Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

Monique Barbee, Cristina Spina, Ayeje Feamster, Juliana Francis-Kelly

Dear friends and readers,

Today Izzy and I saw another text or set of texts performed which come out of Tudor Matter: the writings and what was said Elizabeth Tudor said in the form of a monologue play acted out by form women playing the Elizabeth. It lasted only an hour but it was intently mesmerizing: the way the texts were chosen and woven together, how the actresses did the parts (intensely, iconically, prosaically, wryly, emotionally, fearfully by turns). The play is part of year long festival of plays by women going on around the DC area: the music was composed by a woman, production design, costumes: and it was l’ecriture-femme; the organization was not at all chronological; motifs kept coming back cyclically; you could say we were in Elizabeth’s mind.

It’s probably too late for most people to put everything planned for tomorrow away and hurry to the Folger Shakespeare Theater to see this four-woman dramatic monologue, conceived, put together, written and directed by Karin Coonrod, with a sixth woman, Gina Lesihman, composing the music, Oana Botez designing costumes, as a production from the Compagnia de’ Colombari (originally a festival group from Orvieto, Italy, 2004). But maybe not too late to see and hear re-incarnations of this script elsewhere. And certainly not too late to go to the Folger for this year’s season. It began with the remarkably candid and brilliant production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, via their HD screening capabilities. Now they’ve moved onto a highly original adaptation of Tudor matter to the stage.

Only recently has Elizabeth R been forgiven her ability to live more successfully than most men as leader of a country she cared about, as head of an army. As Sabrina Baron says,

with a few parts of some series as exceptions (most notably the six-part Elizabeth I in 1971), the depiction of Elizabeth, a woman who was a powerful and effective leader in her day (lived long, stayed in power, overcame a number of attempts to when she was young kill her and older overturn her throne), is as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendent female figure effectively doing what men did; in the 20th century she was at first a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence. Recently she has taken over Mary Stuart’s role as an enthralled woman (by Leicester, Essex) deeply unhappy because of this. Says Baron, quite a revenge and erasure by a male hegemonic point of view and from women compensatory victimhood for them to cling to.

Not so here. Using Elizabeth R’s own words and words about her spoken or written by people close to her, Koonrod moves back and forth across the iconic and everyday events of the reign to show how she was beset from the time her mother was beheaded (by keepers, by authority figures, by what men she did discreetly involve herself with, and yet emerges, survived and knew several triumphs (the Spanish Armada). While she did not write as much as the foolhardy passionate Mary Queen of Scots, and hid her religion as Margaret of Navarre did not, Elizabeth R wrote in all the forms these two other early modern women did: poetry, speeches, letters.

These are woven in with what others reported and what scholars have unearthed. The script assumes a good knowledge of the phases of Elizabeth’s life (who she lived with during what period and what she had to adhere to to stay alive), which are divided into four movements and four games. Iconic moments include her at the tower, when her stepmother, Elizabeth Parr and her husband, Thomas Seymour (later beheaded) are said to have cut Elizabeth’s mourning dress for Anne Boleyn to shreds while they were in a garden. This one shows how little Elizabeth was regarded until she became queen; she was a woman, not entitled to her own space; the first thing that parliament did when she became queen was to ask her to marry, which they repeated periodically no matter how often Elizabeth said she was wed to England and England was better off with a single queen (like her). there was material from the death of Leicester’s wife. The Armada. The Earl of Essex’s revolt. Parliamentary conflicts. And her frivolous moments with ordinary people.

All four Elizabeths were there at the same time. They began by sitting on uncomfortable high backed narrow lattice-like chairs (thrones as imprisoning). They catch each line up in turn, like a monody by four. Their silvery-grey dresses have features which suggest different eras (Elizabethan, the devil’s, the legacy left Elizabeth by her mother.) As the script veers round in time, first enacting how Elizabeth held off the demand she marry and have children, you grasp how each place is explicated or dramatized to see its relationship to Elizabeth or those close to her at that time (her sister, Anna, cousin, Mary, various male courtiers). Four movements within each a game. First up the nagging and pressuring her to marry and have children (the French Anjou and Leicester eras). Second there was an amoral actor-soldier and city life and court (anecdotes). The third movement was made up from Elizabeth’s prayers and laments, her few witty self-revealing poems. Last her last years as queen. I found the whole experience mesmerizing and stirring.

By pre-conceived scheme this blog should go on Austen reveries as being about and by women, one of more than 50 plays by women which will be staged in the DC area over the next year (until July say). I put it here so it will have more circulation. It belongs to the inexhaustible Turdor matter which I’ve been dealing with in my blogs on Anne and Mary Boleyn and Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and which I hope to add to on the 2003 Boleyn Girl by Philippa Lowthorpe (with a little help from Andrew Davies), Anne Boleyn and other early modern women destroyed, sustained over a life-time, hitherto taken out of history.


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Bronze Age Tomb in Cornwall

Launceston Gaol, early modern to 19th century prison …

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Seven sessions: Wednesdays, 11:50 to 1:15 pm, Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road
Dates: Sept 30th to November 11th
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of a twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark TV mini-series (1974-7, 2015-present). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, part of a set of four (the other two, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan) excellently researched historical novels dramatizing issues of concern to a war-torn world; the second trilogy (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, written 1973-1977) dramatizes 1960 and 1970 feminist and political movements; and the second quartet and coda (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword, and Bella, 1981-91, 2003), colonialism, war, parliamentary politics, and even animal rights. All though the prisms of the Cornish landscape, history, the industry of mining and business of smuggling, and medicine; and issues of law and (in)justice, poaching and gaming laws, courts and prisons, and class and marital customs, and European wars. The 1970 and the new 2015 series adapt and re-boot the books across 40 years. Graham wrote other historical fiction, one history and travel book (about Cornwall), and many mystery and psychological thrillers, for some of which he won prestigious awards; others were made into famous respected films which helped “make” the careers of the central actors (e.g., Sean Connery in Hitchcock’s Marni; Devid Hemmings in Till and Bluestone’s Walking Stick). We  will treat the novels as serious historical fiction and compare and discuss the films

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, leaving fair, Angharad Rees as Demelza climbing up

Clive Francis as a sympathetic troubled Francis Poldark

Required texts: Graham, Winston. Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 and Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790. They are available in the US in two different editions: NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/10 (RP is 330 pages, D is 374) or NY: PanMacmillan, 2008 (RP is 472 pages, and D is 422).

Click on map to make larger: the imagined map of Poldark country is placed on top of the real Cornwall

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 23: No class as I am unable to be there, but read ahead for the first class, RP, Bk 1, Chs 1-9.
Sept 30: In class: Winston Graham, life & career; what is historical fiction and/or film? Read for next time RP, Bk 1, Chs 10-18, Bk 2, Chs 1-4.
Oct 7: Ross Poldark. For next time read RP, Bk 2, Chs 5-8, Bk 3, Chs 1-8; read also NMoody, “Poldark Country and National Culture.”
Oct 14: Ross Poldark; the class watches a clip from 1975 Poldark, Part 3. For next time finish RP, Bk 3, Chs 9-10; and read Demelza, Bk 1, Chs 1-13
Oct 21: Ross Poldark and Demelza. the class watches a clip from 2015 Poldark, Part 4. Read for next time, Demela, Bk 1, Ch 14-15; Bk 2, Chs 1-12; read also RMoseley, “‘It’s a wild country … passionate and strange.”
Oct 28: Demelza. Read for next time, Demelza, Bk 2, Chs 13-11, Bk 4, Ch 1
Nov 4: Demelza. For next time finish Demelza, Bk 4, Chs 2-11. Read EMoody, “I have the right to choose my own life.”
Nov 11: Demelza. The class watches brief clips from 1975 and 2015 Poldarks Parts & 8 back-to-back.

Aidan Turner as Ross sitting among, part of the working mining men

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, walking and playing with her dog, Garrick

Recommended books (articles sent by attachment):

Graham, Winston .Poldark’s Cornwall. Oxford: Bodley Head, 1983.
————— Poldark, Novels of Cornwall, 1783-1820. London: Panmacmillan, 1924-2003.
—————. Memoirs of a Private Man. London: Panmacmillan, 2003
Hay Douglas, Peter Linebaugh, E. P. Thompson, et alia. Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in 18th century England. NY: Pantheon, 1975.
Marsden, Philip. Rising Ground. London: Granta, 2014.
Moody, Nickianne. “Poldark Country and National Culture,” from Cornwall: The Cultural construction of a Place.
Moody, Ellen. “‘I have the right to choose my own life:’ Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” on-line my website.
Moseley, Rachel. “‘It’s a Wild Country. Wild … Passionate … Strange’: Poldark and the Place-Image of Cornwall,” from Visual Culture in Britain.
Poldark. Dr Christopher Barry, Paul Annett. Writers. Jack Pullman, Paul Wheeler. Perf. Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend, Ralph Bates, Paul Curran, Norma Steader, Richard Morahan. BBC/1975-76, 1977-78.
Poldark. Drs. Wm MacGregor, Edward Bazalgette, Writer Debbie Horsfield. Perf. Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Kyle Soller, Ruby Bentall, Jack Farthing. BBC/ITV, 2015-
Porter, Roy and Dorothy. Patient’s Progress: Doctors and Doctoring in 18th century England. Stanford: StanfordUPress, 1989

Further on-line materials:

Authorized updated website on Graham, his life, novels, films.
The Poldark novels, and other fiction, non-fiction and films.
Winston Graham: lists of books, essays and other websites.

Winston Graham and Garrick, still a puppy, at Perranporth Beach

Godolphin House, Cornwall (used as Trenwith, Poldark family home, 1975-76)

Wheal Owles Mine, Penwith, St Just, Cornwall (fallen into desuetude, for far shots of Ross’s Wheal Leisure, 2015)


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“There is much in the world which is monstrous” — Graham’s Ross on the beach, Demelza

“I am finding it very hard to live with myself” — Francis to Elizabeth, Christmas, Wheeler’s script, invented scene …

“Have a care for the law. Tis a cranky and twisty old thing. And you may flout it half a dozen times. But let it once come to grips with you, and you find it harder to be loose from than a great black squid.” — Captain MacNeil to Ross, Horsfield’s script, a darker variant on Graham’s utterance

Onthebeach1 (2)

Onthebeach1 (1)

On the beach carrying the burdens of life’s necessities, leading those who will come with him back (Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

So we are come to the end of this year’s first season: Poldark re-booted, 40 years on. Though I’ve not titled this blog to include Graham’s Demelza nor the 8th episode of the 1975 Poldark, as in all previous this is another comparative blog which assumes previous knowledge. Once again we have the old familiar pictures from the 1970s for those who loved them as I did. And once again, the distance as well as similarities between Ross Poldark and Demelza and the two disparate kinds of film art.

Our theme though is a bit different. I have been able to profit from watching one of Debbie Horsfield’s previous mini-series, the astonishing, riveting All the Small Things (directed by Metin Huysein, whose corpus includes the 1997 Tom Jones) and read about a couple of others. All the Small Things differs strongly in its dramaturgy from this new Poldark: Like Sex, Chips & Rock-n-roll, its scenes are not short, the characters use precise interesting complicated language, and its strength derives from what the characters say to one another. In neither is there this continual back-and-forth switching of montage and repetition of archetypes and simple ideas. This dramaturgy was therefore deliberate, and British ratings say it’s been widely watched. Thanks to Anibundel I’ve also been comparing costumes, hats, hairdos, wigs. If these be not costume drama, costume drama is nowhere to be found.

My suggestion tonight: while the 1970s film-makers were content to produce a sufficiently historically accurate and novelistic series reproducing the spirit of the original books (4 of them, post WW2 milieu), Horsfield’s cinematic archetypal approach is an attempt to make a new mythic matter. The 1975 films are Cornish regional romance, an adaptation of 4 historical fictions set carefully in the later 18th century, low-keyed enough for comedy. The 2015 films are not localized in the same way at all; they reach out to function the way recent films do, aware of themselves as in an intertexual film universe. This is not as hubristic as it may seem, as Graham says in the early 1970s when filming the first four books was broached to him, the idea was to make a British kind of Gone with the Wind, I half-regret to admit US mythic matter because so pro-Southern, so racist.

This is not to say that both don’t differ from the original book and try to appeal to the mainstream politics of the era. So in Demelza where it is acceptable and understood from centuries of custom, that the flotsam and jetsam of wreckage on a beach is fair game for the people living around both films takes into account this seems to our capitalist private-property obsessions crime of the first order. There was also a deep resentment against the excise tax, the imposed soldiers of the British army who were there to stop any reform movements lest they turn into a 1790s English style French revolution. In Graham’s Demelza Ross arouses Jud to waken the community, he is half-mad with grief and rage and needs to strike out against an implacable universe which has taken his child, his business, still threatens his wife, and he is gladdened to see the local people gain food and furniture for the coming year, and he participates, but he does not lead; he encourages, represses, orders where needed; only when a riot ensues when other groups of people come does he intervene to save the captain and his men and look to see if anyone needs saving on the ship.


Takingaction (2)

Takingaction (1)
Looking from on high over the beach, distraught (many close-ups), taking action, first a line to go into the ship and then stumbling on soldiers urging them back to Nampara (Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, 1975)

Paul Wheeler departs from this by having Robin Ellis go to Jud to find help for the men on the ship, and only realize that scavenging will result when he looks into Jud’s eyes, and then exult; Ellis spends his night trying to stop the riot, and save people. We see the British soldiers as in an earlier corn riot killing the people. By contrast, Debbie Horsfield has Ross not only rouse Jud deliberately, but himself organize the scavenging so as to be deeply useful to all, alert throughout, a figure of controlled stern anger, taking on managerial functions; like Ellis and Graham’s Ross himself violent to stop others’ violence, as a last thought inviting the Captain and his men back to the house but if they do not trust him they need not come. We see the lead British soldier taking a bribe from Warleggan to lie about what Ross did on the beach.

The changes are telling. In 1975 we have a deeply psychological take on a man in distress and acting half-insanely, innocent of scavenging himself; in 2015 we have a hero caring for his people by scavenging with them. Wheeler’s is closer to the book where Ross means to allow others to scavenge, but then tries to stop the riot, but in neither film is there a willingness to dramatize one of Graham’s paradoxical themes: the self fighting society’s deep corruptions, refusing to be coopted except on its own definition of what is virtue.


Graham’s Demelza, the last quarter

Chapter 1: Verity’s letter to Demelza: her happiness and gratitude, Verity now has the life to live she wanted to and could. Family and business, politics and gender are utterly intertwined in the world (seen in Graham’s Forgotten Story and Cordelia. Demelza did it. Chapter 2: a bleak Christmas — at Nampara and Trenwith. Francis despairing, alcoholic, Elizabeth turning away. Demelza and Ross and Enys carrying on with carols; he going over books, ending company; the two struggling through to be decent to one another and restore relationship; she visits Sir Hugh Bodrugan, Ross’s angery: he will not ask for loan; he will see Pascoe.

Chapter 3: The desperate illness at Trenwith brings Choake and then Enys; Ross’s meeting with Tonkin and then George’s offer to buy him out at inn; narrator insists on spite as strong motive in George. So Demelza’s (to Ross and the Poldark family) loyalty to her gender and sister-friend has destroyed Ross’s company. As in Ross Poldark where Ross’s humane rescue of the child Demelza brought down the community on him, so her humane rescue allows others’s exploitation. Chapter 4: News of illness at Trenwith: another decision of hers, to be a nurse to Francis, Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles, partly because she feels she took from them Verity — this will lead to her sickness, the death of Julia. This is interwoven with Ross and Sir John, Ross and Pascoe where Ross will not sell his mine.

Chapter 5 Ross to Pearce. Pearce lives with his sister; he will arrange 1000 pound loan if he can; Ross home to Demelza who tells Ross where she’s been and what done: at Trenwith with the dying helping to save them. His intense business for a year is useless and he is thrown back on farming. He refuses still to sell his shares to Warleggan and takes out a new loan to pay through Pearce — refusing to bend to the monopoly. It is his choice to do this (which will lead to smuggling in the next book), but it was Demelza’s interference interacting with the family that inadvertently led to the failure.

Chapter 6: New Year’s Day, 1790, a gale, snow flurries, Demelza takes to her bed; Enys: both wife and daughter have it. Chapter 7: Northerly gale for another 3 days: Demelza’s nightmares; her father’s crazed religion about being saved: she dreams of Ross saying “let him die in the mud;” memories of Keren and Mark, she calls to her dog, “He takes things so much to heart, Verity had said” (of Ross); choaking someone’s hand there (Enys). The cold, the thaw, the weather, Demelza wakes and Ross lies to her that she can see Julia in morning; Julia has died

Chapter 8: The burial of the child; Ross’s rage; Julia will be lonely in the cold, she hated wind. Now deep in Ross’s mind (as we went back and forth between them just before and after marriage in first book); the wreck reported, how he rouses the people, Grambler miners to come, Jud says she never saw Ross looking so much like his father

Chapter 9: A scene Ross remembered for years afterwards: the men on the beach, women taking needed food; he gets inside ship and sees hopelessness (Sanson’s body) the fires, the wreck happening, and more men streaming on. Rose’s mind half-crazed but he does join in, advising, encouraging, repressing, ordering. There is a second ship and the wreckage is more ambiguous; it seems with help the wreck might have been avoided. But Ross’s despair and then identifying with the working classes utterly does lead to the high conflagration food riot: unintended consequences (rather like Demelza’s act for Verity). Chapter 10: Drunken fights and mayhem on the beach; men of ship come and Ross there invites them back to his house although his wife has been sick. Ross: “much in the world is monstrous”.

(A sub plot-design is Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-family, pro-friend. This is by the end seen to be attached to his male friendships and companions whom he is loyal to: lower class, Jim and Mark, then upper for bank loans, and then at the end Captain MacNeil who warns him he must not get caught disobeying the law nor push it too far. MacNeil chases down smugglers on the beach and at the same time, Mark Daniels so knows Ross has been instrumental in freeing Mark. MacNeil and Ross identify as ex-solder who fought in North America, but their allegiance is to in McNeil’scase the state and law (MacNeil on the twisty nature of the law which will swallow Ross); in the Ross’s to friends, love, family, principles.)

Chapter 11: Morning after; tranquil now: he had planned so much for Julia; normative life returning to him; she so thin and weak; he takes her to window to look out, she asks that he let her stay in the sun. Book ends quietly, wrap my shoulders, let me have the light a little longer please.

For a more detailed exposition with themes worked out see Demelza, A Cornish world mirroring our own.


1975, Episode 8: it’s been rearranged but just about all the original events and characters are there. The only loss is it ends more melodramatically than the book: the soldiers come to arrest Ross. A cliff-hanger and final anguish for Demelza (which is the way 2015 ends). As throughout the film opts for theatric while the mood is naturalistic, melodramatic romance, sudden action, or wry comedy. I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.

MacNeil (Donald Douglas) issues his warning …

Opens as a continuation of Episode 7. There we saw Ross helping Mark Daniels to escape from Cornwall and a murder charge from his own boat into the sea across to France, and running up the high cliff be shot at by MacNeil and his men. Episode 8 begins with him running down the hill and across the fields to Nampara. A delicious scene for someone totally on their side ensues. Ross runs into the house where Demelza awaits him at the window; she frantically pulls off his boots and he says since MacNeil has no evidence, MacNeil cannot jail him and he must go upstairs to bed. Jinny is there, quick with an alibi — he’s been in bed all night with “the headache.” There is a comic feel to the scene as all three know Ross, Demelza and Jinny are lying.

MacNeil bursts in and Demelza is there to greet him, with Ross upstairs and coming down in a robe. We see them outwit MacNeil while his eyes glitter and he issues a warning to Ross that the law will entangle him if he does not watch out. One visible motif of this episode is those stairs: Ross running up at the opening, coming down, from the last one Mark Daniels running past to the library; MacNeil coming in and out of the hall.

The Christmas scenes are ironic — they remind me of Trollope’s Christmas scenes as they show Christmas to be an extra fraught time (not the complacent joy of stereotypes). After Ross and Demelza first escape the clutches of MacNeil we switch to Demelza and Ross hosting Enys, Sir Hugh and Lady Brodugan — in book they are alone first Christmas Eve night and visit Brodrugan the next day and her desire to ask for loans is not enacted, just discussed. At first all seemed high cheer, until Demelza not being able to contain herself asks the knight and lady for a loan to help them out. They speedily leave and Ross is indignant at her.

Francis filled with self-loathing, the cool Elizabeth, the puzzled child

Switch to Trenwith and we see Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles at table waiting for Francis. He comes to the table drunk, filled with self-hatred over his betrayal of the names of Ross’s contributors to George; Clive Francis again delivers a powerful performance, until he collapses. Elizabeth sends for Enys then at Nampara who returns with Demelza.

Ross’s first reaction to the news of Francis’s illness is indifference; Demelza’s determination to go over to Trenwith elicit an “I forbid it,” but when she insists this is family (the great sacred cow which is not invoked in Graham’s book) and says she will go anyway, relents.

The scene where Ross is driven from wanting to behave with high integrity, to moving again to try to outwit someone, this time it’s George he wants not to sell his property too. There is a self-destructiveness here we see.

Jill Townsend as an at first cool, regal Elizabeth

Elizabeth at first wants to turn Demelza out of the house for her low rank (and because Ross married her) but in her terrible need, allows Demelza in, and Francis in his terrible sickness sees and acknowledges. One night Elizabeth and Demelza sit and makes frends. Elizabeth confesses how she broke off her engagement with Ross, how she meant to marry for money and prestige and thought she could do without love (this reminds me closely the TV mini-series version of Trollope’s Lady Laura Kennedy by Simon Raven — made a year before this series). The scene is too inhibited in its mode of acting (as are a number of the scenes of this episode), but Graham’s material comes through enough and realization gives this film an intense edge of the books. Demelza saves Francis, wins over Francis and Elizabeth, only to return herself very sick.

Demelza sick unto death, Ross nursing

As she comes in Ross scoops her up and carries her up the stairs. She is very ill and the baby Julia catches it. Enys there throughout. As in the book, it’s the death of Julia and the destruction of Ross’s hope for a successful mining venture that intertwine behind his despair which precipitates his inciting the men to their violence. Film removes Jacobin arguments and moral preferences of book for friends, high ideals, independence, integrity.

The scene on the beach occurs. Very effective and unlike today done with no computers so literally for real in front of cameras, including ships brought in, really felt underproduced violence.


Ross brings home the crew and they return to their boat in the dawn. He hears her ill, goes up and find her hysterical over the empty cradle, down those stairs again to talk in front of the fire with captain and crew.

They are in the front room the next day or so dressed as from a funeral, her comments about the small coffin and the MacNeil’s entrance and arrest. In the book the funeral occurred first and Ross’s guilt over not providing food another motive for his wanting to see people fed.

Here they talk and in film she says now there is no Julia, he must be very bitter for he married her because she was pregnant with Julia. She stood in the way of his marrying Elizabeth. He loved Elizabeth when he married her. Of course this is not in the book as in the book he married her well before she got pregnant. He acknowledges this but says that was then and now he has learned to love her. He and she speak of their two years together since. It’s at this point the book Demelza ends with a beautiful dialogue between them (re-spoke here). Book does not emphasie rivalry between women at all; book interested in social and economic pressures


Eight, though, closes with MacNeil again rushing the house. This time Ross was not expecting to be arrested, and this time MacNeil has a warrant for his arrest. The episode ends with Demelza running out of the house crying frantically for Ross. A wild thrust.

Crying after him


Cont’d in comments: 2105 Episode 8; concluding remarks.


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Demelza (Angharad Rees) taken in by Ross (Robin Ellis)

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).


Demelza (see also A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World)

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.

Verity (Ruby Bentall) made very unhappy by Blamey’s accusations and pressure on her

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.

Clive Francis as a caged, grated upon man in retreat at the ball (1975)

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 drunken prisoner-physician who has destroyed Jim (lying by his side) by his bleeding techniques (1975)

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 ticketing scene (1975): Ross cool and collected, Zacky Martin takes the lead calmly

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

Jinny grieving for Jim, tells Ross what has happened

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.

Keren living her life in the dark and cold with Mark

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.

Keren’s gesture to Dwight repeats Demelza’s to Ross’s on the first night Ross and Demelza made love

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.

Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) taken in by George (Ralph Bates)

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.

Jim dying by Jinny’s side

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.

Ross’s speech against the ancien regime as experienced in Cornwall

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.

Far shot

Ross (2)

Ross (1)

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 two Warleggans at dawn over the trough

The long shot comes as they move over to the horses. The music begins again. Dawn sky. This is fine art.


Although wholly unlike Graham’s character, Horsfield’s Francis as played by Kyle Soller continues to be the most interesting character in the films — here he is here in his troubled vexed household

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.

Elizabeth (Heidi Reed) looking back at him — it is notable how many scenes in Horsfield have the POV the woman

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.


Ross questioning Demelza who evades his question; Graham’s Ross does ask Demelza and she falls silent

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.


A shamefast Enys against an insistent Keren

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:

Rev Halse (Robin Ellis, again inimitable in the role)

Ross openly assailing him

For the moment Sanson not paid attention to

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.

Ross in anguish, Demelza kneels

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).

In 1975 a scene of apparently the regular meeting of Verity and Blamey to ride: they glimpse George Warleggan from afar and it is our first look at him fully


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.

At the ball it is telling how the camera focuses on George (looking anguished from the red around his eyes) not Elizabeth when he comes to ask her to dance

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!


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Mark Daniel (Martin Fisk) who has very different dreams from Keren (Sheila White)

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).


Dr Ennys (Luke Norris), presented here (as he is not in the book) as a friend from America come by Ross’s invitation to care for the miners

Keren (Sabrina Bartlett) presented as a treacherous calculating slut from our first sight of her taking advantage of the

well-meaning, hard-working Mark (Matthew Wilson) — we don’t see much of each (2015 Poldark, scripted and created by Debbie Horsfield

I regret to have to say with the best will in the world to like this new mini-series, the fifth episode returns to banal repetitive mediocrity which has been interlarded in the first three episodes of the series, and reinforces characterizations of central Graham characters which make no sense of 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 an utterly 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 insufferable 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.

As Elizabeth Heidi Reed’s most characteristic shots are of a woman reproaching a man; he in turn shoots spiteful comments at her continually

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).

Ross telling Demelza the party is not one she can go to: only gentlemen, cards, business deals …. (and implied women)

Well, beyond the galloping across the screen of Aidan Turner or his stunt man on his horse (to be fair all these probably take no more than a minute and a half or so) Horsfield has many scenes in the mines: 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. Now if in these scenes, we were to see their relationship developing or deepening, this would be content rich. That these add nothing because the language is without subtlety or repeats what we already now is central to the problem of the whole mini-series or is hopelessly sentimental (the old trope about a woman redeeming a man is repeated). The wedding of Mark and Keren repeats the motifs of Jim and Jinny Carter’s wedding. Horsfield’ screenplay is disappointing, making the same points or showing the same kinds of thematic scenes over and over again.

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 similarly repetitive and time-consuming. The point has been made that the whole society is structured to exploit the miner, that 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).

The party scene in 2015

As I’ve suggested before, much less money has been spent filming on location, for music, and now 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).

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth lighting into Clive Francis as Francis (1975 — the couple here anticipate what is to come …)

A lack of invention and psychological insight into this class-ridden era, low status females and male aristocratic types alike, are only part of what’s wrong here. 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.


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)

Verity trying to explain to Blamey how it’s been for her (1975)

The only secondary story-line done any 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.

Angharad Rees as Demelza looking at the destruction and deaths (1975)

Thematically in episode 5 of 2015 there was a strange cowardice given 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.

There are two scenes of business dealing in Episode 5 of 1975: effective argument among the men characterizes them both

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.

The play scene: Jud to the left making undermining comment

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.

Francis helplessly self-destructing

(2015, Horsfield’s most interesting couple)

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.

Ross and Demelza as the fifth episode opens, trying to become a couple over this baby (1975, Annett’s script tracing the central spine of Graham’s Demelza)


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‘What the deuce is it to me?”‘ he interrupted impatiently: ‘you say that we go round the sun. if we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.’– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet


Dear friends and readers,

Mr Holmes has a couple of obstacles or problems to wide-spread acclaim. It is melancholy. Its themes include how to cope with aging and its losses, death, stigmatized class status (a no-no). For those brought up on the action-adventure of Robert Downey, Jude Law, Michael Strong and Rachel McAdams, it will not answer your expectations; for those still wedded to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (to say too little of the justified paranoia of WW2), it will make fun of the 1943 fanatical adherence to the deerstalker hunting cap and pipe (Holmes goes to a black-and-white simulacrum of such a movie and just cannot sit through it); it lacks the giddy pace and surrealism of the first 2 seasons of the BBC Cumberbatch and Freeman Sherlock concoctions; but to say it’s not Holmesian (as the New Yorker guru critic in residence, Anthony Lane means to insinuate) is just not so.

I concede fully that the perspective is post-modern (conventional thought and cant, especially about death and grief be damned), that there is something deliciously Jamesian (Henry) about it. Characters have deeply traumatic encounters on park benches while wearing impeccable hats.


Close-up of hat

They fail to understand one another, cannot bear one another’s emotions. It moves slowly, with shots that capture a poetry of stillness and costume drama in its green landscapes, seascapes, the sina qua non steam train rushing serpentine and noisily through. More than twice, though in one climactic instance it matters as someone is (reminding me of a Trollope scene in The Prime Minister) voluntarily smashed to smithereens.

But that it’s not Holmesian is unfair. Once you try to drill down to what could be the psychological or thematic or even political motive or moral explanation of at least two of its flashback and front story plots, you end up with ideas that will not bear any scrutiny. Convention defeats me here: I do not claim to be writing a consistently post-modern blog so allow me to explicate and show at least miminal story consistency.

There are three time frames: the present, 1947, Mr Holmes, aged 93, losing the last vestiges of memory from the past, living on the south coast of England, cared for by a housekeeper (natch) Mrs Munroe (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker) who turns to Mr Holmes as father figure because his own father died in WW2: a bitter moment of memory has Linney as Mrs Munroe remembering how, like herself, her husband, was corroded by the stigmas of lower class status, and for his efforts to become a pilot in WW2, was blown to bits immediately (his mates, content to be menial mechanics all survived the war).



A story from thirty years ago is painstakingly put together (& dramatized as flashbacks) by Mr Holmes about Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) who had two miscarriages or stillborn children, cannot accept this and whose grief is only moderated by lessons she eventually finds for the glass harp (Frances la Tour, the crook teacher), whose intensity bothers her husband to the point he cuts off her money-supply and refuses to set up stone monuments for the never-developed nor born children. It is not giving away the story to say she plots to kill her husband.

Holmes (McKellen) remembering (a difficult feat in the this story) Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan)

It’s not true though that there is no sense to this story. The moral is the husband was wrong; he should have allowed his wife to be deluded by the crook teacher — this reminded me of Woody Allen’s frequent defenses of fortune-tellers in many of his movies and there is a fortune-telling scene here.

The glass harp medium (Frances de la Tour, aka Mrs Western in the 1997 Tom Jones)

Another backstory told through interwoven flashbacks is set in Japan: Holmes has gone to Hiroshima (1946?) to obtain a promised solution of which is said to restore the memory, only to find himself confronted by a Japanese man who accuses Holmes of seducing his father away from him and his mother through the stories of Dr Watson (The Study in Scarlet is the culprit), all the while we know that Holmes now deplores Watson’s fictions a providing false gratifying endings and heroism, with many details so wrong they are embarrassing. Of course this story “falls to pieces in your hands” (as Lane says). Worse, the explanation is reactionary defense of “national” and family secrets, of absurd honor which one sacrifices one’s life for? What Conan Doyle story does not do something like this?


It is Holmes’s self-imposed mission in the film to retrieve: to retrieve the memory of who his Japanese man was (until near the end Holmes believes the man a liar, coward, and that he never met him — the man just deserted his family); to compensate for how inadequate, insensitive, absurd, selfish was his Jeremy Brett-like behavior to Anne Kelmot (the way this Kelmot thread is dramatized is closely reminiscent of the 1980s BBC Holmes movies), something which depends on memory and rewriting Watson’s story.

Much of this is done through the techniques of filmic epistolarity: voice-over with Holmes writing out new texts to replace Watson’s. Part of the fun of this is withholding. We do not see Mycroft (who explicates the Japanese story) until near the end of the film and it’s John Sessions (for me memorable as Henry Fielding, also in the 1997 Tom Jones); we do not see the bumbling inspector (played by Phil Davis, great in sinister, threatening roles in Dickensian film adaptations, now Jud in Poldark), until near the end. There is fun in recognizing these character actors from other costume dramas quietly semi-parodying the roles.


Indeed the uplift at the close is the same fantasy Dickens plays upon in A Christmas Carol. We are asked to believe that people can make up for what they did wrong in the past, find a new person like the one you so hurt now to do better by. We do come near searing calamity in the present, brought on by both Mrs Munroe and Mr Holmes. I can’t deny that sometimes people (as characters) are lucky. The film is as Dickensian as it is Jamesian.

Hattie Morahan was once again “emotionally aflame” — Lane talks of her in A Doll’s House in BAM, but she was astonishing in Duchess of Malfi and I still watch her as Elinor refusing solace. I felt bad for Laura Linney(unbeatable in Love Actually, unforgettable in Hyde Park on the Hudson) that she was given the howling role. I found myself crying at the close because I couldn’t believe in the self-reproach and better behavior of our principal trio: Mr Holmes and Mrs Munroe, to say nothing of the maturation of Roger.

If I had anything to object to in this film it was that both Ian McKellen (too many great films and plays to begin to cite) and Laura Linney could have been given much more deeply nuanced moments. She is literally kept behind bars, looking out from windows:


The film-makers were chary about releasing stills of McKellen showing the ravages of old age in the film, as he falls, eats, puts down stones for those who have gone before him. There was a pandering to the sub-genre of old man-and-hopeful worshipping-boy

OTOH, the beautiful loving feeling at the close of the film was authentic. Doyle’s ever-cool, ever witty, impatient Sherlock is now taking the risk of giving of himself; entering into loving relationships directly. Mr Holmes will leave the property to Mrs Monro and her boy when he dies. We see Mrs Munro and Roger in the garden working together and we see them walk off hand-in-hand too. The boy is now respectful of his mother under an eye of approval by Mr Holmes. He is 94, and we last seem him putting down stones (as Ann Kelmot did) for each of his friends now gone to the earth. He bows before them murmuring a lullaby. McKellen himself is very old now. It is a summer movie because through Jeffrey Hatcher’s marvelous screenplay McKellan as Mr Holmes is believable and comforts you.


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Ross and Demelza (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, 2015) — wordless

(From invented commentary/choral scenes) Francis (Kyle Soller): ‘Ross, surely you must see with such a wife, you cannot hope to have entry into any respectable gathering … You will cut yourself out of society, consign yourself to …’ Ross: ‘a life of peace and seclusion, I must try to bear it as best I can …’ //Margaret (Crystal Leaity), sitting down near Ross: ‘I never thought you the marrying kind … is she wealthy? He: ‘Not at all’ She: ‘Is she beautiful? He: ‘In a way’ She, puzzled: ‘So, you love her? He: we get on … //George Warleggan (Jack Farthing): ‘I’ve puzzled you out … Ross: ‘Was I so hard to fathom? George: ‘Well, I thought so, but your recent nuptials have made everything clear It delights you to thumb your nose at society because you consider yourself above the niceties by which it operates … ‘ Ross: ‘Not above, just indifferent … ‘ (all invented scenes and lines)

Ross and Demelza (Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, 1975) — also wordless

He (earlier in the scene): ‘Look at me … look at me’ (taking her head in his hands and making her face face his) ‘tell me the child is not yours and mine … tell me … ‘ She: ’tweren’t nuthin … it just happened … tweren’t made out of love … ‘ He: ‘It was made out of yours’ (sob from her) … ‘come’ … She: ‘Please Ross, let me go, ‘taint nothing to do with you, ‘taint nuthin you should think of … tomorrow it’ll be gone’ … He: ‘And you too.’ She: ‘take more than that to see me off, oh Ross, please … that’s the first time I called you Ross .. ‘taint nothing to do with you. ‘taint your fault ’tis mine’ (camera on his sympathetic face) ‘What would I do with a babe all alone?’ He (suddenly his voice loud and firm): ‘You won’t be alone .., we’ll be married.’ She shakes her head ‘No … no, you don’t want that … I will come back with you but not for that’ (she now caressing his hand). He: ‘The child’s mine too it’ll have a name my name … now there’ll be no more arguing … come … (lines from Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan as memory, though scene wholly invented)

Dear friends and readers,

I remarked when I first set out to compare the new Poldark mini-series (2012, of Ross Poldark and Demelza) with the older one (1975, first four of sixteen episodes also Ross Poldark and Demelza), and Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the two first Poldark novels (1946-47), my obstacle would be my deep emotional investment in the books. A film is a work of art in its own right, realizing the vision of its creators, what statement they want to make about the book (among many other things), and in most cases I have not judged a film by its literal faithfulness, and instead demonstrated countless times that films adaptations must be valued on how they speak to the issues of the time in which they are made, as well as commentaries on the original book (or books).

I can’t quite do that here. I found myself hit where I live to this day by the new Demelza and Ross’s first euphoric months of love in their marriage (so were mine with my husband), identifying, bonding with both, wishing Horsfield had dared to be more visionary in her depiction of the Pilchard harvesting by moonlight,

pilchardsshe (2)

pilchardsshe (1)

wishing that more had been made of the difficulty Verity and Demelza had in overcoming the difference of their status, education, Verity’s deep loneliness and Demelza’s need of someone to boost her self-esteem, not just by teaching manners, but how to speak to people who are in class and type above you: we see them confide,


dance and shop together a bit too quickly:



But I was gratified with the length of the depiction of that first Christmas, including Elizabeth on the harp, listened to in the book by Francis with exquisite appreciation and enjoyment, Demelza’s frightened luminous folk singing,




and the walk back:


It feels churlish to complain that in the book at Christmas Ross is deeply erotically attracted to Elizabeth, that she is no friend to Demelza, but jealous, and that far from drawing them together, the rich furnishings and historical paintings, the very heritage of the house for a time pulls Demelza and Ross apart again. Only when they return to Nampara and are within its grounds and walls does night and the “old peculiar silence” cease to make a barrier and “become [their] medium.” Their different pasts and personalities “could not just then break their companionship for long. Time had overawed them. Now it became their friend” as Ross Poldark ends.

Horsfield’s rendition was in fact not thematically faithful to Graham’s Ross Poldark. Nowhere in Graham’s book is there this continual carping at Ross’s choice of a woman beneath his class.

In no scene does Ross express any regret to any man about his decision to marry Demelza (as he does in this scene and to people beneath him in rank)

No one in Graham’s book threatens to withhold investment money, no one sneers; Ruth Teague is spiteful (and as in the 2015 film) gratingly mocks Demelza as our “reclusive” Ross’s “Friday,” but the way Horsfield continually voices the competitive (nowadays) and hierarchical (then) view that Ross has destroyed his future is anachronistic. Ross cannot lose his status as the son of an ancient family, and as long as Demelza can learn to parrot the manners of her “betters,” speak less demotically, dress right, with functional literacy, she could theoretically and does except for the abrasive sexual encounters she is subjected to because of her gender do very well.

The lines I quoted above are a product of Horsfield’s own buying into opportunistic careerism. The way up, the way to win wealth and position is through marriage, but as the younger son of an impoverished branch of a Cornish (marginalized exploited semi-colony within Britain), with no sympathy or desire to network or politick in his class, Ross was not likely to do better than Ruth Teague (in the book a fifth daughter of very much declining pseudo-gentry). I exulted in what I admit are the replies Horsfield dialogically supplied Ross with.

I had one insight important to me because Horsfield refused to qualify the love between Ross and Demelza during the sequence leading up to and concluding Christmas. Films can bring out graphically what is deeply appealing in a novel without discussing this explicitly: I have wondered why I love these books so. I saw in Horsfield’s fourth episode that what I love so is the relationship between Demelza and Ross Poldark: I identify utterly with her and find him intensely appealing through her eyes. Jim and my early relationship went utterly against norms: we married with no money at all, 2 pound 10 for a license, his parents took out out for dinner that night and left. He and I danced the night away in a pub and the next day went to work because we had 10 shillings between us. Those first months of my life with him were as euphoric as Ross and Demelza experience in the last part of Ross Poldark, from the pilchard sequence to when they are alone. Nothing could break out companionship we felt; everything outside was the junkyard of what did not matter. That’s how it was for us.


Demelza’s supposedly “saved” father and religious step-mother reveal their hypocrisies

Paradoxically the 1975 episode 4 with its grating and (to those who know the books and films) infamous departures from the story is often closer to the radically communitarian, anti-hierarchical, pastoral and pro-underdog atmosphere of the closing quarter of Ross Poldark. It is true that Graham’s book exposes the hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion (as does this and the fifth episode of the 1975 mini-series). But it’s ludicrous to make Demelza pregnant after one night’s sex — apparently to absolve her of becoming Ross’s partner for two months before the marriage as she does in the book. The 2015 film also compresses time so we will not observe this — apparently it’s still not acceptable in a mainstream TV film for a heroine who is not promiscuous to have sex freely with a man before marriage. The anachronistic depiction of Demelza actually saying that she is not sure who the father of her child aloud would be beyond belief for the 1950s; much less the 1780s, when such talk would land her in the streets of London as the lowest of abandoned prostitutes.

Demelza’s absurd nonchalance

To do what Pullman did is to erase what is beautiful about Ross’s choice to marry Demelza: Ross marries Demelza voluntarily even though he is still in love with Elizabeth at that point, because it is the right thing to do for her as a human being needing him (as she has nowhere else to turn to and nowhere else to go), and because he likes her very much, enjoys her company: in the book she has grown to be part of his life, his very being (as he realizes at the close of dawn after the pilchard harvest). It is an act of rebellion against his class’s norms, fostered by his anger at his peer’s throwing away of Jim Carter (whom he Ross identified with); he is not just indifferent to “society’s niceties” (since when is marriage a nicety?), but wants to be seen to scoff successfully at them. Which he does. In the 1970s Pullman and his team made the Poldark film engage in the contemporary debate on abortion: when Demelza takes the one coin she gets from Ross and crosses the heath to find a laywoman abortionist she is risking her life. There were abortionists in the 18th century but it was rare to attempt this once quickening (regarded as when life began) started which the film pictures Rees as into.

Yet in the book Ross does love Elizabeth and erotically and intensely and there is a scene in the Christmas sequence where he admits this. Without acknowledging this and Elizabeth’s materialism, Elizabeth’s hypocrisy in trying to use Ross as a rope to escape from Francis’s gambling, drinking and inability to please her culturally — how will Horsfield later account for Ross raping Elizabeth. She has made Elizabeth so pious, exemplary and without rancour towards Demelza that I am almost glad that Horsfield changes Francis’s character so at least he is naggingly jealous (and registers that there is love between Ross and Elizabeth). In the 1975 film Francis is rather hurt, unable to reach his wife because of his own lack of self-esteem (this is closer to the book and more in line with Francis’s sense of himself as the heir to the estate, an aristocrat with a lineage):

Clive Francis as Francis appealing to a cold Jill Townsend as Elizabeth

In the film unlike the book Elizabeth wants to leave Francis and anachronistically offers to go and live with Ross elsewhere (again a reflection of 1970s norms), and he agrees; but Elizabeth’s shock and horror (equally not in the book) when she comes the next day intending to make plans to come and live with Ross, only to discover he means to marry Demelza because he is pregnant does convey Graham’s Elizabeth’s resentment, anger, alienation, and Ross’s defense of Demelza as “no trollope” but the girl she ever was, prepares the way for Ross’s rage at Elizabeth’s entrenched snobbery and her later (as he sees it) betrayal of him and the resulting rape.

Elizabeth (2)

Elizabeth (1)

Pullman also conveys what is in the book: Demelza’s knowledge that Ross loves Elizabeth at least as much as he does her, something Horsfield omits. As directed and filmed, Townsend in that huge dress with her high hair is a physical obstacle as well as an intangible one to a fulfilled marriage for Ross and Demelza.


In fact this confrontation is central to the next seven books. For seven books Demelza will have to live with the reality that Ross loves Elizabeth as much as if differently than the way she loves her. By dramatizing this at the point of the marriage, Pullman and his director bring this out.

More to the point of filmic art, the theatricality of the clashes between Demelza and Ross over her pregnancy, Ross and Elizabeth three different times, Demelza and Elizabeth’s face-to-face silent confrontation and most of all Ross’s ride after Demelza across the wasteland, wrestling her down, and sudden tenderness and care for her in bringing her home is among the most memorable and effective sequences of both the 2015 and 1975 mini-series — and the language given them from the book voices the deepest of promises and obligation more forcefully than the 2015 lyrical use of montage however deeply pleasing







In effect the feelings are the same in 1975 and Graham’s book: by the end of the novel Demelza is aware Ross still loves Elizabeth intensely, or at least wants her as much as she, Demelza; she has been faced with the heritage and elegance of his house and family. There is much for them as a couple to overcome, and that is true to the book and true to life.


I have omitted the death of Charles Poldark. In spirit the 1975 film is quieter, it is more pious (Graham mocks the pretense and hypocrisy of the neighborhood grievers). I found the graveyard scene with the “man that is born of woman” speech moving. Francis behaves in a dignified manner at Trenwith just after; we see the desolation of Verity and how the self-centered Elizabeth cannot understand that her frustration is analogous to meaningless life (except for caring for Geoffrey Charles who in the 1975 film Elizabeth is seen as neglecting) she and her father-in-law and husband have imposed on Verity.



Horsfield builds up the death scene itself much more considerably. Nowhere in the book does Charles hand the responsibility for his family to Ross over his son. Horsfield uses it to convey her Francis’s bitterness: he is relieved his father is dead as there is no one around to denigrate, mortify and insult him (as we have seen Charles continually do). Horsfield’s really mean and sordid-minded Charles is as much responsible for Horsfield’s Francis’s wounded psyche as any demands on him that are outside his ability:


I find it interesting that in 2015 less piety surrounds the dead and there the film can return to more of the feel of the mid-century book.

In both episodes the desperately needed copper is found, and in both it has been voiced that this will only save the community if Ross and his partners can get a decent price for it. In 1975 Ross thinks he has staved off the Warleggan monopoly, that all his partners are keeping secret from Warleggan who are the members of the Carnemore Copper Company. In 2015 George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) has begun to break down the company because Dr Choake (depicted as a nasty evil-tending man — a child-like use of a character) has agreed to sell his shares to George. There are many things I respect about the book and both mini-series, but the most important is the attempt at a serious depiction of economic relationships and structures as the center of daily life.


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