Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) walking down the stairway by herself
A young lady’s entrance into “le monde” who has not the status of a lady (1975, Paul Wheeler scriptwriter and Paul Arnett director, 2015 Debbie Horsbield scriptwriter and William McGregor director)
Dear friends and readers,
Another comparative blog but from another angle than those previous. This blog looks differently than I have before at the distinctively different characterizations of the 2015 mini-series (especially Francis and Elizabeth Poldark, both Paynters, George Warleggan) and the marginalization and lack of individuality given secondary characters (Jim and Jinny Carter, Dwight Enys) from Ross Poldark and Demelza and the 1975 mini-series, which also evidenced strong departures from the book (again, Elizabeth, though in the earlier film version, a very hostile presentation, Ross himself made far more domestic, less an angry radical Jacobin). What lies between most books and the films based on them is a mainstream audience, few of whom (in comparison with numbers watching the movies) have read or might like the books, most of whom conform to mainstream social norms of the year in which a film is made. Experience shows the way to understand a given film is to study the other films made by the screenplay writer and/or director.
So, as far as this was possible, one should look at Horsfield’s previous films. She’s been the writer of six TV series (and stray episodes), one panned (True Dare Kiss), all contemporary, respected. One has gained real praise, All the Small Things, and is available as a DVD so I’ve bought it and hope to compare it with her Poldark. It’s much harder to find distinctive material for directors of BBC films as the linchpins are the writer and producer who often hire directors after they have decided central aims for themselves. One of the volumes one of my essays on Trollope films appeared in had as its perspective filmic intertextuality (Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation edd. Abigail B. Bloom and Mary S. Pollock): all the essays (including mine on the Palliser films) showed how intertextuality among films helps explain them (Simon Raven’s other film adaptations of Edwardian material helped explain his Palliser films). Intertextuality also brings into play the screenwriter’s politics, themes and use of genres in other films. For now I have to wait until All the Small Things arrive.
So here we study the distance between the book and its film adaptation as this 2015 episode like the first, third and fourth, basically covers the same material as the 1975 equivalent episodes, only having 8 minutes more. I am using as a jumping off point Graham’s Demelza, Book 2, Chapter 5 (when Ross becomes aware that Jim is dying in the prison) to Chapter 14 (when after the ball, George and his father, Nicholas, determine to break the Carnemore Copper Company by calling in the loans of those of its members who banks with them, Anibundel’s mainstream blog showing how people who have not read the book nor seen the first film adaptation react to the new mini-series, and my own memories as well as three essays I’ve read on the subject of the 1975 audience’s reaction (remarkably uniformly favorable including those who had read the books, far more than today).
The novel dramatizes the heroine’s difficult entrance into the upper class world for the first time. She cannot hold her own against the upper class males who show little respect for her because she lacks any status or rank even if married to Ross Poldark. This is the spine of the part. The ball is preceded by Ross’s attempt to save Jim Carter from death, with the help of Enys. The book makes it clear (as historical research does) that in this era prisons were increasingly critiqued and regarded as hellholes – they became a central bone of contention for the French revolution and in England in the 1790s. I own two facsimiles of books published in the era exposing the horrors of such places. Making Carter’s crime poaching is like Hugo choosing to make Jean Valjean’s crime stealing bread: everyone know that the Draconian poaching laws were a disguised war of the propertied against the propertyless and justice was meted out laughingly unequally. Verity’s presence at the ball is minor; Francis is rather troubled by the money he owes the Warleggan bank and lost to the cardshark, Sanson; he is troubled by Elizabeth’s obvious love for Ross. Verity and Francis have been close and he is hurt by her defection from him too. Elizabeth is there, but avoids Demelza (intensely jealous, but ever the upper class woman of integrity it’s the tactful and easiest thing to do). Demelza can hold her own against the spite of Miss Teague, now Mrs Treneglos, and the treatment of the Brodugans of her as a slut, but cannot manage the aggressive males because she does not understand the card signing system is an instrument to do that. Instead the men use her card against her. The powerfully theatrical lenghthy gambling scene is an invention of the 1975 film (by Wheeler), Ross does not risk his mine (he’s not a fool) and does not carry on to near bankrupt lengths, nor does he throw Sanson into a trough of water (Sanson is a Warleggan, not a servant like Jud). Halse is there as depicted in the 2015 film (he does not appear in the 1975 one), but the evening ends on Demelza breaking down under the pressure of harassment, finally Ross coming over to her to put with his authority as her husband to put a stop to her misery. At first he blames her (as men blame women who have been raped) but recognizing how she was at such a disadvantage, and how it was his duty as her husband to be by her side this first time, he apologizes.
In the book there are no remarks from any of the characters but Halse (who embodies the ancien regime) that Ross did wrong to pull Jim Carter out of prison. Jim Carter matters — as black people today in the US think they matter. A huge issue for the 3 revolutions in the era was the criminal justice system and how it threw individual away. The great act of 1789 were when the soldiers joined the people to open the Bastille.
As to the other additions in the films.
2015: The Verity scenes in the ball are from Austen’s Persuasion. Nowhere in the book does Blamey accuse Verity of timidity. Wentworth is angry at Anne Elliot for not rebelling. Blamey does not see Verity as timid. She is not. When I’ve taught the books girls in the class cannot stand Verity because she is obedient to family norms and does not seek power as an individual. You can see her type in Philippa Gregory’s Mary Boleyn (only Mary is easy about sex), Austen’s Fanny Price: it’s a very real character type in the era from the early modern period to the middle 19th century. In the ball Francis does see Blamey but he is all caught up in the gambling and never forbids Verity to see Blamey again nor outright insults him. Blamey is beneath Francis in Francis’s mind; he wouldn’t bother; he does want to control his sister because that’s part of his place or manliness in his house. A different issue. Horsfield rewrote the central Demelza scenes, making them marginal. Her Demelza holds her own against the man asking her to dance with no trouble. Horsfield cannot stand to have her women character not behave in superficial strong ways. She cannot stand to have the ones she wants us to identify underdogs. But Demelza is, and Verity must be as a spinster.
1975 film. Wheeler also degrades Francis. Neither the 1975 nor 2015 audiences were expected to have any sympathy for the aristocratic types of the later 18th century. Francis does not work in the fields (he wouldn’t and how useless), nor Elizabeth go about in servants’ clothes looking self-righteous. They both carry on in their aristocratic clothes and ways, just shabbier and bleaker in expression. Wheeler has the prostitute Margaret insult his way of love-making. No where in the book does that happen. In the book not only does Verity value Francis, many of the other characters do for his gaiety, savoir-faire; he gilds experience for others. Elizabeth openly snubs Demelza at the 1975 ball; the 1975 team did all they could to make Elizabeth “awful” as they perceived their audience would find this; she remains regal yes, and in the 1975 and 2015 scenes great play is made of George dancing with her. She is succumbing to his insidious blandishments. The 1975 film also does not permit Demelza to be harassed. Apparently it was felt in both eras the female audience would not empathize with her. (And women often do not empathize with the particular women who have been raped in courtrooms.) Wheeler does more justice to the secondary parallel story of Keren & Mark and Enys. Keren’s desperation is understandable: we see Mark is illiterate, she is asked to spend hours, her life, alone in a dark hovel. Enys is far more active in the liaison as he is in the book.
The scenes of the prison in book, 1975 and 2015 film are all effective. Unfortunately in 2015 Horsfield does not bring out the individuality of Jinny nor Jim. In 1975 he is brought home to Jinny still living and we see them together (albeit briefly) and all they have had taken from them. In 2015 Horsfield wanted to emphasize the risk taken when Jim’s arm was amputated; in the book Graham continually shows the limits of medicine in the 1780s to 90s to reflect the limits of medicine in the 1940s.
Turning to the films in their own right: This time first the 1975 episode 6. Part of the fine quality of the 1975 film series is its unstressed tone. Nothing is overdone or melodramatic, no overproduction, and thus everything feels believable. Also the slow development of each story and longer scenes.
Much happens in this episode, all well prepared for. We have a different writer (Paul Wheeler) and he is writing a transposition while Jack Pullman wrote more of a commentary type adaptation and freely reworked plot-design so as to bring Elizabeth centrally in earlier.
It opens with the alluring music, the cliffs of Cornwall, crashing waves, high winds, and we see Ellis on his horse (it helps the series that he really does ride, it’s not a stunt man), and the starving men we saw last time standing before the mine. They have just been fired. We are to remember how they then tried to take corn and bread and were beaten and sneered at by the hired soldiers.
The economic part of Graham’s novel is woven in thoroughly. We are at a ticket auction and we witness a direct hard struggle to buy up enough ore to smelt with in a meeting of the hitherto uncontested monopolists (English) who buy and sell copper when they find this new company, Carnemore Copper is outbidding them. They grow indignant when the banker at the head of the table says the company is within its rights not to tell shareholders. To tell shareholders would invite their enemies who own the other banks to call their loans in. This would be like (in Godwin’s Caleb Williams where we see this) forcing people to vote your way because as tenants you can throw them off your land. Zacky Martin takes the heat to hide that the new company is Ross’s — Warleggan and others banking with him indignant, Ross sits quietly smoking: ticket auction: Carnemore Copper Company
Ross on horse comes home to Ginny washing floor intensely, weeping, Jim is ill, arm wounded and arm gangrene, no one taking care, they are sneering. She tells of how they laughed at her and said now he won’t be risking getting thrown into prison again. We see how little humanity people with power often have to eon another. Demelza comes down from her nursery and wants to know what has happened in the business. Ross says he has with 5000 pounds bought enough ore to smelt for months. Graham invites us to admire the entrepreneurial spirit as well as nerve, daring, and ruthlessness.
Next scene: when Ross visits Pascoe for this 5000, the banker says they are risking a lot, and also that Ross is taking liberties in the way he does not try to negotiate more slowly. Ross promises him drafts enough to cover; Pascoe assures Ross the secret list of men will reside safely with him. The banker actually approves this bold move on behalf of copper industry in Cornwall. So anti-colonalism as well as anti-monopolies and anti-classicism and cruel prison conditions. The banker says remember though there are many Cornish too who only seek to turn a profit.
A second romance plot-design (separate set of stories or characters) begins to develop. We see Karen’s dissatisfaction with her dull husband who works long hours: it’s so cold in that hand-made house, no window,night after night on her own, asks him to stay, to get another job, those on top come home regular times. He has no skills, no ability to do anything else, and says soon it may coome he’ll have no job at all so they must make as much money as they can to preserve it for harder times. We wee her walking on the wind-torn landscape visiting Enys in hs house apart, Enys’s intense attraction, it’s physical, but also his guilt. He does not lie and pretend to love her, and asks, Does she know what she wants. Well, not a man who’s never there and a house like a graveyard. She wants Enys, she wants to go back to Bristol, he sometimes people have to settle for less. She replies she is doing so, for she knows Enys doesn’t love her. Ross comes in, and she flees upstairs.
Ross tells Enys of of Carter and how he, Ross, intends to get into the prison, care for Carter and perhaps “bring him out.’ Enys agrees to come with him and do whatever is necessary — like break the law. On his way out we see Ross see the scarf and cape. So Ross sees that karen, Mark Daniel’s wife is upstairs. Ross says they’ll go Friday.
Another tryst: Enys tries to say they should not, but she replies, Mark will be away till morning, and they close the door on us, their audience. Here we see a masculinist point of view where the man presented as moral and the woman sly, disloyal, really worthless if her boredom understandable.
A violent scene from Demelza: the servant Prudie with Ross’s baby daughter, a drunken resentful Jud comes in. He proceeds to curse, to insinuate Ross goes to bed with every woman (including Jinny Carter), sneer at Demela (now she’s in his bed like a queen and he doesn’t see why he should obey her), Ross comes in the throws them out as Jud accuses Ginny of being slut to Ross, insults Demelza Ross also throws out Prudie who (I did not quite expect this but it’s probably) defends her husband as “just the drink.” They are now out of work.
Blamey and Verity meeting on horseback in a beautiful day, and we meet George Warleggan for first time spying, vaunting over them; he introduced as son of Nicholas, smiles too much. Bates comes across as biting, someone you should not trust. It is hard to remember he is only introduced briefly in Ross Poldark, hardly appears at all until near the ball in Demelza.
A sweet scene where George’s invitation to the Warleggan Ball comes for both of them while Demelza with baby. She brings it in to Ross, she wants to go, and he concedes. The relationship is one of girl to older man and again it’s a masculine comfort myth. For my part I like Ellis as Ross so much by this time that I find him attractive and (naive but real response) imaginatively at any rate, a wish fulfillment of a girl, envy her.
Over to Trenwith; we see the elegant Elizabeth fine sewing. George Warleggan comes and we watch their first courtship scene. George wins her over not by sex but interest: he’d like to help Francis. For her sake, he says. Sure. (We the viewers are supposed to see through him and see Elizabeth does not.) She says he should discourage his urge to gamble, he has no influence there he says; he gives word as a gentleman no debt collector will set foot in the house. Unknowing it’s Elizabeth who gives away that the Carnmore Copper company is Ross. Verity arrives and George does not leave after all, but sits down with them. He has something over Verity but like Ross she refuses to be ashamed.
A powerful scene of the terrible dungeon, begins with rats. Ross and Enys arrive, the jailer who scoffs and then will not let them in. He puts me in mind of people hired to interview others for jobs, petty miserable tyrants. They do get through the stench and horror, and pull Carter out. A mountebank doctor, Dr Morris (saturnine sairic moment) has made Carter much worse. We hear Jim’s voice as they are carrying him: “they won’t get me Jinny if I run they won’t catch me”;’ Then from a high hill a working man watches wagon bringing him to Enys; then the next morning we see him brought to Ginny, his arm amputated. Says Ross, “No one will take him back there.” And no one does. Ross does have the power of his position and class.
But Ross is grim before the fire that night. He is shamed of his own class, and finds his despises his own kind. When he blurts out, Wilberforce weeps over black slaves’ but no care for workers, this comes from Graham. He then says were he to expose this scene it would do no good, for perhaps most peopel would look and laugh.
Now Trenwith at night as people arrive. A moment or so to watch the lovely dancing. Milton Johns has his great scene as the open sordid cheating cousin (at cards): he is a parallel, the underside of George and Nicholas Warleggan. Many scenes: Francis is now after Margaret whom Ross used to visit (he paid her for sex), but it appears now she is married or she says he is. Elizabeth sees this enconter, and Margaret needles him after he insults her (you told me your troubles “during” sex; that’s a bore).
We see the gambling begin and Francis sit down. Gorgeous waistcoat, high vanity of the man. Clive Francis continues his portrait of a man who hates himself more and more all the time, living down to his lack of self-esteem. He will try to kills himself: one reason for killing yourself is you hate yourself; he will also be reckless and do himself in because he finally he does not value himself enough — the 1975 film accounts for this by the father’s denigration of him. (Graham’s book makes Francis’s death an accident, part of the meaningless of life’s hardnesses).
George to Elizabrth dancing: it is attractive of him and she is allured.
Ross and Demelza arrive. We see the coarse squire Hugh Bodrugan who chases Demelza in the book and his nasty wife: calls Demelza a monkey who stays that way no matter what she wears. The unstressed quality makes this scene effective.
Margaret comes over to Ross and we get too much praise for the hero (a false note). Nicolas comes over and Ross open and indignant, insulting him and we get choral voices (banker, Pascoe) saying Ross should be more conciliatory, he is making enemies.
Demelza holds her own dancing again. Verity and Blamey arrive; Ross welcomes him as no one else does and Demelza asks him to dance. We see our chief couple on a wave length, compatible in values.
Then the long gambling between Samson and Francis who loses, Ross takes Francis’s place and proceeds, evening wears on. We see all watching this pair and Ross’s sudden exposure of Samson as Samson has gathered too many aces by this time to hide them. Then Ross throwns Samson into trough — a parallel to Ross throwing Jud in the mud.
George assures Francis he will be reimbursed — we know that George has in his mind to undermine Francis’s relationship with Ross as he has asked Elizabeth if the cousins get along. We saw Francis (cowardly in a way) refuse to join the Carnmore venture and Francis fire his miners as a result. Francis a failure because he doesn’t have the nerve Ross has.
George then making (pretend) overture to Ross who says (sincerely partly) in reply, he wants to be friends too. The ball ends on George watching Demelza and Ross leaving, then a scene with his Father over trough (they were shamed and laughed out over Samson) telling father that the men in Connmore copper company bank with them.
The long shot comes as they move over to the horses. The music begins again. Dawn sky. This is fine art.
2015: This is powerful successful episode because of the intense dramatic tension kept up throughout; Horsfield’s intention seems to be to depict a growing strain between Ross and Demelza before Verity with her help flees. In the book Demelza is not angry with Ross at the close of the ball as she is in this film. She is disappointed with herself and tells herself that she needs to learn more about Ross and his world’s ways before she can manage both more effectively.
The 2015 differs by opening on the prison, showing the horrors. We move to Jinny and Demelza hanging out clothes with their babies on their arms, talking of Jim: this is quintessential 2015; you just would not have this “earthiness” (so-called) in 1975. Demelza is not seen holding her baby all the time in 1975; in fact she seems relatively baby-free with Jinny caring for the baby much more so she can visit Karen and give Karen her discards. We then go to Trenwith to find Francis threshing the fields — this is absurd, completely unprepared for. What good would this do him? Elizabeth is wandering about looking wounded with a basket on her arm. Ross happens by on his horse; he wishes he could help. Francis responds with a sneer at Elizabeth and walks off.
The ticketing scene with Turner as Ross appearing angrier and angrier as the Carnemore Copper Company is protested against. Zacky Martin keeps his cool.
We move to Keren and Mark outside the house Mark has built. Keren is her usual sarcastic and insinuating self; Mark protests he does all he can. Why they sit out of doors is a puzzle, except maybe there is no set inside the shell of a house. Upon Mark leaving for work, Keren notices some children playing nearby (you’d think this was a public playground) and she goes over and deliberately breaks her ankle; we see her at the door of Enys’s house; he cannot refuse her entrance as she walks in. Enys is completely deprive of any pro-active character in this mini-series thus far. Switch to Demelza and Verity discussing the coming ball, with Demelza telling Verity she must tell Francis (in the book Demelza knows this is the last thing Verity should or can do). This is reinforced by the next scene of Blamey somewhere outside also pressuring Verity to tell Francis.
The troubled household at Trenwith juxtaposed to Ross and Demelza in bed with him asking Demelza what she knows about Verity (he had some rumors told him during the ticketing). Next scene Demelza practicing her dancing in the meadow; Ross rides by on a horse; further along Keren goes to Dwight’s house, either he is not home or refuses to bome to the door. She looks disgusted.
The long powerful sequence of going to the prison, rescuing Jim, amputating the limb, and his death. These scenes are too dark to present stills for. Jinny’s grief. Move to Nampara later that night and Ross’s fury at what was done to Jim. Ross does not want to go to the ball, and Demelza understands, but suddenly Verity is there, all social wisdom: Ross must go or he’ll be in trouble over rescuing Jim. We see Keren get into Dwight’s house and the door shut.
Back to Verity scolding Ross; she does urge Ross to go in the book but not emphatically and Ross decides to go as much for Demelza’s sake and his pride.
Then the long ball sequence. Two of the features of this episode which make it good are the lengths of the ticketing scene, the prison rescue and death of Jim and this ball (with the gambling scene as central). Horsfield’s Episode 4 also had long connected scenes (if little original or interesting dialogue). Here (as in Graham’s Demelza) the Rev Halse sits down to play and is angered at Ross’s cavalier insouciance and defiant anger at Halse as a wholly unjust man:
In this ball we see Francis’s anger at himself and then Verity as a convenient surrogate, Blamey’s anger at her, Elizabeth’s graciousness towards Demelza who nonetheless is very angry at Ross for over-gambling, drinking and not paying sufficient attention to her. He seems unrepentant; we are to understand he drinks for five days straight — this is disapproved of by Horsfield strongly (the mainstream audience of 2015 is much more anti-alcohol than either the readers of 1945 or viewers of 1975 because of automobile accidents). A key moment in the ball scene is given over to Halse’s threat and warning to Ross he can try to imprison him (in reality in this era he would not find a sympathetic jury to commit Ross at all), with a scene of the women outside being put into the coach.
The episode concludes on the burial of Jim and once again Ross and Demelza standing over the landscape together, vowing once again to love one another in the face of this tragedy and whatever is to come.
In reality in this period huge numbers of people hated the authority figures as tyrants (tyranny and superstition were the outcries of the era – -what you wanted to get rid of).
The 1975 scenes are unbeatable, fully done, precise, moving. Yes they are slower and less is happening during each episode, much less switching back and forth. They do justice to the growing love of Keren and Dwight so we have three marital triangles. They also include Jud beating up Prudie, throwing at Jinny the rumors that her baby is Ross’s and Ross firing them. So again the 1975 film includes more even though it’s only 50 minutes to Horsfield’s 58.
Except Halse’s all the remarks given characters saying Ross did wrong are from Horsfield. Horsfield is deeply pro-capitalist, deeply pro-work ethic: that’s one reason why she cannot develop ideas interestingly from Ross’s point of view. Her gut instincts lie against it. That’s why she brings in George Warleggan early and doesn’t make him the bully and really insidiously treacherous man to Elizabeth and Francis he is in the book. I will be interested to see Horsfield’s All the Small Things to confirm or maybe contradict this surmise. This new one grates — I’m beginning to think that the way Horsfield sees Francis resembles the way so many fans see Mr Bennet: failed in his responsibility to his family; the way Anibundel is led to praise Elizabeth for the mainstream audience today (in the book Elizabeth is not pious she) comes out of a deep adherence to the capitalist work ethic and notion of manliness.
Both mini-series substituted male confrontations for the center of the matter of Demelza at this point: the humiliation and hurt of the heroine. This is bowing to the audience’s mores. Both were over-melodramatic in comparison with Graham; both tried to do justice to the exposures of prison and throwing away of Jim Carter. Horsfield re-inforced her male hegemonic point of view by turning Keren into an aggressive heartless slut; there Wheeler showed some understanding of Graham’s proto-feminism. Horsfield modelled her gambling scene on Wheeler’s 1975 one though more accurate literally by including Halse, she emphasized him too much and shaped the scene so that Halse appeared to be right!