Demelza to Ross at he leans down towards her: ‘I live only for you, Ross’ (Graham, Ross Poldark, Bk 2, Ch 6); ‘Oh, I love you so!’ (Pullman, 1975 Poldark, Episode 3); Horsfield 2015, no equivalent …
Dr Choake to Ross’s request for help: ‘My dear sir, we’d do as much for a friend, but don’t ask us to testify on behalf of a young vagrant who’s been caught poaching’ (Graham, RP, Bk 2, Chapter 4); of Jim Carter as Jim is led into the court room: ‘They’re a different breed, sir, a different breed’ (Horsfield, 2015 Poldark, Episode 3); Pullman 1975, no equivalent …
Dear friends and readers,
This week I enjoyed both versions of Episode 3 so much, I returned to and reread the parts of the novel covered. As in the first episode of both versions, in this third, much the same material is covered, with exceptions being made for a rearrangement of events and changes in detail (so that Jim and Jinny’s wedding occurred in Episode 2 in 1975 and as in the book was not precipitated by Jinny’s pregnancy, while it occurs in Episode 3 in 2015 and is so precipitated), and both were similarly in different and the same places faithful with different or similar striking departures. Yet as in the second episode, the excellencies of the two Episode 3 felt utterly disparate and left such a different effect. How is this?
Last week I tried to account for this by describing the new way of movie-making as manifested in montages, continual quick cutting back and forth, juxtapositions, and brief scenes. I showed why some watching prefer the 1975 mini-series, and in this third episode in 1975 the full developments of deeply traumatic, angering, erotic moments as well as the passing of time and ephemera of life was on display, as well as such effective dialogue and acting. But to be fair this week did have a number of long scenes (it had to, for example, the court scene, the initiating of sexual love-making between Ross and Demelza) and effective epitomizing lines, powerful outcries against the injustice of Dr Halse (Robin Ellis pitch perfect embodiment, especially in his sighs, and patience under boredom) on the part of Ross (Aidan Turner). It was done as far as a brief scene in a costume drama can be accurately — including a sense of the discretionary power of the judge.
The scene in 1975 was slightly comic, and personal tensions between Nicholas Warleggan (Nicolas Selby) and Ross (at the time a young Ellis), the presentation of Nick Vargus as a low-life crook (so deserving punishment) overshadowed the main issue: the laws against poaching when the average person was not far from starvation as a disguised property and class war. In 2015 that came to the fore; the 2015 scene reminded me of one in Fielding’s Tom Jones (Book 8, Chapter 11, not in either the 1966 or 1997 films of Tom Jones) where a sadistic, sardonic “hanging judge” (Sir Francis Page) maximizes the power of the establishment’s agents to refuse any clemency to a man accused of stealing a horse (he is summarily hanged).
As in 1975, in 2015 the initiating of love-making between Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross occurs over several sequences. It is literally closer to the book — except that Horsfield will not permit the kindness of romantic love, and only hints at the the motive for manipulation that Demelza has (because her father has come and threatened to take her back to a rightly hated home). Demelza is drawn to Ross’s mother’s rich dress, and puts it on; there are two separate scenes, one in the front room where he grows angry and the other in his bedroom, where he does not and she comes to him the second time.
I am so intensely drawn to Demelza’s outbursts the following day (a proud yet distraught Angharad Rees pleading to be allowed to stay and then angered because she is in effect being rejected so denying that she has no where to go, no one to turn to, “What makes you think [that!]”)
and flat-out leaving, without his trying to make her come back; and the subsequent theatrical re-engineering of the marriage in Episode 4 when she is found to be pregnant (from a single night — not probable), I cannot regret the changes. But as Graham’s novel has it, Ross commits an act of deep rebellion (and determination to separate himself from his gentry peers) by marrying his kitchen maid fully voluntarily and within a month or so. It was not unknown: Fielding married the housemaid after his wife died; Charles James Fox married an outright prostitute, Elizabeth Armistead whom he had fallen in love with. Horsfield cannot resist having Demelza try to leave out of hurt over Elizabeth’s visit and Jud and Prudie’s continued scorn (this latter not in the book at all); it seems neither film-maker was willing to show that Demelza never thinks of leaving, that she has no where decent to go, and that Ross Poldark’s view of her has become her and what he wants, she does. That is part of why he finds her irresistible.
So it’s not the new way of movie-making nor is it the change in the emphatic presentation of a particular kind of feminism (women as genuinely oppressed, without power to choose their own lives); after a proto-feminism, 1970s style is on display in the 1975 fourth episode (to be dealt with next week); nor the emphatic over-riding use of the mining anti-(unameliorated) capitalist story as in 1975 there are long scenes of negotiation to open Wheal Leisure once again to look for copper, as well as (more believable) scenes of ploughing, sowing, harvesting.
I fall back on what I suggested at the outset of Episode 1: a key aspect of this Poldark is it’s critical for the film to present this upper class hero (a member of the 1/% of the era) as sharing the work ethic and at work, shown to have the skills and qualities of the vast majority of working people (the 99%). In 1975 Ellis remained a gentleman whatever he did, he was elegant at an assembly, danced in a sprightly way; his Ross and Graham’s too, embodied a notion of gentility that makes the upper class ontologically superior to, or at least different from everyone else. Swashbuckling is what Errol Flynn or Stewart Grainger did for fun; Ellis didn’t do that, but he contained the residues of separate higher status. Angharad Rees was made to become part of that upper class by the middle of the first season. In 2015 Aidan Turner prefers not to dance and denies being any good at it; we see him sweating, working side-by-side in the mines with his men, continually at strenuous tasks. Eleanor Tomlinson is seen twice getting and giving herself “pump discipline.” She’s not presented distinctly as a child when we first meet her nor do we see her in stages growing up (as is dramatized in a couple of comic moments in 1975 as when Angharad-as-Demelza insists the world might be round); in the novel she is a child of 13 when Ross brings her home, with a child’s body when he washes her down. The scenes in the 2015 film reminded me of one I saw in an Australian classic film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Jimmie, a man half-aborigine and half-white is subjected to cascading waters of a pump in a cold dank area twice so as to prove himself clean enough to come inside. At the time it was believed that lice brought on typhus and typhus was a killer.
Juxtaposed to the alienation and misery we see in Trenwith and the business dealing and prostitution in a tavern in Falmouth we see Jinny and Jim’s weddding with Demelza dancing there. Ross looks at her and she refreshes his soul, and he begins to dance too. This communal dancing contrasts to the high romance mythic dancing with Elizabeth in the assembly which was such a strain for him.
The archetype for this new Poldark is not after all Outlander nor Master and Commander, but the Australian versions of American western films. Old family connections, ladylike ways (which Heidi Reeds as Elizabeth carries in her every movement) are presented as useless; the new Charles Poldark (Warren Clarke) nags his son, Francis (Kyle Soller) to get to work, but Francis doesn’t know how; he is a gentleman. All this is fantasy; upper class people knew very well how to keep and make money when they wanted to; it was done mostly through the patronage system. But it is the social presentation of characters that are thought to support progressive politics to the average person today.
A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):
One skein has Demelza slowly growing up some more, turning into womanhood (signalled by her hair changing and become this luxuriant long red), and at last in a weak moment Ross awakening to her beauty and then, drunk, succumbing to having sex with her. The scene of their first encounter is remarkably well done – and tasteful. In this version he shudders; they are in front of the fire; she cries out how she loves him. She sure does and we have been persuaded it’s absolutely natural. If he’s stern or difficult at times, he alone of all the characters has shown her real continual kindness. Verity lives apart in Trenwith, in another world and is upper class and older. All Demelza has she now has from him: dress, reading, daily quiet life of tasks that make sense.
In his Making Poldark, Ellis said he objected to the way this is changed from the book. He’s right. The next day in the film Ross determines to send her off: he is too honorable to have this happen again; she at first clutches him and says don’t send me away and it doesn’t matter if it happens again. He says oh it does, and begins plans to whom. They quarrel (as they have before) and she lights out for all the world like Huck Finn. Improbable. In the 18th century she’d have nowhere to go; parents would not take her back, the friend she goes to we learn (Jinny Carter) would be so near subsidence she’d be with her relatives who would not take Demelza in. Not even damaged goods given her lower class drunken miner’s daughter background.
In the book the incident is triggered by her father again coming to demand her back. People are talking and he’s married a religious woman. She is terrified of this and we are asked to believe entraps Ross — who is drunks and upset (more on this later). This is the male point of view. But it is harder. Then far from sending her away, in the book Ross and she begin to be bed partners. He does like her, and in the film the scene is triggered by how angry he feels at himself, at what happened, he wonders why he should control himself.
The film has other skeins. There is the temporary ending tragically of Verity and Blamey’s courtship. We see how they have grown to know and love one another — a good scene. Ross comes in and there is talk and plans. But the two Poldark men find out how Verity has been meeting Blamey in Ross’s house and come there enraged. Francis, hot-headed, insists on a duel, and keep slapping Blamey who cannot endure this and they duel, Francis is shot (not fatally, or even dangerously) and Charles collapses. The affair betweem them they see is impossible. In 2015 the actor playing Blamey makes him likeable — emotionally appealing and Horsfield changes the story so he killed his wife by accident, it was manslaughter. That makes the story less complex, and it is troubling that in 2105 the wife is blamed.
Centrally important is Jim Carter is led to poach by starvation; he is imprisoned and Ross tries to save him. The judge Warleggan gets angry at Ross’s insubordination and declarations that such laws are deeply unjust (see above). In the film the trial scene very effective; a sense of a large active crowd. Lots of individuals brought out to show different indifferent unconcerned reactions. Ellis presented as an older. We have seen Jinny friendly with Ross, Jinny pregnant, talking with Ross, her love for Jim, and helplessness to stop him; now Jinny’s grief brought out. Ross comes home that night drunk from this incident. In the book at what has happened after a little time passes, and he determines to make the final rebellious act and marry her.
Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived .
This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers. She is under considerable strain; her life is one of frustration and boredom; she finds she cannot tell Ross this.
There is only the one negotiating gentleman scene about the mine but as with all the scenes, the dialogue is better, more precise, more engaging; in the first half of 1975 episode the Verity material is still playing out (it was squeezed into episode 2 in 2015) and we have Verity’s meeting with Blamey and the finding out about it by the Poldark men and the powerful duel clash. It just seems to me at every point the dialogues are better, the focus on the characters more precise, more distinctive, and more varied. They are rounder, more believable, more time given, separated out.
We do feel time passing, the sowing done slowly, farm work is more central but there no sense of a big community around as in 2015. It feels in the 1975 film as if they have more time, but it’s that Pullman and his team used time and montages more cleverly. A sense of time going by is better even if in the book we are told they married quickly, it was a month or so. The characters feel older in the 1975, dressed to look and act older.
Observations on 2015, Episode 3 (compared to 1975 film and book):
2015 begins again with the mine. Ross is ringing the bell, the miners are up and glad to be so, headed for the mine. The great rejoicing moment of opening — camera on Demelza supporting Ross. The sneers of Choake, the Warleggans. Demelza works in the field and told by Jinny of Jinny’s worries, and after one of several eating scenes with Ross together,
Ross makes efforts far more central and intertwined to insist Jim (who seems more immature in 2015) marry Jinny Carter with the opening of the mine.
The new mini-series shows Verity unhappy, downtrodden, talked down to by the Poldark men, embittered against Francis. Francis looks much worse in his bigotry against Blamey, for not working alongside men as our Ross does.
Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. In Graham’s book Jud is droll; Horsfield seems to have no feeling for drollness. Paul Curran understood it (and probably Phil Davis might if given the lines).
Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, far more class self-conscious.
Horsfield does not show the passing of time, the choice of landscape imagery is pointed (a blast in the mine, flowers in the field near Demelza suggesting eroticism) and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward.
Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene which is actually not specified in the book (it was written in 1945/6). Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up for as the 18th century Demelza would never leave Nampara (she’d be beaten at home, in the streets beaten or raped, end up a prostitute) and Graham’s Elizabeth does not mouth pious beliefs.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, is made far more exemplary. Asked by Francis’s father, if Francis does his duty (has sex with her), if he is at work on the mines somehow or other, she says yes. She plays the harp in the book too (there are no harp scenes in the 1975 movie):
Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan and he likes Ross, wants his respect and companionship at first, but is seduced by George into forgetting by George’s playing on his sexual and work insecurities; so he is not appealing It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles (Warren Clarke) is himself really mean too; not likeable as Frank Middlemass was able to make him. In the 2015 Francis sits on a horse looking helplessly at Ross’s mine
so when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed) to a larger audience, rather helpless and writhing and angry: I can sympathize. But then he is overtly arrogant to Verity, sneers at her. He buddies with George which he would in the book (to a man of Francis’s type George remains “a blacksmith’s son,” beneath him) or in the 1970s (where he resents George’s attentions to Elizabeth and his presents to his son and detests George as a sneak he must kowtow to because he owes George money).
It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. He is a self-contained aristocrat, containing his self-esteem and careless dismissal of those beneath him; in 1975 with an undercurrent of self-loathing out of a depression within his character which his father has taken advantage of. We see him enjoying himself:
The contrast is with Jim Carter who the culture subdues, makes deferent, hesitant, without assertive pride:
In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.
Well in the 1970s programs Clive Francis as Francis is never jealous (the sex scenes are cut) and his lack of business acumen and leadership is never mentioned. In fact he finds and tells about the scandal pamphlets sent out against Ross. In the 1970s Clive Francis is witty, kind, well-meaning, likes Ross and I am among those who find the timbre of his voice intensely appealing. In short it’s not the actor (Kyle Soller) whom some viewers may be alienated from; the actor was chosen to fill a role of Francis from Horsfield: she doesn’t care for the ne’er-do-well sceptical Francis. Amanda Foreman who wrote the biography behind the film of Georgiana Spencer’s life, The Duchess said that Hatcher, the screenplay writer was not sympathetic to Georgiana and that’s why the movie made her less than sympathetic, and Hatcher agreed. Horsfield cannot like the type Francis Poldark is supposed to represent in Graham’s book.
To bring out a few points from the above notes and details: strong parts of the 2015 film include its historically accurate presentation of the court scene, its depiction of a deep relationship developing between an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl, and how her character is given resonance through class and status anger.
It lacks irony and there are moments where the script might have meant for Turner to project ironical distance (as when he is talked to by the preacher at Jim and Jinny’s wedding and told marriage is to prevent fornication; or when Mrs Teague and her daughter Ruth assail him), but he is either too flat or obvious in tone.
The strong parts of the 1975 film are also the court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents an unfortunate departure from the book’s original themed presentation of politically radical love. But it has real humor and can contain a sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character: