Kyle Soller as Francis Poldark — these were “his” episodes
[Note: this blog assumes the reader has read all twelve of Graham’s novels, viewed the 1970s mini-series, and is interested in the content and art of the books and this older and the new 2015-16 mini-series]
Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Jeremy Poldark, Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)
There’s no to-morrow. It doesn’t come. Life’s an illusion. Didn’t you know. Let us make the most of the shadows … Ross to Elizabeth (Warleggan, Bk 3, Ch 5, p. 314(
Dear friends and readers,
The other night I dreamt of Poldark for the first time in a long while. When I first began to read Graham’s books in the 1990s, and then watched the 1970s series, the actors who realized the characters entered my dream life, were there vividly in the way this past year the characters and actors who realize them from the first season of Outlander have. When I woke, I found the new actors from the new series had intruded upon my consciousness. So, although I’ve hopelessly inadequate stills from the new incarnation, I thought I’d record this crossing over for me, but keep the outline of the episodes’s structures brief until such time as the DVDs of the season are made available to the public. I am remembering to hold fast.
My dreams began with the books, and, like Graham at the time said, the original casting was inspired. Many 1970s castings sought to embody what was thought to be the common reader’s image of a character (nowadays there is much casting against character for older novels). Graham’s novels are incomparably better than either series – the politics so relevant to today, is erased or qualified in both series (albeit differently), the analysis subtler in the book on all levels, but of course films can visualize, make oral, offer such specificity vividly as no book can — from the hallucinatory image on the light screen, to the voice, to music — the 1970s series had a haunting refrain.
The only creditable point of view to take on this new mini-series is that there is no such thing as “the real” Demelza or “the real Ross” or any of the other characters. There were the characters as originally conceived, of which I am very fond. But there are now two iterations. In the way historical fiction works, there may yet be more Rosses, Demelzas, Francises, Warleggans as the texts are rewritten, reproduced, re-filmed, re-designed. I’ve just taken on an assignment to review for an 18th century periodical, Martha Bowden, Descendants of Waverley and have found it a help in understanding the Scottish features of Outlander, and take Bowden and other critics’ view of the relationship of the historical setting and times the specific books are written in and filmed to be accurate.
We are on our fourth set of images. There are four shifts of eras: the 18th century itself, which Graham, the 1970s film-makers and now Horsfield seriously engages in, the books written in the aftermath of the horrors of War World Two:
The first edition of Ross Poldark
thirty years later a first series during a time of radical questioning of society, of second wave feminism:
A 1970s edition of Demelza
1990s edition of Warleggan
and now forty years on, a reactionary, war-torn era again, one seeking to believe in group identities which themselves become the source of conflicts.
Ross (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) on the cliff: end of Demelza as seen in the 8th episode last season
All the heroes of this new series have been exemplary, Francis had a hard time getting there, but once he does, Lady Fortune turns her wheel and he is gone. The heroines are all supporters of the society’s norms, pro-establishment family figures. The working classes are taken utterly seriously, and authority figures uphold the order regardless of personal loyalties (very different from the 1940s books and E.M. Forster) or are savagely repressive. There seems no third choice between cutthroat capitalism and paternal socialism and care of the type the new Ross and Dwight Enys embody.
So, as last time, you can click on the links below to read a summary and evaluation of the comparable older episode, and this time I have added links to summary and evaluation of the two books.
Jeremy Poldark: In the midst of life there is death ….
Episode 4 (12 in the 1970s series)
It was very well done. Ross was at the center. A full concentration on him as exemplary if non-conventional non-mainstream hero (only he is mainstream, utterly). Turner’s expressions sometimes reminded me of Douglas Hodge who has in his years as British actor, often on BBC costume drama (but now seen as the well-meaning gov’t agency employee in The Night Manager) played the same type as Ross is becoming: the deeply well-meaning man who has realized no one will understand what he is trying to do, and fewer than no one give him credit for any altruistic motives. The new realizations include the visit of Verity’s husband’s eldest daughter by his first wife, Esther: Verity’s new problems, cut off from the Poldarks, and seemingly dependent on her husband for her social life, are felt. The obtuseness of the girl does make for yet another portrait of a woman as really mean; Gabriella Wilde as Caroline is made much worse in the early stages of her relationship with Dwight (though it should be noted this is true to Graham’s book). The baptism scene was touching.
Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner as Ross and Demelza
In the older series, Ross’s scene negotiating with Trencomb was comically effective, and this was tried for again with Richard McCabe playing Trencomb realistically.
Some of the changes signaled to me that Horsfield just doesn’t trust the books to hold us and they jarred: Ross is made to recklessly endanger himself by going out with the men. He only draws his curtains in the book; in the 1970s he agrees to conceal the goods as his debt-promissory note is bought by Warleggan; but now he goes out with the men. Horsfield has George show up at shareholders’ meetings, George (again!) threaten Elizabeth if she doesn’t get intimate with him, he’ll call in loans (?!). Demelza is not permitted to get herself to shore, no the male must rescue her.
Whenever Horsfield does trust Graham (as in Ross’s remark he wants freedom to call his soul his own) how the film rings out. But she does not trust him to have written adequately as before her Henry James did not trust women writer nor male warrior types. Nor some of the writers of the first 1970s season, namely Jack Pulman in the first four episodes (for Ross Poldark) and Jack Russell for the last four (for Warleggan).
At so many turns she ratchets up what is happening — that’s why the improbable and dangerous going out with the smugglers; why she has Ross deliver a speech at the trial that would have given the judge amunition to over-ride the jury. Horsfield makes Demelza and Ross bicker! She has Demelza smoldering with resentment. What makes them happy in Graham’s book at first is they get along; they see the world similarly. They enjoy one another’s company; they like one another.
A few details worth noting in the order presented in the new film: Horsfield invents and then emphasizes how Warleggan sends a mole to participate in Ross’s company’s meetings. Francis continues to refuse to allow Captain Blamey a place a Trenwith, though seen relenting in his face. Ross says Warleggan wants to own me. The ferocious beating of Jud, with George proclaiming he had not ordered the men to murder Jud. The beautiful harvest scene, with Francis holding out his hand to Ross: “Cousin, it’s an unexpected pleasure.” Meanwhile as in the novel and previous series, Demelza overhears Ross and Elizabeth broaching their love in words once again; she tells Elizabeth of her pregnancy. She and Ross see captured “free traders” passing by the new ruined Wheal Grace. Ross’s dialogue with the prevention men: “Your commitment to the law is heart-warming.”
We see her gone fishing. Now the men in the mine blasting. George wrestling with man hired to do with: his hands fists switch to Ross’s as he looks at a worker; he worried, “Were you hurt in the blast? And now illness spreads, Dwight called, but cannot work out symptoms. Unfortunately Horsfield choses to make Ross the hero that saves the day: Ross’s talking of sicknesses at sea makes Dwight remember scurvy. The men need fresh fruit. The meeting of Demelza with Elizabeth in wood and Demelza’s fear Elizabeth will betray her — Heida Reed given a good black hat.
Heida Reed as Elizabeth
Encounter of Ross and Warleggan: Jack Farthing’s needle face in their encounter: “Is that a threat?” Ross over hears women in house: “fish won’t keep … no salt.” Ross now forbidding Demelza to fish: “Have you no sense — do me the courtesy of taking more care of yourself in future.” This is disrespectful voice. Comically Francis seeks metals on his land with magic wand. Lovely Dutch paintings in mind in scenes with Caroline at her desk writing letters (the correspondence found in the book). Caroline’s nasty Malthusianism. Slowly Francis becoming more open as Ross’s company begins to lose confidence of “investors.” We see George rush out to Caroline — like she was a peahen.
The Trencomb meeting – with Demelza a more active presence against it, as she was not in the books or 1970s. Am alternating with George’s pressure with Ross and Elizabeth. Intimacy is what George wants. Long sequence in mine — edgy; memories of Mark’s statements. Demelza shows irritation at Ross’s dealings with Trenwith; she would not be involved; he wants more money and improbably salt for the average person. Then a mining scene: the company needs a pumping engine which costs.
Francis joins Ross in front of Wheal grace: you don’t intend to resurrect her? the curse of the Poldarks is too much ambition with too little financial. Alternation of Dwight and Caroline (going badly on the surface) with Blamey bringing treats to Verity: James and Esther will come in a month, when another engagement rejoicing. An assembly for Caroline’s engagement. What Caroline wants is eternal youth. The quarreling of Ross and Demelza reaches new depths. Demelza’s is a bitter resentful tone. Verity waiting. Dwight ever more seduced by the fruit.
Last part: the really painful scenes of Verity with Blamey’s children. A failure in the episode is Jud’s funeral. The scenario is supposed to be comic but the kind of condescension necessary to make the working class characters at the funeral funny is apparently not acceptable. To do it in this grim way makes little sense. The birth, the baptism, the knock-down dragged out fight of Ross and George in the tavern: in the book, in the 1970s and again today. Ross just has had too much. The family getting together to open Wheal Grace.
A survey shows that the episodes are well shaped, given time, and the threads make sense as they move back and forth. There is no sudden interruption of one kind of matter (say the commercial meetings) with another (the romance stories)
Episode 5 (or 13 in the older series)
Kyle Soller just before he falls
I was deeply moved by how Horsfield, her director and actors performed the death of Francis Poldark. The episode differed considerably from the book; again the method was concentrated, this time on Francis. If you knew (as I did) because you had read Warleggan (ditto), it’s obvious that the whole episode is built for those who know too: it’s filled with ominous hints, and the irony that Francis is now doing all this successfully (including persuading Halse to give a more lenient sentence to a smuggler and even finding his wife will let him into her room and bed) and chance will kill him (in the book later on Ross says he died like a dog or some such words, very bitter). Kyle Soller was again brilliant in the role: he is the linchpin of this episode which keeps returning to him. Horsfield’s character has been quite different from Graham’s in the 1940s and the film-makers of thte 1970s: an anachronistic failing entrepreneur (in the 18th century a gentleman was seen to be a gentleman when he didn’t work) and Clive Francis in the 1975-6 episode was much closer to 18th century norms and Graham’s, with important additions of rebellion, anger, a la Joe Orton plays (which Clive Francis starred in). On the other hand, details provided emphatically by Horsfield are closer, such as Francis holding so desperately onto a nail and not being able to do so for hours on end, as who could? Tiring.
The equivalent Episode in the first 1970s series is by contrast very diffuse with a depiction of the whole community part of the scenario — time given to the informer, to Rosina and Hoblyn, and Caroline (Judy Geeson) shown early on to be trying to understand the lives of those who experience precarious and beaten-up lives, deeply ill because they haven’t fruit to eat. Episode in 1975 differed from the book too and I liked the new pro-family element in the 2016 of bringing Verity back to Trenwith to care for Aunt Agatha (not in book or 1970s). Warleggan’s role is an element but not the key driving force it is in this new episode 5. Ralph Bates was stern, angry, out for himself, but not Envy itself (as Farthing is made to be literally): Farthing as Warleggan again threatens and attempts to cajole Elizabeth into having an affair with him (not in the book at all, not in the previous film). I did find this new change and Elizabeth’s reaction of trying to appease George, made for more details of drama, dramatized moments between the two (in the 1970s he brings presents and is getting along with Elizabeth merely). The new pro-active emotional Elizabeth (different from book and first series) will make the coming aftermath of Francis’s death more emotionally complicated, but I predict or surmise that it will make Demelza a much more hurt character, and the whole relationship between Ross and Demelza painful to watch. The new Elizabeth asks, “Why should not a woman love two men — if a man can love two women.” Indeed, as she claims to have loved Francis, she is now loving two, but Demelza has not loved two men: she has placed her whole identity in Ross as his wife, giving her status and place and self-esteem (that’s the book) and enjoys flirting with Captain MacNeil (that’s the first series), likes his kindly courteous attentions, but knows he is on the side of the law first; she knows where to draw the line, that’s not love.
Details worth remembering. The scenaro shows too much juxtaposition saved by having Francis in so many of the scenes, the POV, and Soller’s acting, his presence: on the beach the two boys running. This is Ross remembering his boyhood with Francis. Francis becoming exemplary: he says “father would be amazed” at his reading matter. People and coves being picked off. There is an informer. Francis as magistrate softening Halse. Quickly Rosina with her lame leg brought in, her father Hoblyn: much less time spent and hard to pick up what they have to do with the story. Again it’s said there is an informer. A swan shown. We see Caroline and Unwin back with her uncle saying she should embrace her fate. Verity on her way back to Trenwith, very glad to be with Geoffrey Charles too. Dwight this stable good man (as is Ross, and as Francis is becoming) who tells off George. A scene with Francis where there is something very touching about him. Uncle Cary now has promissory note of Ross’s.
The party at Killwarren – Both Poldark families showing up. Dinner scene: Elizabeth next to Ross, and as in book she uses occasion to confess her love for Ross; Demelza sits by MacNeil, Unwin and Caroline. We then see Ross meditating over his conversation with Elizabeth. Unwin flees from infuriating Caroline – she is told Dwight is wedded to his work. Dwight called to Agatha. Engagement publicly falls through. A wonderful warm scene of Verity and Dwight over Agatha. Francis now turns his on George: must you be envious even of that? George now turns to Cary. The twin love-making scenes: Ross and Demelza in bed, Francis let in Elizabeth’s room. We are happy for him, but what kind of person is Elizabeth: this is like the cool customer of the book, with her firm self-esteem.
Again who is the informer. Horsfield brings in Nick Vigus and has him say, Why shouldn’t a man sell himself to highest bidder? Derisory comment thrown at Ross once again over marrying a scullery maid and living in squalor? Gorge wrestling away with hired partner. Cary: What price would you pay for the promissory note of Ross’s? Ross and Francis so hard at work on wall of mine. George’s visit to Trenwith after Francis reception: Elizabeth is welcoming him manipulatively. Ugly words of George to Agatha: the same raw insults as the book: he wishes there was a law to kill off crones; she replies “your mother had no taste. MacNeil now taking tea with Demelza. (Here I can’t resist remembering how deep the scene was in the book where he made truthful remarks about grief to her sense of Julia). Vigus talked of informer, and now we see Rosina and Kempthorne (who is the informer) who claims to make money on sails.
Dwight tells Caroline of his obsessive love symptoms; by contrast, Ross and Demelza’s uncomfortable conversation. Elizabeth and Francis – modify your hostility. Francis goes to George to tell him, “Never set foot again in my house;” and to implied threat, “it’s a small price for avoiding the noxiousness of your acquaintance.”
Demelza bathing Ross — has Horsfield been watching too much Davies? Elizabeth seen with boy, Francis overlooks and says “I’ll be home in time to read you a story.” We know he won’t. Dwight wants Caroline and Demelza asks, “May not a woman confer status?” Back to blasting in the mine. Ross and Francis looking Ross called above: note from Pascoe “Wanted in Truro.” Francis stays. Horsfield now has Caroline exulting at the jilting, and Dwight relieved; Ross says that Dwight stands for himself, who and what he is, but I find Caroline (like Keren before her) just awful. This one schooled in learning to be heiress she in London.
Trenwith: Elizabeth, Verity, Geoffrey Charles; they have a dinner and desert waiting for Francis who is himself super-excited by the copper he thinks he has found. He rushes to Nampara; finding Demelza confesses at last and her face hardens; “It is my dearest wish to be of use to make amends.” He instist Ross still loves you.” to which she replies “Sometimes I think he lovse Elizabeth better. Francis that she doesn’t think well enough of yourself. “You mistake your own value; do away with notion someone has done you a favor by marrying you.” A version of what he says in the book. Beautful moment
Pascoe tells Ross. The mine, Francis back there. Verity must leave Agatha to rejoin her husband. And now Francis falls deeply into water, pulls himself out enough to hold onto nail. She reinforces too obviously with image of spider in web.
Quietly waiting dinner for him, Elizabeth sends to Nampara for Francis. Ross at home says by Christmas we must have 1400 pounds. Someone come from Trenwith looking for Mr Francis. Back to mine: no one seen him for hours. We see him holding onto nail. Now he should have been dead hours ago … Dwight: Francis missing. One last dream: now Francis dreams it: the two boys running over the shore together. Francis sees Ross as saving him, in Ross’s arms. Back to real men frantically going deeper and finding the dead corpse, still warm and wet. Not good moment to have him say this: “Why the hell didn’t you learn to swim.” Knocking at Trenwith. Elizabeth POV, Ross looking in at her appalled. Funeral. Her crying in Ross’s arms. Demelza watches.
We can see that Horsfield lacks an aesthetically clear structure for Episode 5; she uses too many cliches, and her instincts for the right moment for a statement are often off. There is too much interruption, she is trying to get so much in. But the episode soars through Kyle Soller, sided (so-to-speak) by Aidan Turner, and by Horsfield’s script’s concentration on the figure of Francis Poldark, his dream life, his relationship with Ross, and how he is by chance replaced (not saved, Ross is no miracle worker) by Ross. Ross is now the eldest male Poldark, though the heir as it was understood at the time will be Geoffrey Charles, to whom Francis gave his part of the ownership of Wheal Grace.
There has been interesting illuminating talk on the Poldark Appreciation face-book page and I record some which gives insight into how people today are regarding these different iterations.
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, rough working class girl when first taken in
One person (Stephen Burk) on the Poldark Appreciation page wrote that he saw the story as “the evil Warleggen family warring against the good Ross Poldark and family.” He saw “humane values represented by Ross Poldark pitted against upper class snobbery;” he saw this in another version in “Ross’s gentry cousin marrying the middle class sea captain with a troubling past.” He accepted “Caroline’s haughty, flighty character (she was very good by the way) contrasting with the Doctor’s good and stable character.” Demelza’s character he also saw a “contrasts; a miner’s daughter, lower class (probably about the lowest just above slavery, prostitutes or thieves) who has obviously had a rough and tumble existence and who’s entrance had her groveling in the dust wrestling a man, dressed in men’s clothing when Ross saved her. The feisty, “feral” young female with little or no advantages not to mention social upbringing wanting to punch people out when they give her trouble rehabilitated by Ross into gentry, more or less. People though never totally change, they may to an extent but there are always ways of thinking and actions that will remain.” These simple oppositions are at work, and he accepted the class system and was entertained by “the rough lower class Demelza and the cultured, gentry class Ross and their relationship.”
So this is one reason the new Demelza is not liked: he wanted “the feisty and probably surly at times girl” with a loud accent — though this is not what is presented in the book. Demelza does know her place. The viewers today wanted “street wise smartness” to contrast with “Ross’s upper class posture.”
Demelza come to Falmouth to talk to Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington) — I prefer this gentle kind of scene in the series much more
When I watch these films and those of 40 years ago I look for complex characters, subtlety and political and social commentary which is liberal in thrust and values courtesy until injustice begins to rule the day.
Angharad Rees as the witty Demelza at the dinner table with Clive Francis as Francis enjoying the talk
Someone else (Gill Roffey) wrote: “Horsfield has made Ross the focus of everything,” to the “detriment” of the other characters, especially Demelza: “Demelza has a mischievous flirtatious wit. She gets tipsy at her first Trenwith Christmas and flirts with John Treneglos under his wife’s nose. Whenever she goes into society she charms everyone she meets. Horsfield is giving us none of this. When she meets Justice Lister in the book she charms him too, and makes a favourable impression, whereas in the mew series her attempt is clumsy and ill-judged. Then there is the infamous boat rescue. In the book she is the resourceful woman feeding her family, Ross doesn’t know about her fishing. Now, of course, it’s all about him, so he has to rescue her.”
I learned from this and replied: “Yes Demelza is witty, yes transgressive, yes she loves to drink and lose herself in pleasure. I see those social occasions themselves somewhat differently: finally she fails at them (especially that first assembly) because she’s of lower status and is a woman; but after each one she learns how to cope, what she can do and what she can’t. In the later books she is more of a recluse (keeps to herself) but also has made an adjustment to how to run a party. she also throughout continues to defer to Ross: she says early on he is her, he is her life; she has invested his view of him in herself as her. That might not be popular but it resonates with me and Angharad Rees inhabited that and I loved it and bonded with the character in the books. I agree that the books are as much about her as him: her growing up, her education. So yes these changes hurt — especially the bickering between them.
I can see what is meant today: Ross has to be the hero rescuing everyone. For me that’s such a simplification: in the books he makes many errors, some of which are irretrievable. I prefer that too. I prefer a character who is fully human and like us has many failures. The hero of the book and the 1970s was someone with fortitude to endure what goes wrong — due to himself. More novelistic. What such a man might have been, what the women of the era, is something else again.