this material to focus on Ross’s rage and despair when Francis’s treachery, a reaction to his blaming the loss of Verity to Blamey to Ross; but if Horsfield choses to dwell on it, it’s up to her to characterize Demelza in an adult fashion. Her Demelza rises to sullenness, resentful of Ross’s decision to have her parents at the christening with his relatives, and frightened of Ross’s peremptory command that she leave Verity where she is, not interfere. The couple of of the 1975 couple (Angharad Rees equally intimated and unable to cope with the upper class) allow us to see a couple finding companionability and not much more, but then they don’t take up much time.
The mine scenes and Francis’s improbable gambling away of his mine on a single card game (in the book the mine is lost over a few years of gambling, drinking and yes spending time with prostitutes, not just one) are central to this episode as well as the slow re-build up of Verity and Blamey’s relationship really through them silent in scenes they are marginal to. Ross is striving zealously trying to be succcessful against great odds (though Horsfield again in a dialogue between Jack Farthing as George and Ross again blames Ross for not cooperating more with the offered compromises as a productive thing for him to do, no matter how distasteful). Again we learn how Choak is this bad guy undermining all, mean-minded, profit-oriented, narrowly selfish, his doctoring techniques thus do not indict the profession at the time as a whole (which is implied in the book). In 1975 the Warleggans are bad guys, and their cousin, Sanson, a craven cheat, but they are made to stand for types of capitalist (Nicholas works within the law, George is brutal, ruthless, a liar, hires false witnesses).
We are expected to believe in a party with almost no one there. When Ross attends the sluicing of Francis’s money by Sanson, the only visible person to talk to is Margaret wearing Francis’s latest expensive gift. In all the party scenes in 1975 there were groups of actors intermingling, talking, epitomizing different themes, carrying forward different aspects of the stories and capturing the characters in intriguingly suggestive moments. In 1975 Clive Francis was the wit of the hour, teasing Ennys for his unexpected willingness as a doctor to work for little money (“You must be new to the profession”), coming to Ross’s meeting to start a smelting venture and objecting realistically (will they find copper? what is to be done about the banks); it costs a great deal to unwater a mine, to gouge out new tunnels, he is badly in debt already). Really the last thing he wants to think about in the book and 1975 episode is what Elizabeth is thinking (he is frustrated by her rude and sneering behavior at the christening as absurd and petty).
Horsfield’s feminism emerges as to say the least limited when she presents Keren as simply a desperate slut, taking advantage of the naive Dr Ennys who doesn’t know quite what to do when she asks him to dance. The important scene in the book (and dramatized in 1975) is that Mark falls sleep on the wedding night and the pair do not have sex. Keren must lie down next to him with nothing to occupy her mind but her understandable deep disappointment a true hut built of stones and mud in 24 hours(that is what Mark tries for in order to own the land as freehold) facing the wrong way so that she is alone in darkness much of the time. Horsfield is interested in group identity and Keren is an exploitative outsider.
Ruby Bentall plays the Verity part as did Norma Streader: she cannot bear to know the same pain again; Richard Harrington is able to act the part of Blamey as a sensitive man as the actor before him did not (in 1975 he was socially awkward, unable to communicate with people easily)
The secondary story-line done justice to and given added complexity is that of Verity and Blamey. We have several scenes in this one episode, two encounters where they are given talk that has content, less it must be admitted than in the book and 1975. These dialogues are strung out across a couple of episodes in 1975 so there is more time for development. As in 1975 the meeting in the haberdashery shop is seen against a food riot, and the refusal of Sanson Warleggan to bring the price of bread at all down. The kind of grating departures seen in previous episodes though appeared again: why have Demelza lie openly in front of us and pretend not to have taken notice of the riots. How does that help keep Ross off the trail of the new developing romance? In 1975 and in the book Demelza is given a short speech about how little it would have taken to satisfy the men’s demands.
Thematically in episode 5 of 2015 there was a hesitancy in the abrupt didacticism of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the show. In 1975 we see the British soldier beating the miners, maiming them badly with their swords, killing some people (with close-ups). None of that happens here. Horsfield stays clear away from the Enlightenment anti-religious hypocrisy themes of the book and 1975. In the book’s christening and in 1975 it’s clear Demelza’s parents are incensed because they were not invited to be with the upper class and they take this out by shouting how vile and sickening is the drinking, the women’s revealing clothes. In 2015 the source of the rhetoric, religion, with the Bible quoted is eliminated.
The crowded varied christening: in this shot Ross meets Ennys who explains something of himself, the two bankers, Pearce and Pascoe have just been discussing money and mining, Demelza is about to break in witn her anxieties ….
On just the 1975 episode 5: this film follows the story line more or less of Graham’s book, Demelza: we open with the childbirth, Demelza’s worry that Ross will be disappointed with a boy; he is not. We move to the christening intended to be on two days with Demelza’s lower class relatives on a second one, Demelza’s parents disrupt thee first day and create ugly spectacle (with some characters behaving well, including Ross and Francis) and others taking advantage; Ennys is introduced as a Cornishman who prefers not to practice in Cornwall. It may seem so surprising today (especially to Americans) to see this idealistic doctor, but this type is found in later 18th century novels and a number of 19th century ones (Lydgate in Middlemarch, Trollope’s Dr Thorne, Gaskell’s Mr Gibson, Martineau’s Deerbrook); the slow progress of science, what is the nature of the body tie into the progressivism of the politics of these and Graham’s book. Grateful to Verity’s behavior at the christening, Demelza begins her campaign to establish contact with Blamey on behalf of Verity.
Ross starts his company of smelting with the bankers — hidden from Warleggan. We see workers trying to wrest bread and corn from the wealthy factors, being denied, a riot, and soldiers coming in and beating these people up mercilessly. Francis has to fire his workers and is afraid to buck Warleggan and is moving into a deeper depression yes because of the failure of his mine and his loss of position and power as the head of an ancient family.
Graham returns to again and again to troubled marital relationships, especially when one or the other of the pair is dissatisfied sexually. Elizabeth prefers her son to her husband, and is seduced by Warleggan’s monetary success and the gifts he brings her child. This the 1975 film brings out. Even today to show a wedding night is unusual: when in the book and in the 1975 film the girl, Karen, is led to marry the worker, Mark Daniels to escape the troop life she had been living (a glorious scene of Ross, Demelza having the neighborhood over to have a play done in their farmhouse by the way), he falls asleep that night. He’s exhausted from building the house and getting the land that way. we see she is finding sex with him unsatisfactory and how she is bored with him, how child-like he is. It’s another couple is presented as having fraught difficulties because of sexual life does not cohere to supposed norms — which are themselves shown to be unreal. I know the presentation is somewhat misogynistic because Karen is presented as by nature ungenerous, exploitative, cold, and she is making up to the young new doctor, Ennys too quickly, but the film and book show that her reaction to Mark’s density and the conditions and hours of her life is understandable. Ennys feels her attraction to him, but is at first trying to ignore it. Keren did have aspirations as we see Demelza has — and Demelza’s are satisfied. Demelza and Ross are not quite the gold standard couple because we have been given more than enough in the previous episodes to show that Ross is still deeply attached to Elizabeth. In this triangle we have a repeat of how sexual enthrallment, investment fails as a criteria for picking a mate and creates terrible miseries for people.
To say what may be said of Horsfield’s mini-series, the 2015 way of making the movie provides for montage and lyric sing-song rhythms across the sequences of images. It’s anachronistic to have Ross treat his workmen as his friends and work to build a hut alongside them; the 1975 distance that Ellis keeps between himself and Mark (as his employer) is much more accurate for then and probably now, but it does not hurt in our present environment to have a central costume drama for the BBC and PBS once again presenting deep sympathy for working people, and this folk sense of rhythm and presentation is part of it. It put me in mind of the way some people seem to see or read Hardy.
The invention of the neurotic and self-destructive Francis is interesting in itself as portraiture; the actor is good at this tough role. I empathize with him; the scene of Elizabeth finding some peace with her son is good too — the problem is what does one do with the storyline of Graham’s 3rd and 4th books.
The originality of Graham’s book reflected in the Annett-Wheeler 1975 treatment of Demelza is the insight that couples experience fraught difficulties because their sexual life does not cohere to supposed norms (that is partly what is now happening between Blamey and Verity), which are themselves shown to be unrealistic. They too present Francis and Elizabeth suggestively. By episode 5 too (noticed by Graham) the film-makers were thinking of the four books as a whole and making the outer story line and presentationsof the character fit the trajectory of the plot — so the tragic death and rape to come make deep sense, are meaningful.