Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Poldark’ Category

EllisandRees
Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Rees) (Poldark 1975)

Demelza to Ross at he leans down towards her: ‘I live only for you, Ross’ (Graham, Ross Poldark, Bk 2, Ch 6); ‘Oh, I love you so!’ (Pullman, 1975 Poldark, Episode 3); Horsfield 2015, no equivalent …

ChoackandRoss
Ross (Aidan Turner) making his appeal to Dr Choake (Robert Daws) seen from the back in the courtoom (Poldark 2015)

Dr Choake to Ross’s request for help: ‘My dear sir, we’d do as much for a friend, but don’t ask us to testify on behalf of a young vagrant who’s been caught poaching’ (Graham, RP, Bk 2, Chapter 4); of Jim Carter as Jim is led into the court room: ‘They’re a different breed, sir, a different breed’ (Horsfield, 2015 Poldark, Episode 3); Pullman 1975, no equivalent …

Dear friends and readers,

This week I enjoyed both versions of Episode 3 so much, I returned to and reread the parts of the novel covered. As in the first episode of both versions, in this third, much the same material is covered, with exceptions being made for a rearrangement of events and changes in detail (so that Jim and Jinny’s wedding occurred in Episode 2 in 1975 and as in the book was not precipitated by Jinny’s pregnancy, while it occurs in Episode 3 in 2015 and is so precipitated), and both were similarly in different and the same places faithful with different or similar striking departures. Yet as in the second episode, the excellences of the two Episode 3 were felt utterly disparate and left such a different effect. How is this?

gviestheahouse
Ross offering Jim (Alexander Arnold) and a pregnant Jinny (Gracee O’Brien) a rent-free place to live

Last week I tried to account for this by describing the new way of movie-making as manifested in montages, continual quick cutting back and forth, juxtapositions, and brief scenes. I showed why some watching prefer the 1975 mini-series, and in this third episode in 1975 the full developments of deeply traumatic, angering, erotic moments as well as the passing of time and ephemera of life was on display, as well as such effective dialogue and acting. But to be fair this week did have a number of long scenes (it had to, for example, the court scene, the initiating of sexual love-making between Ross and Demelza) and effective epitomizing lines, powerful outcries against the injustice of Dr Halse (Robin Ellis pitch perfect embodiment, especially in his sighs, and patience under boredom) on the part of Ross (Aidan Turner). It was done as far as a brief scene in a costume drama can be accurately — including a sense of the discretionary power of the judge.

EllisasJudge

Turneracharacterwitness
The confrontation

The scene in 1975 was slightly comic, and personal tensions between Nicholas Warleggan (Nicolas Selby) and Ross (at the time a young Ellis), the presentation of Nick Vargus as a low-life crook (so deserving punishment) overshadowed the main issue: the laws against poaching when the average person was not far from starvation as a disguised property and class war. In 2015 that came to the fore; the 2015 scene reminded me of one in Fielding’s Tom Jones (Book 8, Chapter 11, not in either the 1966 or 1997 films of Tom Jones) where a sadistic, sardonic “hanging judge” (Sir Francis Page) maximizes the power of the establishment’s agents to refuse any clemency to a man accused of stealing a horse (he is summarily hanged).

As in 1975, in 2015 the initiating of love-making between Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross occurs over several sequences. It is literally closer to the book — except that Horsfield will not permit the kindness of romantic love, and only hints at the the motive for manipulation that Demelza has (because her father has come and threatened to take her back to a rightly hated home). Demelza is drawn to Ross’s mother’s rich dress, and puts it on; there are two separate scenes, one in the front room where he grows angry and the other in his bedroom, where he does not and she comes to him the second time.

Scoldingher
He scolds her for daring to wear his mother’s dress

I am so intensely drawn to Demelza’s outbursts the following day (a proud yet distraught Angharad Rees pleading to be allowed to stay and then angered because she is in effect being rejected so denying that she has no where to go, no one to turn to, “What makes you think [that!]”)

whatmakesyouthink

and flat-out leaving, without his trying to make her come back; and the subsequent theatrical re-engineering of the marriage in Episode 4 when she is found to be pregnant (from a single night — not probable), I cannot regret the changes. But as Graham’s novel has it, Ross commits an act of deep rebellion (and determination to separate himself from his gentry peers) by marrying his kitchen maid fully voluntarily and within a month or so. It was not unknown: Fielding married the housemaid after his wife died; Charles James Fox married an outright prostitute, Elizabeth Armistead whom he had fallen in love with. Horsfield cannot resist having Demelza try to leave out of hurt over Elizabeth’s visit and Jud and Prudie’s continued scorn (this latter not in the book at all); it seems neither film-maker was willing to show that Demelza never thinks of leaving, that she has no where decent to go, and that Ross Poldark’s view of her has become her and what he wants, she does. That is part of why he finds her irresistible.

cannotresist (2)

cannotresist (1)
A very different walking away and calling back

So it’s not the new way of movie-making nor is it the change in the emphatic presentation of a particular kind of feminism (women as genuinely oppressed, without power to choose their own lives); after a proto-feminism, 1970s style is on display in the 1975 fourth episode (to be dealt with next week); nor the emphatic over-riding use of the mining anti-(unameliorated) capitalist story as in 1975 there are long scenes of negotiation to open Wheal Leisure once again to look for copper, as well as (more believable) scenes of ploughing, sowing, harvesting.

Inthefields
One of many depictions of Ross working in the fields; his servants near by

I fall back on what I suggested at the outset of Episode 1: a key aspect of this Poldark is it’s critical for the film to present this upper class hero (a member of the 1/% of the era) as sharing the work ethic and at work, shown to have the skills and qualities of the vast majority of working people (the 99%). In 1975 Ellis remained a gentleman whatever he did, he was elegant at an assembly, danced in a sprightly way; his Ross and Graham’s too, embodied a notion of gentility that makes the upper class ontologically superior to, or at least different from everyone else. Swashbuckling is what Errol Flynn or Stewart Grainger did for fun; Ellis didn’t do that, but he contained the residues of separate higher status. Angharad Rees was made to become part of that upper class by the middle of the first season. In 2015 Aidan Turner prefers not to dance and denies being any good at it; we see him sweating, working side-by-side in the mines with his men, continually at strenuous tasks. Eleanor Tomlinson is seen twice getting and giving herself “pump discipline.” She’s not presented distinctly as a child when we first meet her nor do we see her in stages growing up (as is dramatized in a couple of comic moments in 1975 as when Angharad-as-Demelza insists the world might be round); in the novel she is a child of 13 when Ross brings her home, with a child’s body when he washes her down. The scenes in the 2015 film reminded me of one I saw in an Australian classic film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Jimmie, a man half-aborigine and half-white is subjected to cascading waters of a pump in a cold dank area twice so as to prove himself clean enough to come inside. At the time it was believed that lice brought on typhus and typhus was a killer.

Juxtaposed to the alienation and misery we see in Trenwith and the business dealing and prostitution in a tavern in Falmouth we see Jinny and Jim’s weddding with Demelza dancing there. Ross looks at her and she refreshes his soul, and he begins to dance too. This communal dancing contrasts to the high romance mythic dancing with Elizabeth in the assembly which was such a strain for him.

DrinkingDancing

Rosslikesher
Demelza having a good time, drinking, then dancing, Ross watching, likes her

The archetype for this new Poldark is not after all Outlander nor Master and Commander, but the Australian versions of American western films. Old family connections, ladylike ways (which Heidi Reeds as Elizabeth carries in her every movement) are presented as useless; the new Charles Poldark (Warren Clarke) nags his son, Francis (Kyle Soller) to get to work, but Francis doesn’t know how; he is a gentleman. All this is fantasy; upper class people knew very well how to keep and make money when they wanted to; it was done mostly through the patronage system. But it is the social presentation of characters that are thought to support progressive politics to the average person today.

***********************

A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h55m27s163

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h55m52s164
Her begging and pleasing to stay; him trying to explain he thinks it’s for her good; after all, he cannot marry her is implicit (see above and below)

One skein has Demelza slowly growing up some more, turning into womanhood (signalled by her hair changing and become this luxuriant long red), and at last in a weak moment Ross awakening to her beauty and then, drunk, succumbing to having sex with her. The scene of their first encounter is remarkably well done – and tasteful. In this version he shudders; they are in front of the fire; she cries out how she loves him. She sure does and we have been persuaded it’s absolutely natural. If he’s stern or difficult at times, he alone of all the characters has shown her real continual kindness. Verity lives apart in Trenwith, in another world and is upper class and older. All Demelza has she now has from him: dress, reading, daily quiet life of tasks that make sense.

In his Making Poldark, Ellis said he objected to the way this is changed from the book. He’s right. The next day in the film Ross determines to send her off: he is too honorable to have this happen again; she at first clutches him and says don’t send me away and it doesn’t matter if it happens again. He says oh it does, and begins plans to whom. They quarrel (as they have before) and she lights out for all the world like Huck Finn. Improbable. In the 18th century she’d have nowhere to go; parents would not take her back, the friend she goes to we learn (Jinny Carter) would be so near subsidence she’d be with her relatives who would not take Demelza in. Not even damaged goods given her lower class drunken miner’s daughter background.

In the book the incident is triggered by her father again coming to demand her back. People are talking and he’s married a religious woman. She is terrified of this and we are asked to believe entraps Ross — who is drunks and upset (more on this later). This is the male point of view. But it is harder. Then far from sending her away, in the book Ross and she begin to be bed partners. He does like her, and in the film the scene is triggered by how angry he feels at himself, at what happened, he wonders why he should control himself.

VerityBlamey
Norma Streader

The film has other skeins. There is the temporary ending tragically of Verity and Blamey’s courtship. We see how they have grown to know and love one another — a good scene. Ross comes in and there is talk and plans. But the two Poldark men find out how Verity has been meeting Blamey in Ross’s house and come there enraged. Francis, hot-headed, insists on a duel, and keep slapping Blamey who cannot endure this and they duel, Francis is shot (not fatally, or even dangerously) and Charles collapses. The affair betweem them they see is impossible. In 2015 the actor playing Blamey makes him likeable — emotionally appealing and Horsfield changes the story so he killed his wife by accident, it was manslaughter. That makes the story less complex, and it is troubling that in 2105 the wife is blamed.

Jinnyscene
Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h40m30s157
Warleggan personally grated upon

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h41m04s236
Ross articulating a set of values

Centrally important is Jim Carter is led to poach by starvation; he is imprisoned and Ross tries to save him. The judge Warleggan gets angry at Ross’s insubordination and declarations that such laws are deeply unjust (see above). In the film the trial scene very effective; a sense of a large active crowd. Lots of individuals brought out to show different indifferent unconcerned reactions. Ellis presented as an older. We have seen Jinny friendly with Ross, Jinny pregnant, talking with Ross, her love for Jim, and helplessness to stop him; now Jinny’s grief brought out. Ross comes home that night drunk from this incident. In the book at what has happened after a little time passes, and he determines to make the final rebellious act and marry her.

Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived .

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h47m19s148

This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers. She is under considerable strain; her life is one of frustration and boredom; she finds she cannot tell Ross this.

Negotiatingbusinessdeal
Negotiating business deal scene in 1975 – note the elegance of the surroundings, all gentlemen

There is only the one negotiating gentleman scene about the mine but as with all the scenes, the dialogue is better, more precise, more engaging; in the first half of 1975 episode the Verity material is still playing out (it was squeezed into episode 2 in 2015) and we have Verity’s meeting with Blamey and the finding out about it by the Poldark men and the powerful duel clash. It just seems to me at every point the dialogues are better, the focus on the characters more precise, more distinctive, and more varied. They are rounder, more believable, more time given, separated out.

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h27m08s68

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h27m03s18
(Passing shots in 1975)

We do feel time passing, the sowing done slowly, farm work is more central but there no sense of a big community around as in 2015. It feels in the 1975 film as if they have more time, but it’s that Pullman and his team used time and montages more cleverly. A sense of time going by is better even if in the book we are told they married quickly, it was a month or so. The characters feel older in the 1975, dressed to look and act older.

************************

Observations on 2015, Episode 3 (compared to 1975 film and book):

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-21h32m08s64

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-21h33m52s81
Ross seen climbing up the high hill over the mine; the people come to work

2015 begins again with the mine. Ross is ringing the bell, the miners are up and glad to be so, headed for the mine. The great rejoicing moment of opening — camera on Demelza supporting Ross. The sneers of Choake, the Warleggans. Demelza works in the field and told by Jinny of Jinny’s worries, and after one of several eating scenes with Ross together,

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h13m39s143

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h13m44s196
Eating and talking; she is now the cook

Ross makes efforts far more central and intertwined to insist Jim (who seems more immature in 2015) marry Jinny Carter with the opening of the mine.

The new mini-series shows Verity unhappy, downtrodden, talked down to by the Poldark men, embittered against Francis. Francis looks much worse in his bigotry against Blamey, for not working alongside men as our Ross does.

Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. In Graham’s book Jud is droll; Horsfield seems to have no feeling for drollness. Paul Curran understood it (and probably Phil Davis might if given the lines).

Workingintehfields
Ellis and Curran working in the fields: Jud to the back, Ross remains a gentleman but there is camaraderie (1975)

MaryWimbush
Mary Wimbush as a good-natured thoughtful Prudie (1975)

Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, far more class self-conscious.

Horsfield does not show the passing of time, the choice of landscape imagery is pointed (a blast in the mine, flowers in the field near Demelza suggesting eroticism) and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward.

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h38m15s62

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h38m40s49
The morning after: in the novel Ross alludes to a Shakespeare sonnet (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” asking himself if he feels this; and Demelza does revel in the fields

Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene which is actually not specified in the book (it was written in 1945/6). Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up and the hour ends on.

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h10m40s150
A typical scene of Francis scolded, lacking dignity, takes it out on Verity

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h28m30s101
Made a supine fool by Margaret

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is made far more exemplary. Asked by Francis’s father, if Francis does his duty (has sex with her), if he is at work on the mines somehow or other, she says yes. She plays the harp in the book too (there are no harp scenes in the 1975 movie):

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h39m15s147

Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan and he likes Ross, wants his respect and companionship at first, but is seduced by George into forgetting by George’s playing on his sexual and work insecurities; so he is not appealing It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles (Warren Clarke) is himself really mean too; not likeable as Frank Middlemass was able to make him. In the 2015 Francis sits on a horse looking helplessly at Ross’s mine

vlcsnap-2015-06-28-22h11m17s2

so when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed) to a larger audience, rather helpless and writhing and angry: I can sympathize. But then he is overtly arrogant to Verity, sneers at her. He buddies with George which he never does in the book or the 1970s.

It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. He is a self-contained aristocrat, containing his self-esteem and careless dismissal of those beneath him; in 1975 with an undercurrent of self-loathing out of a depression within his character which his father has taken advantage of. We see him enjoying himself:

vlcsnap-2012-05-07-18h03m04s61

The contrast is with Jim Carter who the culture subdues, makes deferent, hesitant, without assertive pride:

JimCarter
Ross scolding Jim for poaching (1975): there is a similar scene in 2015, but it has lost its original context

In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.

Well in the 1970s programs Clive Francis as Francis is never jealous (the sex scenes are cut) and his lack of business acumen and leadership is never mentioned. In fact he finds and tells about the scandal pamphlets sent out against Ross. In the 1970s Clive Francis is witty, kind, well-meaning, likes Ross and I am among those who find the timbre of his voice intensely appealing. In short it’s not the actor (Kyle Soller) whom some viewers may be alienated from; the actor was chosen to fill a role of Francis from Horsfield: she doesn’t care for the ne’er-do-well sceptical Francis. Amanda Foreman who wrote the biography behind the film of Georgiana Spencer’s life, The Duchess said that Hatcher, the screenplay writer was not sympathetic to Georgiana and that’s why the movie made her less than sympathetic, and Hatcher agreed. Horsfield cannot like the type Francis Poldark is supposed to represent in Graham’s book.

*********************

To bring out a few points from the above notes and details: strong parts of the 2015 film include its historically accurate presentation of the court scene, its depiction of a deep relationship developing between an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl, and how her character is given resonance through class and status anger.

Demelzatoldbyfatheshemustreturn
Demelza angry and yet helpless against father’s demand she must return

It lacks irony and there are moments where the script might have meant for Turner to project ironical distance (as when he is talked to by the preacher at Jim and Jinny’s wedding and told marriage is to prevent fornication; or when Mrs Teague and her daughter Ruth assail him), but he is either too flat or obvious in tone.

The strong parts of the 1975 film are also the court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents an unfortunate departure from the book’s original themed presentation of politically radical love. But it has real humor and can contain a sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character:

vlcsnap-2012-05-11-18h23m32s218
Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner

Ellen

Read Full Post »

I have a right to chose my own life — Verity (2015)

FinalStill
Final still, a far shot (2015 Poldark, written & created by Debbie Horsfield

Supplyingfood

Inneed
A few stills before: Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) come with Jud, food & other supplies, watching Ross (Aiden Turner) who sits absorbed in thoughts about his mine

Dear friends and readers,

While Episode 1 of Horsfield’s 2015 mini-series (it’s important to remember how central the writer has now become to BBC film adaptations) seemed closely similar to Episode 1 in 1975 (Jack Pullman, writer, and Christopher Barry, director of the first four; with 3 others writers & different directors for the next 12, and a kind of organizing central conception and linchpin hold from the single producer for them all, Morris Barry), as I wrote and Anibundel noticed, Demelza’s entry into Ross’s household begun in the 2nd quarter of the 1975 second episode and clinched in the end of the 3rd (her father’s greedy intervention) was brought all into one into the 2015 first episode. What that meant is much in the original episode 1 (at least 4 scenes of mining and banking), had to give way and everything presented made briefer, shallower.

Reading over the blogs in reaction to the 2015 Episode 1 this week, I see that one unfortunate result has been most watchers have misunderstood the novel (Ross Poldark), which is not a triangular love story of a brooding angry man. Graham’s Ross Poldark is the story of a revenant, a man believed dead, who comes home to realize that no one minded him dying (except Verity and his now dead father, Joshua, and in some moods Elizabeth Chynoweth), that he has been replaced, his house gone to wreck, and who gradually gains the strength and determination to build a new life for himself as a land- and mine-owner; the last part of the book is a love story (a beautiful idyll), but Demelza’s story is primarily one of a lower class girl growing up, and painfully learning to integrate herself into the upper class Cornish world, which is not a lush rich one, but people on the margins, many genteel impoverished (Nampara is a farmhouse, the Chynoweths are broke, the Charles Poldark Trenwith home on the edge of bankruptcy). As I wrote the Elizabeth Chynoweth matter in both the 1975 and 2015 first episode was heavily taken from Warleggan (the fourth Poldark books).

Thus the slow-moving Episode 1 and 2 of the 1975 mini-series kept much more of the original emphasis; it also kept Graham’s political perspective, a pro-American revolution outlook, for a social contract among people (reflecting the Post World War Two atmosphere of the book), not just or even sheer anti-capitalist; and if my impressionistic survey of what’s being written on the Net and what I’ve read about the sales of the books from the 1970s to 1990s is accurate, while in 1975 and a decade afterward many readers turned to the books, and read them, the new mini-series may be increasing sales of the Poldark books, but few appear to be reading or re-engaging with them, understanding loving Graham’s Ross Poldark, just as much or more than the films.

A second reason for this disconnect is the new way of making films. Forty years have passed; in the 1970s through early 1990s, TV films were conceived as stage plays, whether filmed on an indoor set or outdoors; actors learned longish interactive talk and dominated much longer scenes (it could be as long as 8-11 minutes) on a screen; individual complex character conception out of virtuoso acting was prized. It’s not true that the 1975 Poldarks resembled most others by having characters standing around repressed. What made it so popular was it had characters who openly expressed their emotions, acted them out physically; and that (unusual until the mid-1980s), much was filmed on location in Cornwall, with different locations central to the action (as in a later episode when Dwight Enys sets a fire on the top of a mountain to warn the smugglers below the prevention men are coming to capture them). The music was highly original, haunting. In fact much less of this sort of thing is being done in the new Poldark: the new Poldark is more set-oriented (included the set for the mine), the music very average (not Cornish), the same landscape used stills over and over as sheer backdrop.

What is generically new and apparently compelling to an audience brought up on post-2000 movie-house films is the continual use of embedded montage and a very different mood. The technique of the 2015 film is ceaseless, sometimes abrupt montage, quick brief shots of epitomizing scenes, a continual wipe out as the camera moves from one group of people to another. Inside a series of these quick pictures with few words, reliance on gesture and sheer picture is heavy, are embedded references to different on-going stories. The mood of the new series is brooding melodrama, high and intense romance (in picturesque settings for Trenwith and Heidi Reed as Elizabeth), grating, edgy, a sense of emotions of those on the screen at any second about to explode (with Eleanor Tomlinson providing the languid resentful moments as an excluded and overtly oppressed target for others to hurt or order about). There is no comedy — there was much in the 1975 film.

The embedded montage in this film at any rate keeps many of the less central characters at a distance from us; it’s a tribute to the effective intelligent acting of Kyle Coller as Francis Poldark, Crystal Leaity as Margaret (presented as a prostitute), and Pip Torrens as Cary Warleggan (George Warleggan’s father, a man of at least minimal integrity as a capitalist has been cut) that we really get a sense of their characters — at the same time as Horsfield has reconceived these three (as well as Elizabeth). Horsfield is determined to add George Warleggan in early (as they did in 1975, with the commanding feel of Ralph Bates’s presence simply there now and again), but while Jack Farthing gets some individual moments (as bully, as treacherous, a kind of Iago to Francis’s Othello, but also favorably as this man trying to negotiate with Ross Poldark to bring him to compromise with the corrupt world), often he appears for a split second, says a line and then we move on.

This is a choice it must be remembered; it is seen most unqualified in the modern genres of western, action-adventure, crime-thriller and semi-fantasy films. In a historical film (which Horsfield’s mini-series aspires to be) you are allowed to slow down, offer scenic moments of the past (and Horsfield does this in the sets of the village and fair), and yes return to coherent precise talk. The choice here seems to have be taken as an effort to secure a larger audience. I have seen films where embedded montage is overcome enough that we have rounded complex characterizations in the minor characters (e.g., the recent Bleak House and Little Dorrit, Andrew Davies products). The film-makers may also have felt the staged playlets are seen as elitist and might therefore drive away audiences. They have ignored the reality that Downton Abbey uses this older technique and no one has complained; the more than 16 complex characters have been bonded with.

**************************

VeitysubalternElizabethnothingtodo
Verity subaltern, Elizabeth mismatched (by mother it seems in this series) with nothing to do

What interests me personally though and what this blog will be about is how in Episode 2 of the 2015 Poldark series, Debbie Horsfield has reconceived the Graham story’s and the story of the 1975 film. (I know she denies knowing the 1975 but it’s transparently obvious she watched it carefully, as who would not, if only because it is well thought of, and sometimes develops and changes things from the 1975 not in the book at all.) Episode 2 turns the Poldark matter (let’s call it) into a mining story: the second episode begins and ends with the mines; its high moments are Ross’s hard work and gradual success at securing a combination of men to find and work copper in Wheal Leisure after the Warleggans have closed Wheal Reith, and it’s seen that Charles and Francis’s Wheal Gambler is failing, even though paying lower and lower wages.

The secondary story of Episode 2 is feminist as Horsfield understands feminism: the mistreatment of Verity (everyone is much harsher to her than the book or in 1975): Ruby Bentall is used as a servant, this Charles (Warren Clark) does not want her to marry (Graham’s Charles and Frank Middlemass as Charles did), she is presented as supposed to be subservient to Elizabeth (who protests and does not want to be idle and looks frustrated and bored). All of Verity’s initial story is told in Episode 2: meeting with Blamey, falling in love, courting, and the ugly thwarting by Francis and Charles (in the 1975 film it was, like Demelza’s, done leisurely over 3 episodes). This Cinderella kind of perspective is repeated in how we see Demelza literally kept in the dirt, at the hearth cleaning ashes, protected and looked after more by Ross than anyone else has: in the small time he’s got he noticed Jud and Prudie harass her, insult and make her life harder, and encourages her to negotiate for cheap prices for fish, and buys her a clock. Elizabeth is presented as bullied by her mother into the marriage with Francis, and afterward having nothing to do. This is Horsfield’s career-oriented idea of feminism; I’m surprised it hasn’t been noticed.

What has been noticed and constitutes (for me) the worst or flawed moments of this episode are the imitations of and reactions against other popular films: in order to get over a charged insulting moment, Ross is seen going swimming, naked from shoulder to waist, with Demelza in the grass, voyeur-like watching him in sensual enjoyment. This is taken from the famous “wet-shirt” scene of Colin Firth in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted by Andrew Davies). Jud (Phil Davis) and Prudie (Beatie Edney) are made into nasty people, avoiding hard work wherever possible, having sex in the corners; this belies the pro-the people thrust of Ross’s actions, and seems to be a reaction against all the happy free servants we are continually confronted with in two-level humanity shows like Downton Abbey. The 1975 mini-series also showed the characters as existing on two separate levels (with Elizabeth and Francis’s wedding an elegant cold affair and Jinny and Jim Carter’s a warm free-for-all country dance and drinking), but we did get a sense of the lower class male and busineessmen characters’ individual personalities. In Episode 2 Zacky Martin (Tristain Sturrock) and Mark Daniel (Matthew Wilson) and Henshawe (John Hollingworth) appear and at least Jim Carter and Henshawe and the “bad guy” Dr Choake (a weakness there, played ably though by Robert Dawes) but there is no sense of them or the other male miners or the businessmen as real individuals.

What follows is a description of Episode 2 in 1975 and 2015. This time I won’t try to compare as the matter of the two is so different. My interest is to show how differently the movies are made in this one episode (I won’t do it again, this will be the one study) to suggest why they have such a different effect.

**************************

Demelzaclimbingup
Demelza climbs up, Ross watching her (Angharad Rees and Ellis)

enjoying
Francis (Clive Francis) as aristocratic young man, center of friends & cronies, women, enjoying himself

withVerity
Verity’s (Norma Streader) successful appeal to Ross (2975, scripted Jack Pullman, directed Christopher Barry)

Episode 2, 1975:

This Poldark story is treated archetypally, from the standpoint of sympathy with the lower classes of Cornwall and the fringe people gentry who are being exploited and starved by monopolizers and outsiders (the Warleggans stand for these), with a strongly active story-line of social scenes (gambling, dancing). The point is to build a whole varied world. The use of landscape is entrancing. The story thread now is how Ross (Robin Ellis) is (against his own will in part and certainly not done with open arms or glee but rather stern reactions) gradually brought into social interaction with people, gradually decides to start up his life as a man in the community, of some standing as well as family. I have never been able find a release transcript dialogue on line or a shooting script (these come as xeroxed copies held together with clips) for any of the 50 minute parts, so I can’t quote some of the speeches as it’s long and tedious work to take them down in stenography. To anyone coming here who knows where I could buy one, please let me know.

poldarkpt2episode1rosswithmargaret

The arching pattern has the story open with Ross with a prostitute (with a heart of gold, alas), drunk, gambling: he’s cheered by the woman and his activities but also desperate. When he sees Francis (Clive Francis as our good-natured well-meaning libertine, his own worst enemy but charmingly witty) comes in with a bunch of cronies, Ross leaves upon seeing Francis; Francis regrets that Ross has seen him, lest his activities get back to Elizabeth (Jill Townsend). To the watcher in the 1970s there was something congenial and manly in Francis’s artistocratic bearing; he is enjoying himself even if not virtuously, not despicably. Ross is doing the same, Francis by gambling, Ross by his relationship with Margaret and gambling.

Establishment shot of Nampara, and we are inside and there is Verity (Norma Streader) coming over finding Ross in a stupor and scolding him into at least getting up and doing something. She wants him to take her to a part, a ball, she has no partner. She too lives a desolate life she says — lonely, with no love of her own, no world, no activities outside caring for Trenwith and Francis’s family.

Ross’s determination to begin to make something of himself begin with his knowing he needs food and money, so the first thing is to farm his land. His visits to the Carters and Martins show him that Jim Carter, a young man he likes, is ill, needs work, and he hires him (three scenes). This thread will lead to Ross’s rage over how the poaching laws (a property war) are used with Jim as scapegoat to repress and kowtow and simply maliciously hurt lower class people. Carter is weak but well-meaning, an ailing person who cannot work in the mines (very bad for anyone) and comes for a job and proves his worth as a human being. We met Jinny in a juxtaposed scene, the Martins too. The wife is not individualized but everyone else is and made appealing. The sets are based on 19th century paintings from Cornwall: this is an impoverished world which maintains an important veneer of civility for themselves.

Then hopeful Ross is off to the fair to buy livestock and start farming. It’s a wonderfully recreated fair which in the book is also fully achieved, including in the film a St George and the Dragon play. The high point of the part and certainly I felt all the frisson was his meeting with Demelza (Angharad Rees) as a thieving young urchin and being led to bring her home. This is not quite as in the book for in the book he takes her out of two fighting fierce dogs (she’s protecting hers) and a resulting mob scene (people who object to her saving her dog). Here he saves her from a fierce beating. But the effect is the same. He is relentless with her too: scolds, berates, threatens. We do see she is falling in love with him because he is being kind and decent.

poldarkpt2episode5jimjinnycarter
Jim and Jinny Carter at their wedding

VerityBlameyDancing
Verity and Blamey dancing, falling in love

The film does fall into somehing the book does not: upstairs downstairs. We have the Carter wedding with Ross as viewer and this is (quietly) juxtaposed to Ross at the ball dancing so elegantly. We see the two subgroups interact in parallel ways but apart. There is an acceptance of this by showing it this way. The book does have these levels of people but does not make this kind of parallel contrast which by its presentation justifies the hierarchical okay point of view. it is here we see Verity and Blamey begin to fall in love in stills of them quietly dancing; Charles is agreeable to the idea if Blamey has money and status and asks Ross to help him find out. He will see what he can discover.

Then the coming of the Carnes; it’s treated half-comically. The father is corrupt and wants to be paid, at the same time to appear this male bully. Ross refuses to play this game, and a fight ensues over male pride. Jim comes in and genuinely participates in fending off the Carnes with Jud in the comedy of the piece: they help Ross throw out Demelza’s corrupt father and brothers.

Poldark75Pt1Ep2QuarrelScene2
The young Demelza runs in to protest against her two guineas a year being given to her father: women have no rights, she declares

Ross is called to Trenwith by Elizabeth and rushes over: this is a rare moment in this hour where we see Ross’s love for Elizabeth come out. She tells the story of Blamey as a wife-murderer and alcoholic and says Verity refuses to give him up. She does not identify with anyone outside herself once again. Ross at first sees the wisdom of separating this couple, and the scene between them shows his concern for Elizabeth (he says her name ever so softly), but in a closing touching scene just outside Trenwith he is brought to agree to help her at least get to know the man by allowing meetings in his house. here it is made clear the man killed his wife, had a violent abusive alcoholic past. Graham and the film-makers of the 1975 film do not treat this as necessarily unacceptable — there is arguably some implicit and overt misogyny and disregard of women’s primal needs and problems in the 1945 books and 1970s film, but the 2015 film’s solution is to blame the woman: Bentall as Verity claims the wife was violent first, Blamey killed her wholly by accident. This is not much better.

To conclude in 1975 the central event is the coming of Demelza but she is seen against a backdrop of creating the world of Cornwall and the lives of other characters; nothing presented overtly didactically at all but subtly — more subtly than I’ve time or space to show. The use of the house (Poldark’s Cornwall names) it in which Francis, Elizabeth, the father, Verity live is very good. It fells such a natural place and yet has this lovely taste and landscape. So too is the farmhouse believable, feels real. Photographed naturally.

**************************

StandingWatching
Verity standing watching the duel between Francis and Captain Blamey, whose results will dictate, probably ruin her future

Raremomentoflaugher
At the assembly ball, a rare moment of laughter for Elizabeth while dancing & talking with Ross

themeetingbegins
Ross’s crucial moment: the businessmen gather as he spreads out his papers to persuade them to re-open a mine to search for copper

Episode 2, 2015: this is how embedded montage works in this film, and how the themes of mining, business, and the oppression of women emerge.

Phase 1: The opening set of stills, rocks, crashing waters, the silhouette; then the mine set: bell, wood, lantern, leaves, Ross glimpsed working hard in the mine.

Cut to Ross at desk, thinking, working at papers, looking at crystal he has drawn from the morning work. Overvoice of Phil Davis as Jud chanting: mines, in the book, a copper vein the bread of life; what you eat, sleep breathe; cut to shot of closing notice of Wheal Reith; Jud’s voice continues: “she’s your salvation and your downfall” and soloiloquy turns ominous, dark. Cut to establishment shot of great house, and then inside an aristocratic man tying his bow, the other side, a footman knocking “my lord?” Phil’s voice continues, “making reckless, making blod.” Cut to redcoats and officers stopping men at a mine from working. Jim Carter to the fore: “’tisn’t right ’tis all we have,” men in back. Full medium shot of Jud drinking, Ross working at table, bitter look in both faces. We hear footman again: “My lord Basset, there are bailiffs” at Wheal Reith, as cut to inside and aristocractic man puts wig on head in front of mirror. Jud: “A fool’s game will end in tears” at table. Cut to Jim standing forward to fight, knocked down. Jud’s voice: “your father died before his time, now Ross answers “I admire your optimism.” Jud to Ross: “Your father died in his bed. And it won’t be the last man that mining did in, and if he were here today … he’d tell you not to make the same mistake. Shot heard from aristocratic house we saw during montage. Ross speaks to Jud’s soliloquy: “I wonder ..”

Cut to sea, and we hear and see surging waters. Establishment shot of farmhouse, Nampara. Demelza’s voice heard, angry: “Judas it’s cold, brr it’s freezing,” she is dousing her head with cold water from pump. Ross seen at window. She calls herself “a buttock of beef,” he is amused, she fierce. Jim comes up as Ross looks out window. Cock crows; Jim says “mine closed .. Basset dead.”

Cut to Warleggans, very handsome inner study with the young George worried, fretting, “We called in his loans,” and now we see his uncle at his desk, “no,” says Carey, “we declined to extend it.” George: “Does it not reflect poorly that it falls on deaf ears?” Carey snarls: “Are we in the business of sentiment or profit?” Before we can feel for George, Margaret at door comes in to say “I be going now Mr George?” George cold, “Have you been dismissed? He is all arrogance, tells her she is to address him as sir,” and turns to say to Carey: “These ancient families they lack backbone.”

Cut to yard: Jim and Ross sitting together on a log : Jim: “Why would they call it? Ross”Believe me; it’s the banks.” Jim: “Grambler is the only mine.” Ross: “My uncle won’t take you in?” Jim: “there’s my breathing.” Ross: ” You’d welcome a few months above grass,” hands Jm the cup. Jim: “I need to work or my mothers and sisters starve.” Cut to Prudie scolding inside to Demelza, nasty, “So now we be home to all the waifs and wastrels of the county,” Ross coming in, hears, turns away, Prudie continues her taunts about begging bowls, with Demelza at threshold Prudie bangs into her, thus connecting her to Jim. Demelza looks awry, skeptical, hard.

Cut to books on library shelf, beautiful piano, beautiful things in room, Ross sits down and picks up 300 pounds from Charles to be gotten from Warleggan’s bank. Flashback: he remembers Elizabeth on the cilff in the sun before he left for America, and then fingers the ring she gave him. Cut to him determinedly charging across landscape; arrives at Trenwith, Elizabeth at window, seemingly satisfied. Downstairs Charles, Verity ever serving, Agatha, he walks in. Verity: “Ross!”; Agatha says “You still here?” Ross to uncle “I’m minded to give back money, puts down on table. Now Charles sneers, “Just like your father,” snaps fingers at Verity (she is treated like Margaret by George). Ross: “Heard about Wheal Reith, to which Charles “and Bassett” –-. Ross first of interventions for Verity: turns to her: “you must visit me soon Verity,” selfish greedy Charles retorts, “And neglect her duties here? She’s too busy to be gadding about,” with a further sneering reference to “Cousin Francis as not much good.” Ross walks out, and Elizabeth watching from window. She looks as a woman in love, she sits down to mirror, Francis comes in (minor key music), he wants to go to bed with her clearly, camera on her her hand on table as he says “Shall I join you in bed, m’dear”, he puts his hand around her reluctant one.

Cut to Demelza in Nampara farm yard washing in tub, Jim passing by with farming equipment; cock crows and nasty mischievous Jud and Prudie stick more sheets and shirts on her to clean. Now the working men seen chasing after Ross on horseback on way to mine, teasing him that he’ll be arrested for inciting a riot soon, Martin thanks him for hiring Jim, and another man says “Happen you could do the same thing for we?” He’s told that Charles Poldark has hired men for starvation wages, Ross’s bitter voice, now soft voice, “I can promise nothing.” Ominous music and mine seen in silhouette. Inside of mine photographed with ross Letting himself down.

Phase 2: Cut to outside mine, Francis with high hat rides up to mine, Ross coming out, Francis; “Are you staying. Ross: “do you resent this.” Now Francis appeals to him again (as he did in Episode 1) “We used to be friends … you aren’t thinking of reopening?” Ross: “I’ll think of anything hat might help those devils left off of Wheal Reith. Francis says he can’t take “responsibility” because “father doesn’t trust me.” Back shot of two against mine and Ross’s voice heard: “Perhaps we should share burden, Open wheal leisure together …”

vlcsnap-2015-06-21-21h35m50s133

Cut to Elizabeth gathering eggs on Trenwith grounds, Verity to her, “what are you doing? A lady should not be doing this,” but Elizabeth wants to, Verity that “the lady of the house, goes to assemblies,” so Elizabeth shows her Elizabeth’s invitation to a ball and asks Verity, “May you not go?” Verity tells her that her days “activities are as a kind of superior servant, her life is not Elizabeth’s life” Note: Heidi Reed’s hair-do left over from Gainsborough’s films, high curls and one on shoulder, Verity’s a group of knotted buns, not 18th century, perhaps 1950s.

Cock crows and Ross in town – very much a rural scene in the streets. Effective set. Montage cut to Ross in banker’s office, talking to Pascoe who is saying “Have you taken leave of your senses. Ross: “What do I need?” Answer includes “capital, knowhow, allies, men of means, money men.” Ross’s reply includes “marginal, smattering, cousin will lend his name.” Pascoe: “You need investment and have reputation somewhat tarnished. I am speaking as banker and friend.” Cut to tavern, POV Ross, Margaret seen from side – she is clearly a prostitute ever out for a lay. Western like minor musical tune, soft pedals from piano. Margaret approaches him, and he says he “has neither money nor inclination,” advising her to seek “another profession;” cut to her telling his fortune (he agreed to that at least) and brings out qualities about him, prophecies: “you have made the mistake of falling in love … came back … and you still care for her; she is kind, perhaps she loves you still.” He looks at her with a kindly smile on his face. Cut to vision of Elizabeth on chair in luscious garden looking melancholy – with appropriate uneasy music.

Ross riding back across landscape (a repeated motif) and Verity catches up on her horse; he is glad to see her. “You escaped then?” They come to farmhouse and Verity says: “I see you’ve not been idle” Jim and Jud pass them as they work. Ross calls out “Demelza” as she is at hanging out clothes near pump, introduces “Tthis is my cousin, Verity: she courtesies very awkwardly. As two ride off, Verity: “Has she settled?” Ross: “still somewhat feral.” Verity asks if if his wound still pains him, she comes down from horse, a more intimate tone than we’ve heard “I wonder if I might ask you the greatest of favors.” Cut to invitation, we are to gather she wants him to take her. Cut to him staring out from desk, glimpses in nearby room Demelza sweeping. Lone unconsidered figure she is feeling this. Cut to brief shot of Elizabeth in fancy outfit in Trenwith, with Francis coming in front of her and asking, “My dear, will you not reconsider, you know how I love to show off my wife to the world.” She looks irritated. Cut to Demelza sweeping, looking up warily; Prudie comes over as Ross walks by. “Where’s he going?” Demelza: “To a dance, he don’t look too glad about it.” Puzzled. Prudie: “gentlefolks is strange.”

Phase 3: the assembly romance juxtaposed to Demelza at Nampara: shot from above looking down at high artifice in room, elegant classical music, camera from above, looking down at ball room candles people dancing, elegance, luxury. Verity walking down stairs on Ross’s, thanking him for getting permission from father. Ross: “I’m entirely at your service,” Verity: “Don’t be … ”

Downstairs, close-ups: luxury tables, piles of food, men gambling, Choake and the businessmen at a table: Choake: “Those ruffians settled themselves? Cary sneers about lack of jobs, Choake: “They have no business to have an opinion at all.” Francis: “Some would say that is outdated.” George: “In America for instance all men created equal. Choake “Preposterous. George (ironic for us to see him say this): “Distinctions of rank must be preserved,” Francis (conscious irony of his own) “Especially when they are so dearly bought. Cut to Demelza scrubbing floor; Prudie and Jud gloating over her (Cinderella scene) and enjoying fire and liquor.

Cut to dance floor: Georgeby steps: “Not dancing, Ross, will none of the ladies have you? mocking gently that he has a whiff of the workers. Ross asks if he needs perfume. George self-deprecating: “Yes how else will a family of blacksmiths … “, trying to be genial, with rapid line of “One of these days you may need to come knocking. Ross: “I would be desperate.” George walks off “I look forward to the prospect.” Turning round POV Ross sees Elizabeth apparently resigned (but has sad look on face however transient) on Francis’s arm, holding her face up, holding her own as best she can … Ross sees Blamey there, saying “you know that lady” to someone, Ross watches Verity and Blamey meet, Verity knows him, addresses him, but his attention diverted by Miss Teague trying to make conversation (his words rebarbative), then without him camera switches to an awkward Verity, trying to make conversation, “Ah, a sea captain,” she is trying so hard. Juxtaposed to hypocrisies of Miss Teague to whom Ross says: “I fear I possess few of the refinements of polite society”. Verity lacks them too; implication, they are socially dysfunctional (if real relationships is what you are after). Cut to Demelza to underline point: We see non-polite society; she is filthy sweaty, with candle lured into library, sits by harpsichord (minor chord), camera catches Purdie and Jud drunkenly singing, going up to their bed. She gazes at desk, maps, papers, crystal …

Ross coming down hall, Mr Treneglos accosts him; friendly men with Henshawe who worked as mine captain for his father, all talking of mines now. Henshawe eager: “Are you thinking of opening, working it.” Pascoe heard saying he’ll see what can be done … requires discretion. POV moves to George near by, spying. Ross: “I fully comprehend you sir.”

Verity and Blamey falling in love over his drawing his ship on a pad, He: “When can I see you again? She: “Oh captain Blamey that I couldn’t say. Cut to cruel scene of Jud coming upon Demelza in library, threatening her, rough, telling her “go home you are getting ideas about your station,” she is angry, wretched. Cut to Blamey: “Forgive me, I do not wish to appear forward, but I would dearly like us to be better acquainted,” Verity quietly: “Me too.” Miss Teague back to trying again, Ross she and her mother by heading for Elizabeth who is talking with Francis, who genially retreats for the one dance.

High symbolic romance: Magic music hands touch – the director imitating Wright in 2005 Pride and Prejudice and recent Anna Karenina with single couple mesmerized, glimpsed and glanced by others again and again. (Nothing in book justifies this, in 1975 Ross upon seeing Elizabeth in a pattern dance, cannot bear assembly anymore, bids adieu to Verity and leaves.) George, Iago-like planting seed in Francis’s mind; “Your cousin most attentive … to your wife …” At first Francis doesn’t take this in: “I don’t think he cares for dancing, he only came to please Verity.” George alert: “Who is that man” pointing to Blamey. Francis: “A captain but father couldn’t spare her and Elizabeth would miss her, George insinuatingly replies: “doubtless our wife would find ways of distracting herself.” So Francis begins to watch intensities between Ross and Elizabeth – we see trouble in his eyes. Mrs Teague now seeing Elizabeth and Ross, Verity notices, Francis upset, and Verity hearing high nervous laughter from Elizabeth, ignored Blamey’s stuttering asking if he can ask her father, comes to rescue by hurrying to Ross and stopping dance moment: “Ross may I introduce Captain Blamey.” Verity tells Ross, “There is nothing there for you,” and she and she look back at Elizabeth with Francis, and Verity asks: “You’ll take supper, thank you I’ve no appetite.” George seen nastily shadowing Francis,making ugly gossip about “Ross in love, see the spectacle – Ruth Teague is unlikely to remind one of previous attachment.” Ross goes out into night, turns up in tavern and then Margaret next to him: “May I be of service m’lod,” Ross: “One service is all I required,” he ushers her upstairs. Cut to Demelza with dog in bed, Elizabeth upstairs watching unhappy drinking Francis below.

Bright day over roofs – bell of morning – Margaret and Ross wake, he is kindly disposed, she tells him again “you’ve a rare hand it knows what it wants but not always how to get it.” The male upper class arrogance Horsfield concerned to show in Ross’s speech: “I was not in a talkative mood last night.” Demelza seen walking by beach – now he is seen stripping self and washing – presumably doing water therapy but the voyeurism and reference to Davies’s P&P (Colin Firth) unfortunate, and absurd: Tomlinson even breathes heavily …. and glinting sun –

Phase 4: The success of both Ross and Demelza in town.

ArrivinginFalmouth
Arriving he calls out to Demelza

vlcsnap-2015-06-21-22h57m19s127
She is glad to be respected, given a trusted serious task – buy food for household

Ross seen at work at his desk again, Demelza brings in food, the angry Charles comes in, opening a mine, the cursed of the Poldarks” but he wants Francis to be part of it — “he must learn to stand on his feet, but as is clear by Charles’s choosing this for Francis, he is not learning; Ross says teach him discretion “from his good friend George.”

Jim ready with horse, Demelza with basket, Ross wants to take her to shop – it is a kindness to get her away from Jud and Prudie seen in distance sitting – have they been making you a beast of burden, you look weary – she bursts out I know my place, He “your place is where I say it is, fetch your cloak. She: “Sir? Never had no cloak ..” The two on horse, her hands held in this abject way – lively scene of town by the sea – everyone doing different economic things, visual expansive realism as they on horse move by – important day for us both let’s see who can strike the better bargain .. as she gets off. He spots Verity speeding along and she ducks. Demelza coming down stairs to fish monger. Elizagbeth out of shop with cloth – he is so eager to help her ,allow me (she didn’t need it and Demelza did) George glimpses them walking together .. she asks if he enjoyed –- she pretends to say Miss Teague was pleasing him and perhaps he should look here, he asks would that please you, so she says she has to go, Verity looking for her. Shots of Demelza bargaining; glimpses of Verity and Blamey.

Ross goes into tavern, meaning to bring Francis along, but it’s too late, as George coming away from Francis saying: “I’ll leave you.” Francis (tears in his voice) refuses: “I need something I can depend on.” As Ross walks away, we see George standing there, is swaggering. This to me is an unfortunate degradation of Francis: in Graham’s novel and Pullman’s 1975 script Francis refuses because he doesn’t like risk, is in too much debt, especially to Warleggan; here he is emphatically just an insecure jealous male (lacks all dignity).

Key scene of episode: the business men gather, Henshaw sitting down, Ross spreading out papers, maps – he has worked so hard for this. Henshaw are we expecting your cousin, Francis has changed his mind a pit yit would lend a certain gravity – Choake deeply hostile at idea of spending gold for copper.

Cut to George seducing Francis in tavern: “some see arrogance, others observe a sense of entitlement; Francis: “To o what?” Whatever takes his fancy – then tries to pump Francis for info on “latest venture”. Cut to Ross talking it up; back and forth between two scenes; Francis does refuse to talk; Trenegloss question is, “What will it cost us? Choake irritated bankers not to be Warleggans. Back to George: “Warleggans will lend but persaps Rossdoes’t value friendship or family. Ross to Choake: “Warleggan will lend only in prosperity once it starts to struggle they take money out,” and Renfew and Henshaw add: “This costs miners dear (interrupton of George poring down seduction) – costs mine owners dearer. Cut to Francis, an idiot listening to George – he’ll advance anything.

Juxtaposed: Ross rewards considerable for these risks … he’d sooner gamble at mine than cards 50 guineas a piece for the first three months, Henshawe adds his and then the others fall in, Ross looks happy as others give in different ways, toast to Wheel leisure. Ross looks out window and sees George with arms around Francis. Cut to Ross outside and Demelza coming up with fish in basket; men see her, what am I a circus attraction, poorly dressed. He buys her a clock — in 1975 it was a new dress.

The last phase: tragedy of Verity and Blamey cut off from one another and ending with Ross finding solace and meaning in starting up mining, Demelza at his side.

Establishment shot of Trenwith then Elizabeth overhearing angry Charles and Francis discussing Verithy’s shamelessness with blamey; Charles angry you should have dnoe something before our family name dragged through mud. Demelza and Ross home on horse. Cut to Demelza at kitchen chopping; calls Jud and Prudie, goes to door it’s Elizabeth, she is squashed and Elizabeth all elegance. Ross comes out so pleased and soft toned; Jud comes in as they are nearly talking of love despite Francis, she wants him to speak with francis and father, saddle his horse; rides there and Elizabeth there – hears with startle about Verity – now we now father selfishly against it anyway – -contrast to Charles 1975 – Clarissa solution she does not leave house until she swears never to see him again He is all agreement inside but looks loath. He is now outside – verity cones up to him, produces softened version in which she attacks him first – ross agrees t ohelp her. Blamey in house: she’s my angel of redemption – later he says Demelza his redemption

Comic heavy handed interlude with Ross escorting Mrs and Ruth Teague around his property; Mrs Teague: “One has only to taste her syllabubs to know their succulence,” “Is Miss Verity still meeting that blaggard?” Ruth or her mother asks.

As Blamey and Verity talk of their families, Ross asks Demelza if she hears word of her family. She has not. Ross’s ride across stormy countryside on his way to Wheal Leisure: Francis and uncle infuriated and scene over Blamey ensues. Ross now moving down swiftly: He had come home so happy about investment meeting, thinking about Francis may yet join him – they are all stiff and hostile – George must not be told he will betray, Francis accuses him of betraying them over Verity, who is given the utterance: “I have a right to chose my own life.” Francis’s response to this: “Perhaps a thrashing” to Blamey. Not in my house, says Ross – Blamey rightly calls Francis a puppy and he is incensed now father wants him to stop – Francis “anyone may abuse our trust – incensed over jealousy of Ross, he strikes Verity down more than once, wants Jud to act as referee – pathetic scene of Verity and Blamey outside. Shots. Francis falls.

Prudie feared of blood and Demelza helps Ross stop the blood. Back and forth, Elizabeth comes in and is hysterical blaming Ross. Dmelza “Your cousin do owe you his life, then to Ross: “Where’d you learn to do such things,” Ross: “on the battle fields of Virginia. Stupidity of Charles, says to Ross: “You are a disgrace to name ofpoldark and offers no thanks. Elizabeth leaving “I do not blame you. I wouldn’t for the world wish him hurt. I now more than ever I need him by my side because I am with child.” This is the signal of the end of his hopes we are to take it; in 1975 it was Ross telling Elizabeth Demelza pregnant and he would marry her; no such scene in Ross Poldark.

Cut to Nampara: Demelza comes in to front roomand he puts hand on forehead, reaches for her hand, “Do I have half wit branded across my forehead. She: “No.” He: “Yet I fell for it again (he is talking unfairly of Eliziabeth) and should be grateful. Fetch Jud and Prudie, we have work to do.

Episode returns to mine imagery and setting we started with. A sign, Wheal Leisure is put up. Demelza is making a fire. Cut to inside Trenwith, dinner table, Charles and 3 women but Francis’s place empty. Cut back to Ross turning to Demelza come to give him his meal. Ross tells her she “did well today, but “if you miss your family” she can go home (illogical, why would he say that?) She is hurt: “You’ll be wanting rid of me … ” He: “I was merely offering you the chance to return to your home if that’s where you feel you belong.” She: “belong here I belong here,” and he smiles.

*************************

comingintotown
One of those shots from 2015 where a world is created and felt

To conclude from what these analyses show: Admirably Horsfield has reseen the books; she is more pointed. Her way of using embedded montage makes for less subtlety, more abruptness; the characters are given gnomic statements too quickly, with out grounding: they hate, they love. It’s a woman’s film insofar as she constantly recurs to the women’s stories. They are presented as much more oppressed, from Verity who is openly caged in, subaltern, subordinate, used, to Margaret who is ordered about. She wants us to see Ross as loving Elizabeth and see her as learning after she marries Francis that she loves Ross after all. She has a cyclical structure for both episodes, the ending returns us to the opening. I find I prefer the naturalism of the 1975 film, its longer scenes with precise thoughtful dialogue that is believable. The characters (except for the Warleggans) are kinder to one another; we live in a harder world in 2015. There was less anxiety about masculinity in 1975: the strong good-natured protective male, the weak well-meaning sensitive one; there is much less enjoyment for the characters in 2015 thus far. By having to cover less, there are more scenes of characters doing things that have little to do with plot, but capture character, milieu, time. More of Graham’s language makes its way into the 1975 mini-series but Horsfield is careful to keep or make up new epitomizing lines.

StGeorgeforEngland
The St George and the Dragon play played out in the 1975 fair, the kind of scenes the new style of movie and its mood has no room for

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander

AidanTurner
Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificent against defeat

EleanorTomlinson
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Carne, asked where she is going (near final shots of Episode 1)

Dear friends and readers,

As I have written altogether too much (probably) about the twelve Poldark books, the 1975 mini-series (a Cornish Che Guevara) and 1977-78, Graham’s other historical fiction, mysteries and costume drama, I asked myself what could I contribute that would be found useful, or enrichening to readers of the books and watchers of these two mini-series, made 40 years apart. Well, comparisons. I will not be recapping; I assume my reader has read the novels, at least Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (the first quartet, written 1945-53) and refer him or her to recaps elsewhere. I find most far-reaching in the changes is how the popular vision, how we today see the 18th century is changing in films:

Let us begin with Episode 1:

Let us first admit there is a real similarity in what is covered and emphasized in two mini-series, though the presentation seems worlds apart cinematographically, and what was contained in two episodes in 1975 (the taking in of Demelza occurred in Jack Pullman’s 1975 Episode 2) and occurs in one in 2015 (the screenplay writer is a directing force in British productions, so 2015 is shaped by Debbie Horsfield). Neither film dramatized Joshua Poldark’s death, both begin with Ross coming home in the stagecoach; both have his visit to Trenwith where Verity and Francis greet him with emotional friendship, while Charles holds back; while the 1975 includes Pearce as a first visit and Pascoe as a second.

rossandpearce
Ross and Pearce (1975, where an emotional soft bonding counts, Pearce calls Ross “m’boy”)

RossandPascoe6
Ross and Pascoe (2015, where the banker is predominant in telling the bad news of no legacy that can support him)

Both emphasize how Nampara has become a wreck (though Jud and Prudie are made more appealing in 1975, more genuinely attached to Ross, and he less severe to them), Ross’s bonds with his tenant-friends and companions and decent humane behavior towards them. Centrally important, both take material from Warleggan, the fourth Poldark novel (the back story which is not told clearly or that emphatically in Ross Poldark, the 1st) in order to make clear how Ross has loved, in his mind and heart clung to, a dream of Elizabeth Chynoweth, so we have several scenes between them. Both have Francis and Ross going down in the mine and Francis nearly drowning because he tries to apologize to Ross for taking Elizabeth from him and arouses Ross’s deep rage, with Ross’s hesitation about saving him (“Why haven’t you learned to swim?”), the wedding, Ross’s desolation.

KyleKIollertryuingtoexplain
Kyle Soller as Francis trying to explain, openly vulnerable (2015)

companionable
Ross and Clive Francis as Francis Poldark, companionable, after Ross’s rescue, Ellis not as deeply angry as Turner (1975)

In literal details it may seem that the 2015 episode is closer to the book (for example, Ross meets Elizabeth first at Trenwith at the engagement party), but a second viewing will reveal some pivotal details have changed. For example, nowhere in the novel does Charles offer Ross 300£ to leave; Horsfield (however she may deny having watched or read the previous mini-series) got that from the Pullman where Charles demands 300£ in money owed him by his brother, Joshua, money Ross desperately needs and has borrowed from Pearce; Horsfield makes central to her first episode that Ross is tempted to leave and then decides not to because what is most meaningful to him in life is his relationship to the people there, the land, and what he can do for both through his ownership of possibly payable ground (mining). Horfield brings Demelza in much earlier than Pullman because Demelza is not seen as a raucous “fiesty” semi-sexual thieving rakish girl (a concept Pullman and his team modeled Angharad Rees on from Tony Richardson’s influential 1966 Tom Jones where women are coy sex kittens), nor Ross as combining the swashbuckling romance hero of Gainsborough costume drama (a kind of Stewart Grainger) with the strong leftist-liberal politics of both Graham’s 1945 book and the 1970s BBC progressive costume drama.

episode2
Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees from Episode 2 (1975)

Instead Demelza is a genuinely abject semi-cowed, beaten, subaltern young girl, understandably hostile (like a dog who has been badly treated), guarded against all comers, attached to her dog, Garrick, who alone has loved her, and standing for in Ross’s mind, Cornwall itself, what (he says in the last moments of the episode) he had almost forgotten, what he will retrieve, and the eighteenth century here is not a world of elegance seen from an upper class Austen-ish point of view, but from below, a grimy, grim, brutal, desperate place of people living mostly a subsidence life, where they are hard to one another.

Birfiresidedrinking
Ross by fireside drinking and eating with men; he often also drinks alone

walkinwithdog
Demelza walking, singing with dog alongside, but basically alone too

The analogy for 1975 is The Oneddin Line mini-series, for 2015, the recent Outlander, indebted to Peter Weir’s 2003 Master and Commander). Ellis’s ultimately descend from the Errol Flynn image of the gay swashbuckling, elegant hero, combining with the liberal outlook say of Albert Finney as Tom Jones; Aidan Turner’s looks are rough, Napoleonic era long coat and rebellious army man, strongly influenced at the same time by Johnnie Depp in The Libertine.

Other important differences which will be developed: Heidi Reed (2015) as Elizabeth Chynoweth is made much kinder, sweeter, less self-involved, and unlike Graham’s Elizabeth) partly marrying out of obedience to a mother and affection for Francis, guilty about Ross and herself rooted in Cornwall (all an invention on Horsfield’s part)

Reeddeepconcern
Reed given a penultimate speech to Ross that he must stay in Cornwall (completely outside Graham’s Elizabeth’s character

Jill Townsend is permitted to enact Graham’s concept in Warleggan of a woman genuinely frightened of the reckless Ross, seeking material comfort and prestige, in need of security. In neither series does the ambiguous woman, adult with complex motives, deeply resentful of Demelza eventually, and no friend to Verity, selfish and yet strong when and where strength is needed, not particularly enamoured of Cornwall (she’d love to go to London) whom Ross had fallen in love with:

Townsendturnsaway
Townsend turning away from Ross lest she be seduced by her erotic and affectionate attachment to him

Perspectives on the themes of Graham’s book matter: in both Verity is a kind of female Ross, both of them indifferent to worldly values of others; I found myself preferring Norma Streader because she is allowed to be more forceful and to scold affectionately:

Revenant
Streader is unafraid to project her emotional life: Ross is here the revenant come back

raremoment
Rare moment of selfhood for Verity (2015)

Horsfield’s version of feminism is to show us how women are subject to men (so Charles is made to use Verity ruthlessly, forbid her men — in 1975 Frank Middlemass as Charles wanted Verity to marry) and Verity does not get much chance to emerge until Blamey comes onto the scene. But Horsfield is much more pro-capitalist and conformist herself; she brings George Warleggan in much earlier as someone willing to negotiate work with Ross, more humanly understandable supposedly in his cool greed, more acceptable than in 1945 or 1975 (with the man of some integrity as a capitalist who will stay within the law, Nicholas, not there, instead the amoral more criminal type, Cary companions George).

triesto makefriends
Jack Farthing as George Warleggan making overtures (2015), Turner as Ross turns fiercely away

**********************

Some notes on particulars in the two series, with a (I hope) fair assessment. We should remember the 1975 mini-series had the advantage of not expecting a wider critical audience, of seeing itself as fulfilling a minority taste in historical film costume drama, and by expecting a smaller minority audience could be more daring, more original, take chances. The 2015 has the burden of being second, of having to endure comparisons (like those above), of having much more closely monitored ratings so it must satisfy conventional expectations (thus Aidan Turner had to be muscularly gorgeous).

Iconicending7
The iconic ending of the first episode (1975): Ross standing alone, swirling waters around the rocks

waters

1975: The hour ends with him on top of a cliff fiercely looking down as the music rolls. The motifs of the Cornish seacoast and rocks and surging waters are part of a subgenre of Cornish movies. There has been more money spent on music and locations that persuade us we are in Cornwall in 1975. I was stirred by Robin Ellis’s ability to convey complex thoughts and depths. He is cinematically equated with the sea surging against the rocks, hurling itself. He comes home to find he has been thought dead and people didn’t really mind: his mine property taken over; his bethrothed refuses to break her engagement; his farmhouse a mess. He fights intensely at each turn and at each turn his way is made harder. His one great and faithful friend is Pearce, the banker-father, who secures some money for him. I loved how Ellis as Ross spoke and acted truthfully at each turn: he saves his cousin, Francis from drowning: he explains his hesitation by saying he forgot Francis can’t swim, but also it would have been in his interest to let Francis drown. The opening paratexts and music are haunting.

Both films have good actors and much has been done to re-create the 18th century worlds. The difference is the earlier one allows the characters to come forward much more individually with their presences felt; they are not figures in a landscape; the way films were made were to conceive of actors on a stage; in 1975 the actors interacted directly and have more length given each encounter and are more rounded as we meet them (a good example of this is Ross’s meeting with Ginny and the Martins in 1975); thus we feel their presence and their significance much more. Pullman’s screenplay is better: the language is really more particular bringing out the issues and feelings of the people much more adequately with more insight into the nature of their responses to one another and their environment. I miss Paul Curran as Jud — he was just so utterly believable, mean and yet comic; the good nature of Mary Wimbush as Prudie.

2015: since Horsfield chose to bring Demelza in early and include in the first episode material that takes half the 1975 second episode there is much less time in the first 2015 episode to develop the scenes, even if 2015 has 8 more minutes. there is too much garden opulence around Elizabeth Chynoweth: the Chynoweths are as broke or near genteel poverty as the Poldarks; only the Warleggans are doing well. Phil Davis is an utterly believable Jud but less appealing; the new Prudie is grossly sexualized (Jud seems ever to be having sex with her off-stage). This series lacks the comedy of 1975; it is darker dramatic romance. The best scenes as scenes are those closest to the book of which there are a number, e.g., between Ross and Elizabeth where he breaks out in exasperation. There though mostly is a reliance on sheer pictorial projection; we are given the backstory of Ross’s time in Virginia and his young love for a young Elizabeth as pantomime in a prologue; the camera makes love to Demelza’s hidden wordless moods:

withdog
Playing with her dog

feelinggood1
Feeling better about being alive despite the putdowns and sordid jealous threats of the Paynters

The politics are not progressive (not pro-American revolution as in 1975), but darkly suspicious of all powerful people, Ross is seen as feeling the equal and friends of his men (Jim Carter, Zacky Martin, Mark Daniels), eating and drinking with them. Turner conceives him as forceful, self-contained as a survival technique. This series mirrors the scepticism of today in Britain.

wideseascape
The wide calm seascape is preferred (and a crossroads where a gibbet for hanging someone is placed)

2015closesonhopeinthemine
2015 ends on Ross and Demelza riding by the mine — he looks up to it as what he may hope to support himself and his servants, tenants by

Next week, Episodes 2 compared.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

wolf-hallAntonLesserasMore

Anton Lesser as Thomas More (Peter Straughan defying a fear a wider swathe of viewers will declare a series boring or slow-moving returns to some of the techniques he used in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy … ) The Washington Post featured a editorial column by Charles Krauthammer inveighing against the distorted portrait of More, showing how seriously these films are taken …

Dear friends and readers,

My concluding blog review of this unusually rich volume of essays on the often neglected and casually dissed costume drama from the BBC, for several decades a leading and influential creator of fine TV drama. The first part covered different ways of dicussing these serial films ; the second the history and evolution of historical films, and this last on the power of these drama’s audiences (especially in the age of fandoms on the Internet with their instant commentary) and how they can influence how a given mini-series might develop and frame how the series is discussed in public media.

***********************

nextmorning
All we are permitted to see in the 1970s is the morning after (Ellis as Ross, Jill Townsend as Elizabeth)

Chapter 16: Julie Anne Taddeo’s “Why don’t you take her?”” Rape in the Poldark Narrative.” I liked this one — it coheres with my point of view on gender politics in the Poldark series (though I differ in how I see Graham’s stance). Where she differs from the approach I would take is she organizes her findings around the fan groups which protest regularly, where misreadings are a result of mainstream cultural values. It offended many viewers of the 1970s mini-series that Ross rapes Elizabeth, and they are given ammunition in this view by the relatively chaste presentation of the 1970s depiction, and by later qualified backtracking in the novels, to be noted in Ross Poldark’s memory — but not sufficient to turn away the reality that Elizabeth manifests intense bitterness towards Ross in The Black Moon and is in The Angry Tide given a very “rough deal” indeed (Graham’s terms for the realities of women’s lives in our culture): she dies of miscarriage she pays a doctor to bring in by causing early parturition, using some herbs known to lead to gangrene. why? the intolerable life she finds herself having to endure when George Warleggan, her aroused jealous husband begins to believe that her second son, he thought his, and born prematurely, is Ross Poldark’s.

Taddeo begins with the enormous popularity of the Poldark mini-series as well as the unacknowledged (by elite groups) extent of Graham’s readership for years of his Poldark and mystery-thrillers-psychologically complex books. Her point will be to show how the fan groups managed to influence how the film-makers changed Graham’s books when they filmed them. The central dilemma of the 12 books is that Ross Poldark loves two women, Elizabeth Chynoweth, aristocratic, upper class, who chooses to marry Ross’s cousin, Francis, partly because she fears marriage to Ross (as a man of renegade risky outcast behavior), and thought he was dead and promised Francis; partly because Francis is the oldest son’s older son, and thus the heir and she hopes can provide her with a high culture social life. Ross takes in a pathetic abject working class (beaten up or abused) young girl, Demelza Carne, to be a servant in his house. Demelza grows up and eventually they have sex (almost inevitably and this carries on) but he marries her quickly — as someone he really likes and feels comfortable with, as a good sex partner. As to defy his class; it is an act of rebellion.  He falls in love with her gradually and deeply. In the 1970s series this altered so that Ross and Demelza have sex for just one night (the film-makers feared the audience would think Demelza unchaste if there were many nights, and that even today would not condone breaking the taboo of marrying far beneath him); Demelza becomes pregnant, even tries to an abortion, but Ross finds out, stops her and “gives” and their child “his name.” When Francis Poldark dies, and Elizabeth finds herself impoverished, alone, insecure, lonely, she marries George Warleggan, even though Ross has made intense efforts to help her (like giving her a lump sum he and Demelza needed badly for his mining business).  Incensed, enraged, he goes to Trenwith and forces himself sexually upon her.  To take her back, to assert his right to own her.  Fans resent bitterly the idea that Ross could have raped anyone. Just the other day I debated this issue off-blog and off-facebook with a long-time ardent reader of Graham’s books and about his life.

So fans of the mini-series argue over this triangle, wanting to absolve Ross and turning to hating Elizabeth. Taddeo shows that Graham is seriously interested in the question of rape, presents women as subject to men; in the second mini-series (out of Books 6-8), we have a young woman, Eliizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, forced into marriage and Graham dramatizes her experience of married life as continued sadistic marital rape — happily her husband dies, and she remarries a brother of Demelza, but she never recovers from her two years of such experiences.

Anotherrapescene
A scene related to the one focused on above: another rape scene written by a man, and this time we are encouraged to see coerced sex as aggresive seduction (Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, forced down by a Turkish friend of one of her suitors, Downton Abbey, the first season, 2010)

Chapter 16: Andrea Schmidt dilates on “Imaginative power” of the fan fiction and postings on the Net about Downton Abbey. She demonstrates how these fans — often disdained — expose the absurdities and perversities of Fellowes. He hires a “historian” as a reinforcement of his claim that he refuses to develop his characters in more sophisticated adult ways and deal openly with complex politics because is he keeps to “historical accuracy” no anachronisms in his characters. “Historical accuracy” is his mantra (like the US uses “national security”) behind which he wants to control the depiction of the characters to suit his defense of this super-rich order of people. At the same time he can write dialogue and invent presences with the power of suggestivity. He is usually real enough, and registers the depths and amorality of people sufficiently to open up suggestions we can play with — such as my argument last year that Mr Bates murdered his first wife and Mr Green through the clever ruse of accident.

Schmidt suggests that Downton Abbey fan fiction develops his characters from hints and behaviors Fellowes refuses to make clear or explicit — he cannot sue them as they are making no money and are not acknowledged as legitimate or serious by those in charge of literature and art. These fan fictions and postings and blogs too expose the nasty undercurrents of his portrayals, his fatuity. They complicate his stories in more “interesting, self-aware and sensitive areas” that he (in effect) refuses to. One I noticed is a fan fiction that postulates a love affair between Miss Obrien and “arguably the most underdeveloped character in the series, Cora, Lady Grantham.” A pair of lesbians. In another “poor Edith” is given a sarcastic and funny voice and describes the passive-aggressive relationship of Matthew (his sycophancy and making up to her) and Lady Mary (her cold indifference and potentially needling tongue) one New Year’s Day. They allow Robert (Lord Grantham to have his affair with Jane (the widowed housemaid?).

***********************

MissTowlerLookingattheWindow
From Mr Selfridge: the opening episode, Miss Agnes Towler gazing yearningly at the dress in the department store window

Chapter 17: Andrea Wright’s “This Wonderful Commercial Machine” defends and analyses “Gender, Class, and the Pleasures of Spectacle in The Paradise and Mr Selfridge compared to the 1970s House of Elliot. The 1970s is incomparably more genuinely feminist in outlook — for a start, the owners are women. These costume dramas have lots of “good girl messages” I’d call them — stay home, be obedient, don’t rock the values that sustain you supposedly and you’ll be safe and maybe unhappy critics who complain about the spectacle and shopping should realize that’s the point of these series; women go there for pleasure. The older program had 2 ambitious women now we have ambitious men.

HouseofElliotScene

Like The Bletchley Circle, The 1970s House of Elliot featured women in charge, dealing, negotating

Wright finds that conservative ideologies have taken over; we espape the present. In The Paradise something less authentic is taking over – modern retail is characterized by cavernous hypermarkets that lack all individiduality. The Paradise maintains its French origin in feel and tone. She carefully goes over the décor of the two series and what is projected – -an opportunity to revel. Respectability and reputation are central to women of all classes. Agnes the desperate girl of Mr Selfridge is matched with Denise of Paradise, a prey to men, clerks on display like the goods, women as a consumable pleasure. Wright compares the kinds and fates of the female characrers in the two series. They fail to offer progressive roles for women and reiterate rigid class structures. A French business women Clemence is a threat sexually as she seeks to win through sexual enticement; she is cast as a dangerous other. Normalcy restored. Agnes has little opportunity, she gets paternistilc support, a sexual education rather than emancipation. We have also another Miss Bunting, desperate over debt, who steals is not pardoned and kills herself.

CALL THE MIDWIFE S2
The upbeat 1940s Cherry Ames/Sue Barton feel to the series can be seen in this kind of stylized cheerful promotional shot — connected to the above still, women going to work

Chapter 18: Louise Fitzgerald’s “Taking a pregnant pause: Interrogating the feminist potential of Call the Midwife.” It’s the story of a newly qualified midwife who arrives in Post WW2 London to take a position alongside other novice midwives and Anglican order of nuns – Jenny Lee, a middle class woman who once loved classical music. The midwife can be seen as a feminist figure because she has been cloaked in misogynies – female strength not liked, a scapegoat. Birth and reproductive rights continue to be a central feminist subject; the show breaks this aesthetic taboo. Abortion becomes a flash point in the series – a story of a backstreet abortion at a time abortion not legal; Nora Harding almost dies – we witness her screaming. Neither woman (a story of Trixie who is first seen painting her nails with blood red varnish) is judged by her community, but both women are in effect punished and abortion and sexual assault are seen as the result of sexual desire. After success of first season Heidi Thomas (the writer who is a centrally important person in costume dramas, especially British) began to try for feminist content. Midwives are a much more visible presence in the UK; US media did not like its bleak ideologies and socialist Health care system. It is feminocentric and about women – none of women defined by relationship to a man – it suggests a communitarian spirit and that domestic history is valuable history.

alljoys
Another promotional still which does show the ambiance of at least the first season

The main concern of the series is the relationship of poverty and social welfare even if topics – domestic violence, abortion, rape, birth, prostitution are feminist issues – there are so very few programs with women at the center is one reason for its success. Channel 4’s reality TV show One Born Every Minute has a high prioritization of birth stories – central in popular culture today and does reinforce “fact’ of women’s biological difference from men – Call the Midwife is a ghettoizing of what it means to be feminist because midwifery childbirth and motherhood seen as female space. No new points of identification. There is a nostalgia in the way class identity and hierarchies are used (reinforced too). It is white – one nun makes an “unintentional racist” remarks does not provoke disquiet that working class women’s behavior does. A story about a black child is told without referring to the child’s race; the story about the man as a father and man. Call the Midwife does not offer new paradigms for identification nor systematically challenge sstems of oppression and inequity. The larger problem in feminist of racism is here.

*************************

As general constant across the three parts of the book and different subgenres of costume drama and mini-series is the gender fault-line: there are men’s films and women’s films from the point of view of the characters and stories and from the point of view of how the screenplay writer, director and producer treat this content. And even if they are apparently feminist, written by women, feminocentric, sympathetic to women, they do not escape the hegemonic male dominance of our culture.

Chapter 20: Elke Weissmann’s “Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street.

Ripper Street
Promotional: Matthew Macfayden to the fore, the women ghostly

Elke Weissmann writes on a mini-series Ripper Street (2010-) produced by BBC and BBC America. She feels the mini-series “emphasizes the problem that is constituted by traditional patriarchal masculinities.” This drama exposes while it attempts to critique the results of these behaviors and especially a nostalgic view of them. It offers an intense emotional engagement with its characters — part of serial drama. A central character played by Matthew Macfayden is at first presented as a traumatized and admirable male; he’s a versatile actor and apparently unlike Walter White in Breaking Bad where (according to Weissmann) we see a good man gradually corrupted, Reid was corrupt to start out with. A large theme is the problem of policing: who is to police such a society when the police are part of the problem. Along the way she describes similar min-series which she aligns or contrasts with this one: none of them have I ever seen; Dixon of Dock Street (British 1955-76), Wire (HBO – -I know this one is much admired), Hill Street Blues (I know it was popular.

BBC America
It’s telling how easy it is to find stills on the Net of profoundly wounded women with supposedly protective standing over them (from Ripper Street)

She thinks Deadwood the best of these, but it too makes an exaggerated use of violence, which is shown to be “deeply troubling”. Ripper Street manifests deep unhappiness and does allow for other concepts of masculinity. Violence is shown by the storylines to be a “key element of traditional, hegemonic masculinities,” is traumatizing and central to the problems men face too.

I’ve probably seen so little of this type of thing because I avoid high raw and continuing violence that I know is typical of a lot of filsm — Breaking Bad was an unusual program for me to watch

***********************

footman-and-duke
Rob James-Cellier as Thomas Barrow, a homosexual footman who attempts to blackmail Charlie Cox, the Duke of Crowborough but finds the Duke has far more power than he (Downton Abbey, 2010, the first season)

I’ve omitted Chapter 12, Giselle Bastin’s treatment of the two Upstairs/Downstairs series and keep Chapter 19: Lucy Brown’s “Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey to a minimum. As I remarked in the second of these blogs, I watched the two seasons of the 2012 Upstairs Downstairs and want to deal with the changes from the older to the new series separately, but here I would like to record the central insight of this essay. Lucy Brown shows that paradoxically the depiction of a gay footman in the 1970s, Alfred Harris, much more hostilely than that of Thomas Barrow, which actually ends on Harris’ execution as a spy is in a way far more truthful to the suffering and reality of life of homosexual men until the mid-1970s (Stonewall anyone?) than the sentimental way that Thomas is on the one hand sympathized with when it comes to his love relationships but otherwise stigmatized as a spiteful angry desperately snobbish man (in cohoots with that witch, Miss Obrien).

A single collection of essays has to leave some topics out. I was glad to see the emphasis in two of the essays on the importance and central function and dominance of the screenplay writer in the way the BBC does its actual film-making, but wished that there had been more about the business side of things. For example, a British friend told me:

it no longer produces drama itself. It commissions it from private companies — many of them (originally at least) comprising people who used to work at the Beeb. This new system has been in place for about twenty years, and certainly applies to Wolf Hall. Commissioning seems to work both ways — the idea may come from the Beeb, or the independent companies may pitch to them.

There are reasons to dislike this way of going about things, but it has resulted in many cases in higher production values — contrasting Wolf Hall with the 1970s Wives of Henry VIII shows the difference. It has also led to dumbing down, but Wolf Hall is not guilty of that.

Some the aspects of these dramas beyond dumbing down (short scenes, much less dialogue, itself much less complicated and thoughtful) which the essayists in the last part attribute to the power of audiences could be the effect of profit-making companies who want values that uphold their company and executives to be enacted.

I am a lover of historical fiction, biography, narrative history, historic fiction (older fiction) and think all these literary forms directly connected to, give rise to serial costume drama. I will be writing soon about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander (adapted from an amalgam of several of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, directed and written by Peter Weir, featuring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany).

galapagosislands
Bettany as Stephen Maturin on the Galapagos islands, writing up his notes)

Ellen

Read Full Post »

1960sPoldarkNovelsBodleyHeadArtworkonCovers
Bodley Head edition (in the 1960s the Bodley Head press produced an edition of the first four books)

Coastof
From the coast of Cornwall, ruin of a fortress

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog of appreciation, analysis, love, for Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza. The first, “Herstory,” came out of my own reading of the novel and watching of the 1975-76 Poldark mini-series; the second, “A young lady’s entrance into the world,” out of my teaching the book to college students aged 18-27 and having read all twelve novels by that time; this third, from teaching the book to retired and older people, aged 50-70, and having reread the novels, written “Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” and watched the first 8 episodes of the 2015 Poldark, not to omit having read (at long last) some intelligent understanding of these books in Nickianne Moody, Rachel Moseley and and Julie Taddeo’s essays on why the series is so politically compelling and relevant, why Cornwall is so central to the success of the first mini-series, and the ambivalent presentation of sexuality, and especially rape and sexual abuse in Graham’s fiction. It is a somewhat revised version of the class discussions and my brief lectures.

I treat the book as a hyrid form between history, political-social or ethnographic study, and romancing novel. The particular threads added to Ross Poldark are captured in the character of Dwight Enys, introduced in this book, and his doings: he enables the opening up of a long exploration of how medicine was practiced in the long 18th century and how this mirrors our own era begins. Demelza and Jeremy Poldark dramatize how the very definition of what was a crime and what its punishment was the result of a long class struggle and economic development over the course of 2 centuries; we are the nub of the changes. This blog will best be appreciated and is indeed meant to supplement a slow reading along of Demelza; the pages cited are keyed to the American Sourcebook editions of the first two Poldark novels. It is critical and evaluative and takes in the whole arc of the series (all 12 books) when appropriate, so it assumes you have read them all.

I began this second novel with the use of allegorical names and emotional resonances in non-allegorical names; about the characters of Ross and Demelza Poldark, Warleggan, and Jud. Graham uses semi-allegorical for his characters, which are often realistic too (but not always, as in Dr Choake). Many have personal associations or resonances for him.

Ross Poldark is named after his best friend in his twenties, a chemist (in the UK that’s a drugstore person, would know about medicine, we’d call him pharmacist), called Ridley Polgreen. He died tragically in her 20s, sense of wit and “deep appreciation of all that was good and beautiful in life. But he felt “green” was too bright, then during WW2 he came across a scarred, bony flyer in a train in WW2: had been in a crash, broken leg, broken ribs, scars on face, had in him “a high strung disquiet” towards life. Thoughtful man.

Demelza – it has become a common name in Cornwall; he saw a signpost with the name; he began with the conception of a “dark-haired waif whom Ross picked up at Redruth Fair”. 1790. These are thoroughly researched, based on a bedrock of knowledge. Dr William Pryce. Two books: Mineralogia Cornubiensis – 18th century mining. He also wrote An Essay to preserve the Ancient Cornish Language. De means thy or the. Melza – honey or sweetness so my sweetness – links back to French, miel, honey. Graham used Pryce’s dictionary for some names.

Nampara: valley of bread, name goes back centuries, he is thinking of Perranport.

Warleggan, a village on the Bodmin moors, lonely place, desolate; unaltered for centuries, he tells of how he came upon it on a cold mid-June day, south-easterly wind blowing, squat church made of granite, a ruined spire, tombstones unkempt, plain altar. Unameliorated capitalism; the first thing this man does in Warleggan when he gets hands on Trenwith is to enclose the land, kick tenants off; if mind not making a big enough profit, closes it

Elizabeth is popular name at the time; Chynoweth an old Cornish name. Enys an old Cornish name. Zacky: Zechariah. Biblical names liked.

Jud Paynter. Partly a composite but again he came across an obstinate old working class man in a pub; he sister he lived with is the prototype for Prudie. Came across him while the second mini-series was being filmed: had a doom-laden point of view, a kind of comic pessimism, thick Cornish accent, poor, in ragged clothes, a battered hat. Saw him as in a way sublime in his obliviousness. Graham has said maybe he overdid the character but felt Paul Curran’s performance was perfect for the character: he’s not quite real.

Then I suggested how the books related to one another:

Demelza takes place in that world and we begin to meet many characters who are situated in houses. In Ross Poldark, Graham was feeling his way into his historical fiction world, and inventing a group of characters he was deeply attached to personally – as surrogates and who he managed to attach readers to. Ross and Demelza, Verity and Francis, Elizabeth more shadowy. Verity will drop out as will Jud and Prudie gradually in later novels. But the four or two couples remain central to the end: tellingly, Elizabeth and Francis will vanish by Book 4 (Warleggan) and Book 6 (The Angry Tide), respectively, but their presences are never forgotten nor what they left behind. Through her son by Ross, Valentine, Elizabeth is as much part of last or 12th book (Bella) as she was of the first; that book is only resolved with a final death and Ross facing his irresponsibility about Valentine, and that he should have told the boy the truth about himself as his father. Ross Poldark was a reaction to WW2: he was looking for a usable past he could find restoration in; carving out value system for the mid-20th century.

Demelza is not a sequel but a continuation. All the novels are continuation, all 12, continuing the story. Each one has a peculiar structure and themes of its own but they do not introduce a new set of characters who are dismissed from the action beyond the one novel. In Stranger from the Sea there is a leap of 11 years (from 1799 to 1810), but otherwise In Demelza Graham widens his purview to include the 18th century world. We might say the first is an introduction and exploration of two characters in a landscape with a few close around them: Francis, Verity, Elizabeth, Jud, the Carters, with mentions of Warleggans and forays into outer world.

In Demelza Graham began to fill out the 18th century world – it’s in this that topics like mining, banking, crime and punishment, laws, prisons, and medicine emerge centrally (see Austen Reveries for these 18th century historical matters). Dwight Enys is introduced and like Caroline Pevenen (introduced in Book 3, Jeremy Poldark), Dr Enys will last until the close of 12th book, though take on a lesser role once Ross begins to be an MP in London and the characters travel to France. Dr Enys is the site for Graham’s exploration of medicine then as a mirror of today.

*****************

PoemwithEleanorTomlinsonasDemelza
Eleanor Tomlinson, the new Demelza

CornishMineOpening
A Cornish Mine opening

Book 1 ends on tragedy in the community: the closing of Grambler mine – that is brought about by private doings: Francis is using Grambler money to live a life of gambling, women, goes into debt. We feel the poingnance of how the men don’t want to leave; how all the people in the community experience this as a disaster; we have here the modern equivalent of globalization where a corporation moves to another country to get dirt-cheap wages, no controls on their conditions; cities in the US and UK disaster areas who try to find some other way to live. There are companies which grow rich by deliberately buying up, pulling money out of and destroying the company and then selling it – Romney did this. Look at the last line of Demelza, Book 1, the unwatering of the mine, the sound of the engines goes, the man work as long as they dare, and even then some (p. 125) – who will they turn to? The plangent close of those sea gulls.

Note that the second book starts a year and 11 months later than the first. It opens with Demelza giving birth. So it opens hard upon the close of Ross Poldark, about May 1788, the first book ended December 1787 (this would be 7 months later) – several of the books end on Christmas time. A ritual time of remembering, taking stock, high emotions can be brought forth

Novels of the 18th century especially by women are endlessly in indirect ways criticizing marriage and exposing this trap. Graham has this enclosed in his plot-design too.

What most 18th century women did regularly once they married: Gave birth. While the inescapable trap this meant for women is not central to this book, in the later ones it becomes so: women in the 18th century were faced with near-mandatory marriage – in order to participate as a fully functioning adult in the society you had to marry – if you did not, you remained a kind of upper servant, a daughter, a sister. The problem for women is they lacked the power to define marriage for themselves: we do see this in Verity. They were hindered from meeting people their families didn’t approve of, of choosing a husband within the men they met; particular men were forced on them for family aggrandizement. What man you choose makes for what life you live. It was very risky to run away and defy parents as there was no way of getting positions for a man outside the patronage systems stemming mostly from families. Ended up prostitutes.

What 18th century fiction presents less often but it’s there is that if you married, continual pregnancies for most and childbirth was dangerous. Very high death rate – numbers are hard come by, but many men went through 3 wives. Contraception was known and understood. Graham’s way of presenting women emphasizes this reality. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear the voices of the marginalized and the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes). Women were part of this powerless group.

The equivalent of condoms were sheep-guts, very expensive as you used each one up. 5 pounds each for Lord Byron. Got in the way of pleasure, really used as prophylactic to prevent disease. All the moral rhetoric of the period against contraception. Yes we have evidence people used anal intercourse and various forms of fellatio and other non penetrative sex but kept quiet about it. Found in diaries and French sources, soft core porn novels of the Enlightenment – regarded as radical politically.

What was happening in the 18th century was midwifery was beginning to be somewhat scientific – John Hunter still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn, and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; find definitive descriptions in 1634, – he became obstetrician-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I (famous in history for being deposed and beheaded, but it was kept secret as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate – one of the great obstacles to science has been the profit motive and secresy – not sharing information is still a central problem and obstacle.

Ross does become indignant and insist the doctor come back, but luckily Dr Choake (allegorically named) keeps away, and Prudie, Ross’s woman servant, and the woman who partly brought Demelza up, and Verity, Ross’s cousin, who has become Demelza’s good friend, assist Mrs Zacky Martin (Jinny’s mother) who suddenly emerges as a woman with knowledge of childbirth. Notice she is not paid and Dr Choake is paid.

The birth itself is not really described only suggested. She then gets up from bed, the young baby begins to thrive. Verity has come to stay during her convalescence and help out. Demelza’s love for Verity, her bonding with her leads Demelza to ring Verity, together with Captain Blamey, the man Verity loves. She tries to open this purpose to Ross but he is not keen to see Blamey refound, is as distrustful as Francis and Charles Poldark were (pp 18-2). Then she broaches this to Verity (pp. 20-21). No one but Demelza for it it seems. Thus Jud not far wrong when he understands Demelza’s purpose in going to Falmouth and remarks: “”Ten sense, tedne natural, tedn right, tend safe.” (p 22)

Chapters 3 & 4 & 5: then two christenings, the first and then introduction of Enys and the scheme for opening an independent mine (Pascoe): a first Christening one in which the upper class characters & Ross’s family are invited, and the next day the lower class ones & Demelza. She is central figure for the novel as someone who engineers central plot-design (much flows from Verity’s flight with Blamey); here she brings these people together. So we have class clash. There is an anti-religious satire in the novel rare in American books. Francis’s dialogue captures some of this irrevent spirit, pp 31-32

It’s very neat how all the threads are plotted together (Pp. 30-33): What we see is the religion you practice is a function of your character, not the other way round. If you are a violent, intolerant man religion will give you a doctrine to rationalize your behavior; if you are filled with class resentments and an instinctive desire to control libido, pleasure, have authority and power over others, you will invent rules that enforce that. Hints throughout let us know Francis is a reader as is Ross.

Poor Demelza is just desolate. She is a lower class woman thrust into an environment where she does not fit easily and she feels (is made to feel) this daily; she is independent-minded (as so many say), acts on her own for her own existence: we do not see her as a wife much, in this book scarcely as a mother (though frequently pregnant three times thus far), but rather Ross’s mistress, sex partner (this is done discreetly), working with and for him for his causes (which I like) and his safety (which is hers), waiting for her revenant-adventurer (primarily she is at home). He reads evenings (though what we are not told, alas, as that would be fun to see which 18th century texts Graham might pick for him) and often drinks, is more solitary than one might expect; she sits by his side, sewing, talking. She walks, rides (sidesaddle), goes boating and fishes.

Well in this scene he is in control as host, as the Top Male of this gathering and the way to stop further outbreaks of social poison is to assert the norm of respect to families, respect to him, and he manages to make this stick (p. 35): Demelza sees that he “had come out the best.” Ruth Teague acts badly again, but Francis refuses to be provoked, and both Mrs Carne who shows common sense and does not have the class resentments her husband does and Treneglos is willing to overlook the insult to his wife – the sort of thing that could end in a duel except an upper class gentleman is not supposed to duel with a working class male.

He insists she must not retreat; took her to Trenwith and now they must have the second day. Powerful ticketing scene (pp 37-43). This is how it was done – Buckley’s book on Mining in Cornwall recounts this. At the same time we see Ross hire Enys to be a mine surgeon and give him a house to live in. Nice to have all these houses just lying about. Even the son of a second son in such a family has resources.

Chapter 5: During this second christening (much happier because so much more natural), Keren, the strolling actress and her company are to be there; she is introduced and Mark Daniels who came to this second christening is mesmerized, enthralled and persuades her to marry him. The disaster of their union is played out in this book: she creates a liaison between herself and Dr Dwight Enys and Mark acts in crazed hurt when he discovers that his all was not good enough. So this series of events is tied to the christening, and also Ross’s need for a surgeon for his new mine and his giving Dwight the gatehouse near the mine, just at the edge of his property and near Mark’s dwelling.

The event gives Graham a chance to present a scene of provincial players doing a typical melodrama of the era. Aaron Hill was an 18th century theater man who wrote and translated plays (Voltaire’s), Samuel Johnson a man of letter who wrote one tragedy which was bad; they would go back to old English names like Elfrida. Mark is very allured by her. Is the depiction of Keren was fair? What happens? She too is lower class, she wants to better herself, get on as Demelza puts it. Would you like the destiny she is supposed to like? in a dark dank cottage caring for endless babies? She does not find in Mark any companion for her. Keren is a parallel figure to Demelza, only Graham presents her hostilely too.

Fristmeetinghetransfixed
The first meeting of Mark and Keren: he enthralled, transfixed by an icon (like Ross with Elizabeth Chynoweth), she her impersonally gracious

Jump interweave: Chapter 7: Mark comes to Demelza for land to build his house and she helps (Pp 63-76) the opening phase of the Mark Daniels and Keren story. Chapter 8 the building of the house, Keren almost flies away, but stays reluctantly, best of bad choices, he falls asleep exhausted (pp 69-76). Her resentment at his being too tired to have sex is made a point of.

Chapter 6: Demelza goes to Falmouth, making contact with Captain Blamey and fostering and engineering Verity’s renewed love affair. At first Blamey is hostile; he too so hurt, he more isolated than she. The depiction of Falmouth (to which Demelza travels to find and see Blamey) is very fine, convincing and pleasurable, with the character of Demelza vivid with uncertainty about her plans once she sees him — and on the first visit her coming leads to nothing. She does see how lonely Blamey is but also how twisted, not really perhaps to be trusted because husbands were so powerful (Pp 53-62).

TrioWatching (2)
Corn demonstration of desperately hungry people turns into riot when soldiers arrive

TrioWatching (1)
Verity, Demelza, Blamey caught up, watch as POV

Again jump interweave: Chapter 10; Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p. 88). Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p 88)

Chapter 12: The intertwining of the riot with Verity and Demelza in town and Blamey helping them to escape. When Blamey is brought together with Verity through Demelza’s machinations — a trip to Truro where Blamey and Demelza agree to meet in a shop (in fact they meet in the street because his nerve faltered). Then she is intensely reluctant and moves away; they are caught up in a strike, half-riot so Demelza loses sight of them but by the end Verity has been brought to acknowledge she still wants to marry Blamey, to have another identity and role in the world than sister, aunt.

We have some intertwining of movements in Blamey with Keren come to ask for a promotion for Mark and Demelza taking Verity to Truro to meet Blamey; a food riot developing from starving – very good because we see intertwining of several threads

Chapter 9: Ross’s attempts to enlist Francis and the various men to open Wheal Leisure( pp 77-81) – it’s starve and let the mines die and go under control of banks and people outside Cornwall or try themselves. Chapter 11: In fact Ross goes to male hegemonic party, sees Enys there and much richer Margaret (who is sarcastic to Ross) and preying on Francis – several people are now preying on him. He is weak, gambles.

How does the style function to take you into a characters mind as he or she is dealing with the environment and allow for more general thoughts and discussion of ideas and descriptions.

It’s a flexible middle style, can rise to real eloquence and principles “I have the right to chose my own life,” and talk of principles as people plan business dealings – at the same time sharp narrative and dialogue. We are often half in Demelza’s mind (pp 57-58), From “They trekked … another noise in the street drew her notice again. In Chapter 10 we see how narrator can move from distanced description into her mind, “The joys of leisure … All the trees leaned the other way” (p 82). This is called free indirect style. Again and again important incidents of outward history brought in sometimes three paragraphs in a row by subtle moving from inside a character’s mind to the paragraphs and then back to character’s mind. So Demelza watching the rioters (p 99) – called free indirect speech. There are sentences there that are the narrator’s. Sleight of hand. Chapter 13, p 112-113 – quick intensities – Verity left alone having made her intense contact with Andrew again.

There are many inward thoughtful characters; Ross is often not one of them in the sense of giving away his darkest thoughts. His thoughts are often very narrowly aimed. He is private character – you can’t reach the back thoughts. You are allowed to reach them in Dwight Enys. Graham can translate principles into demotic working class Cornish English and he does this a lot with Jud. Jud is angry and resentful (pp 106-7). He and Prudie did not have the self-esteem to have a wedding. Prudie feels bad because her mother would have been ashamed since they aren’t.

*************************

LauncestonGaol
Launceston Gaol (1980s photograph from Poldark’s Cornwall).

DrawingofEllisAngharadasRossDemelza
A drawing of Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark (taken from a promotional photograph)

Move onto Book 2; April 1789 (p 128). So time has passed for Verity and Andrew to keep contact and for Keren and Dwight’s affair to carry on, and Mark and Keren’s relationship distance and deteriorate. In Book 3, Graham brings together the fall of the Bastille with Verity’s flight – Francis poo poohs it (Chapter 2, p 232). Of course Trencomb would have heard, he is back and forth as a businessman-smuggler from France continually.

Book 2: April 3, 1789,

Chapter 1: Whole chapter given over to ticketing for Carnmore Mining Company with Zacky Martin as agent (there was a Cornwall Copper company which attempted the same thwarting of outside and bank monopoly interests); they succeed in buying; the company is floated with Pascoe’s money; the strike for corn has repercussions and they are moving prisoners as the prisons fill up — alas Jim Carter is just then reaching end of his term; Pascoe tells Ross of rumors about Verity (Pp 127-135). Zacky may be “a fellow of an inferior class” but he’s close-mouthed, effective. Banker Pascoe tells Ross somehow word always gets to him of other people’s doing. What I find rewarding here beyond the scene is the theme: George Eliot might provide the epitaph for this book: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” – the way justice was administered – getting ahead of myself was imprisoning only a few but delivering terrifying draconian punishments. Read Blight’s ugly reactionary comments (p. 133)

Chapter 2 (pp 136-142). We are in Ross’s mind: we see how he sees Verity and Blamey, No reconciliation with Jud and Prudie. Important history – Sherborne Mercury was an important revolutionary radical newspaper in the mid-lands (p. 137). A time of revolution. Ross talks with Verity about situation at Trenwith; Elizabeth patient but no understanding for Francis (p. 137) – Hastings is Warren Hastings, in charge of India took too huge bribes, and committed some unacceptable injustice to Begums. Ross home sees Demelza playing as “a thread of silver into the spring” — an invitation to an Assembly and Ball put on by Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and she wants to go so he accedes. She is thinking about her dress: apple green and mauve – mauve a new color then. Dyes more particular. New kind of purple, new shades of green. The scene in bed between them is going to blow up in both of their faces

Chapter 3 (pp 143-150) At home with Keren and Mark; Mark’s reference to the thrush. Touching connection to natural world: the thrush has a beautiful song about singing against despair and savagery. It fits Mark’s behavior.

Poem by Basil Bunting:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!

Keren’s thoughts given in italics I don’t know why. I wouldn’t like to live the way she’s expected to.

Keren visits Enys once again; he says they must stop but does not throw her out; she must not criticize Daniels for not being other than they are; she stays to help with his work and leaves. Shows his larger humanity (p 145):. They have not have understanding or charity outside their understanding, but within that they have sterling qualities (p 147), a bit condescending. How manipulative she is (p 149-50). Encys presented as an innocent boy. Like Demelza she’s afraid he’ll react with contempt – a parallel – women are so vulnerable.

Chapter 4 (pp 151-60) The Warleggans to hold a party just before; a male party with disreputable women about.
Good use of song from Beggar’s Opera – if we’ve seen Gay’s play the gay flirtatiousness and erotic desperation come across – Keren an actress and singer (p 153). Mark would not appreciate it.

Chapter 5 (pp 161-66) Ross and Enys’s attempt to save Jim by amputation — how today doctors are similarly determined to try to save the patient. Mark visits Demelza because he now suspects Keren of sexual infidelity, she cannot give him help for real; she knows Keren is “carrying on” with someone.

Ross in Truro buys lovely objects for Demelza to wear. Again what shopping is like (Pp 154-55). how in life talk is interwoven (p 156). And here a scene we went over in terms of style and point of view (pp 157-63), references to time. Graham also moves quickly – One story carrying on, another: now it’s Mark come to talk to Ross and Demelza is there – -and sees “some new darkness at the back of his eyes.” He confesses to her – givens more sincere talk (pp. 164-65). And we move to Verity persuading Ross it is in his interest to go (pp 170-72)

Graham cleverly uses attitudes of mind about medicine just now, attitudes that might not have been prevalent in the early 20th century but emerged mid-century. It’s particular not universal. That’s the real trick. These things come together in these heightened thematic moments. When Ross and Dwight force their way into the prison. Most prisons were not that well guarded, gun was enough. Book 2, Chapter 4 (p 155): We begin in Dwight’s mind; the POV moves between Dwight and Ross. Admiring the view brings in a bit of history: this was where Wm the Conqueror brother built his castle (p 156). If you are a producer you might think, Should I photograph some of the old castles at the edge of Cornwall, guarding it from sea attacks. We are embedded in this scene. Read Ross watching (pp. 158-159).

Typhus a strange rash, and gangrene has set in. He is dying of having been put in that prison. Then sudden speech of abject subaltern being who hardly ever is heard (pp. 160ff). Jinny did beg him not to go (p 160). Should you let him die in peace, Dwight makes the usual doctor’s decision, “let me try” to save him (pp. 160-61) Dwight can’t let the guy die in peace. Works on him all night. (I daresay some of us have seen this – should the person be let alone – I’ve been there twice now.)

This is a moment which reverberates through the rest of the novel, not just the result in Ross’s behavior at the assembly ball, but is part of the rage that leads him in the book’s penultimate scenes – then it’s Julia’s death and the failure of his smelting scheme through Warleggan having found out the names of the combine’s members and put a stranglehold on them through their monopoly power, to say nothing of hs deeper angers – to instigate a riot.

Demelza’s slow moving plan-plot to bring Verity together with Blamey again will also reverberate and past this novel – as Verity is taken from Trenwith where she was needed if not herself living the life she wants and has the right (she says and the novel too) to live

Chapter 6 (pp. 167-72). Verity and Demelza and Ross at Nampara: the bitterness of Ross’s loss; now Demelza cannot enter into his feelings – p 168: opposite reactions. – one line utterance and counter utterance, a technique in drama. It is a matter of loyalty; if he won’t go, she doesn’t. I feel that. Verity tells him he is unwise not to go to ball and assembly. What a difference from Elizabeth’s well-meaning aristocratic point of view: “sorry about your farm boy”

Chapters 7-12 It’s a several chapter marvelous set piece: The high point of the novel visually and dramatically is the assembly ball they go to with again Demelza at center, this time as dancing lady. Ross does not want to go because just before he and Dwight had brought Jim Carter out of a prison he had been moved to and he had died. Ross is incensed at his class and his world. Ross exposes Sanson, a nephew of the Warleggans. At that ball Francis sees Blamey and again Blamey tries to conciliate and again Francis won’t. So there is nothing for it but Verity must run away or give up her life to Francis’s prejudices and needs. We see the two couples with Verity leaving together at the close.

Chapter 7: pp 173-78. The Warleggan ball: Ross goes, the Teagues there; Demelza dressing; George Warleggan making points with Elizabeth. Again (pp. 184-85) each time Warleggan seems stronger in Elizabeth’s mind – I hear Ralph Bates’s voice. Begin with Demelza holding her own against the women and witty (pp 175-76). Demelza drinks and it gives her courage.

Ball
Demelza braves the ball with Ross

For me one of the most striking sequences in this book to hit me personally occurs when she goes to an assembly dance with Ross, and he angered intensely over Jim’s death first does not want to go, and then does not do his part in helping her to integrate. This is to anticipate next week’s reading – unless you’ve read it already – Demelza does not know how to command male respect and ends up a kind of subrisive target, like a girl who goes to a fraternity house and does not know how to cope. Not as bad, but bad enough (Book 2, Chapters 8-10. pp 179-200). I find myself very moved by these scenes because even if I did not live in the 18th century I remember from my teenagehood and later a bit too how hard it was to cope with male abrasiveness and aggression; you were not supposed to reject them, yet their behavior was such if you didn’t respond in just the right way you’d be called a tramp; Ross behaves badly in the scene too. He does manage to see by the end that they are making one another worse and hurting their relationship and so calls a halt but abruptly.

Demelza cannot keep Ross away from his thoughts. He again captures other people’s otherness, p 178
At the ball itself, p 188 Demelza’s inability to cope with upper class abrasive males leaves her vulnerable; Ross apologizes later on for deserting her and she forgives. (A repeat of this will happen in London in Angry Tide (where a duel ensues) and Stranger from the Sea, after which whereby she does not again travel with Ross away from Cornwall or go into high class society for a long time (not until Twisted Sword, Novel 11 — trip to Paris). It’s too much for her as a non upper-class woman with no high self-esteem and background of training to cope. This is good insight. Class gives a woman a weapon against abusive males.

In a mild way it brings to my mind how a girl in a college fraternity can be set upon and used in ugly ways.
We are in her mind, experiencing everything from someone overexcited and not able to comprehend it all, p 180 – she lacks poise that Elizabeth and Verity have.

Chapters 8 – 10 (pp 179-200). The card tables and Verity has to refuse to run off with Blamey (angering him) – reminds me of how in Persuasion Captain Wentworth was angry at Anne Elliot for not running off with him, held against her the training that gave her the obedient character. You are damned if you don’t (and rebel) or do (and are obedient, pp. 193-94). Very kind and useful gesture by Demelza to fix Verity’s hair. Graham is concerned to show us; how Ross does not help Demelza with the men accosting her at first and finally comes over to take his place by her side as her husband (p. 199). He is remiss in all sorts of ways.

Chapter 11: The gambling scene with Sanson and Ross’s final dunking (pp 203-7); I’ve been told if you know
Faro, the playing of the game is accurate. Note Sanson was able to fool Francis and fleece Francis for 600. That money will set another train of evil betraying events a foot. How things are linked (as in Trollope) –this was very effectively done in the 1970s production, this sort of scene they were good at.

Chapter 12: The banker is brought in to show us that the neighborhood only heard the superficial description of what happened (p 212-13). You think everyone despises you and cringe (Lacanian psychology) but they don’t know the inner realities. Then goodbyes after the festivity. The Warleggans’ resentment on behalf of Sanson. The two male cousins (212-13). Had Francis joined, would he have stuck. Elizabeth & Demelza and Elizabeth and Francis go off separately home to Trenwith; Ross and Demelza’s conversation on the way to their home; some understanding in both of them: she how easy the bitter words, how hard the kind ones; back to Julia (Pp 208-9). This has been her debut into society – as I said The History of a young lady’s entrance into the world. They are together at the end of chapter 11 (pp 207-9); again at the end of Chapter 13, pp 215-16. It is up to her to keep him home, but the task as she does not reach his innermost thoughts seems to her beyond her.

Chapter 13: Powerful two opposing presences: Mark and Keren not seeing the same world (pp 217-219). Keren blamed for not being a good manager. Did she think .. . did he think: they accuse one another it the silence of working minds (p 218). Keren comes to Enys and he can no longer resist: “then take” she says. Actually liaison starts late in the book and it is found out quickly (Pp 220-221)

Chapter 14: May 2, 1789: the Warleggans, Cary, Nicholas and George: vowing revenge but also showing the means through squeezing interlopes out once they know who they are. Warleggan could then put the screws on Ross and his Carnmore Copper Company — loans will be called in, property reclaimed — and destroy Ross’s company WE know that Sanson’s mills are a front; they are doing manipulative banking.

Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-friend, pro-decency, and if family members will let them by not insisting on amoral behavior on their part, pro-family.

2DemelzaCover2
From the 1990s covers of the PanMacMillan series

***************************

Continued in comments: Books Three and Four.

When I come to write blogs on the new series (2015, starting in June, I’ll follow the PBS schedule though by that time hope to have the BBC DVDs and use the BBC arrangement of the mini-series). Then my perspective will follow that of Tom Bragg (in Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama, historical films) on how the series fits into the development of historical film in the 1970s: its use of landscape, interior settings, roving immersion camera work, its genuine humane progressivism. Just about all my stills for this blog come from 1970s mini-series as this is the only one I have a DVD for.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MarkRylanceasCromwell
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall 3)

LittleElizabethCromwell
Natasha Little as Elizabeth Wykys Cromwell, Thomas’s wife, who dies of sleeping sickness early in the series

EleanorTomlinsonasDemelza
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza rescued from an abject life by Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2015 Poldark 1): she is facing down Heidi Reed Elizabeth while Ross turns away

Dear friends and readers,

I acknowledge the unfairness of comparing these two mini-series airing at the same time on the UK BBC and US PBS, about which much fuss is being made. Wolf Hall as written by Peter Straughan (with the acknowledged presence of Hilary Mantel) is a throwback to true quality drama of the 1970s through say 2009 on PBS. It may carry on on BBC TV in Britain as many of their serial dramas do not make it over to the US. Wolf Hall has (relatively) long scenes between characters, longer utterances and dialogue weighty with meaning and wit, its model is ironic drama on the stage and great care has been taken with mise-en-scene, culled juxtaposition, flashbacks, and literal accuracies. The new Poldark as written by Debbie Horsfield follows the recent trend in mini-series to reach a wider audience (apparently 7.0 million no longer makes the cut) with short scenes, only rare excursions into longer developed scenes (but they are there, as in the long sequence at the close of Episode 4 from the time of Ross and Demelza’s love-making, marriage, and first time together through to the end of the Christmas visit); its model is action-adventure TV dramas (Master and Commander and Outlanders as the 1970s kept in mind The Oneddin Line and costume drama from the 1940s Gainsborough swashbuckling school),and cost-saving measures which make for crude and abrupt movements between shots, confused chronology and (without Graham there) irritating anachronisms.

I’ve been reading Jerome de Groot’s Consuming History: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture — spurred on by some panels at the recent ASECS  and what interests me here is how these two mini-series are presented as historical fiction films, based on history as well as particular novels De Groot writing about the resurgence of history in popular culture. At the same time as academics get ever more sceptical (post-modern) about what we can know of the past, and insist on disillusion and almost disbelief in documentary source, at least “interrogating” them, and self-reflexivity before they will give prizes to anyone; popular culture is devouring historical fiction and it is now respectable, making and going to historical dramas, costume dramas trying to make a comeback (if not based on older great books, based on recent very good ones).

cover

Is there a difference among historical fiction, historic novels (older written in the 18th century, say Tom Jones by Henry Fielding), and films and “real” narrative history. Yes – especially thoroughly researched history which is often thematic as well as narrative and well-documented. But for readers: do you read an older or historic novel differently from the way you read a historical fiction? More is it not so that historical fiction influences the average person’s conception the past and forces into reactionary historical narratives modern concerns.

Do these historical fictions then become part of the fabric of historical knowledge. Yes. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear also the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes), Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a revision of common understanding of the Tudor era skewed by Bolt’s and the 1960s desire to worship Thomas More. Morrison’s Beloved is now part of our understanding of the effects of slavery – and the horrific reconstruction period for black people down south. I reviewed Heffer’s High Minds – historian writing popular narrative and it is Tory paternalism that is brought before us despite all his research.

Historical fictions, these 20th and 21st century books, the first four Poldarks and Wolf Hall —  on face of it differ considerably from one another and from fictions actually written in the era they are set; yet both are created from imitating these earlier fictions, what is familiar about the earlier literature of the era, and recent other historical fictions and films. There are long traditions in the representation of the Renaissance and the 18th century. Just to begin with the 1960s on (who has not seen Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons, with Orson Wells, Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Wendy Hiller) they imitate Jacobean drama and what is felt is true of the 16th century classics (Machiavelli, Montaigne, More) we get these Elizabethan/Tudor political types as seething with subtexts, as all of them ever so intelligent, witty, ironic, guarded, making killing remarks that are funny. Similarly not to go back to Kitty (Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland) but just the two Tom Joneses (1960s and 1998), the 18th century is a time of sexual transgression, rebellions and riots, country life, manliness as building a world. The source here are also the 18th century novels, from Clarissa to Austen, and the French soft-corn porn too (who has not seen Stephen Frears’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses with the smoldering eyes of John Malkovich), and recently movies centering on traditionally heroic masculine males. (When a person writes a novel set in the 19th century today he imitates novels set in the 19th century and conventions about the 19th century that are found in historical fictions set in the 19th century; so Byatt’s Possession imitates George Eliot as seen through the Brontes.)

Now common sense tells us there were as many witty seething ironic and subtextual people about in say the 18th century as the 16th and just as many dullards, obtuse dense people at the court of Henry VIII as at the philistine court of George III who never made an interesting remark in their lives. Documents easily bear me out that Charles James Fox and Sheridan were far more into wit than Thomas Cromwell or Wolsey. In fact that is part of the power of say Thomas Middleton’s plays (a contemporary of Shakespeare): in Middleton’s famous The Changeling the man who is the evil cente of the play, Deflores (played brilliantly in the 1980s by Bob Hoskins in a BBC production) is not articulate and not very bright; worse yet is the silly heroine (played by a young Elizabeth McGovern in the same production) while the smart people (one played by Hugh Grant before he gave up on serious acting) are done in by Deflores. Deflores can’t and doesn’t want to make smart remarks. They are dangerous.

The great delight for those who delight in this sort of thing of Wolf Hall is the myth that everyone was supersubtle in talk and thought. It gave Hilary Mantel a terrific remit. Her novel (which I acknowledge I did not finish nor even start her Bring Up the Bodies, but which like some watchers I am now intent on rereading to where I left off and now finishing so as to enjoy the film adaptation the more). Her book imitates James Joyce in its self-conscious use of stream of consciousness, fills in with the expected rich furniture and strange doings of the Renaissance as seen in films, other historical fictions, “real” historical narrative, not to omit Shakespearean plays. She has also re-seen the paradigm given us by Bolt and the 1960s so now the ruthless thug politician (Leo McKern) is now true ordinary man, no better (though smarter and with more kindness and braver before the king) than the rest of us. It must be a winner.

The Poldark people have to make do with 1940s novels that mirror the dark times just after World War Two, and to give them credit, they are doing this far more authentically with the central characters than the progressive 1970s mini-series. And as Graham did, they are given voice to the marginalized and powerless, the abject, the lowest of the low, in a wide ranging perspective which includes underlying economic realities. The crime of poaching which leads to the death of one of the characters from epidemic typhus in prison was a disguised war of the propertied against the 99% of the era. Everyone knew it was a victimless crime, punished highly unevenly, the equivalent of Jean Valjean put away in prison for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread in Les Miserables. We see the stranglehold of monopolies as Ross fails to make a go of it smelting and selling copper himself at prices that will keep the mine going and becomes a free trader (smuggler). So we need vast scenes of peoples not tight encounters of individuals.

I’ve written a more detailed comparison of one episode from each (the fourth Poldark, the first Wolf Hall) on my Sylvia blog (scroll down to the concluding three paragraphs) and so won’t go on at length — until that is, I’ve read Mantel’s books and seen all 8 Poldark episodes, but here would like to turn the depiction of the women in the new Poldark and Wolf Hall. For now I want to talk just about heroines of each. According to De Groot and Miriam Burstein the archetypes across historical fiction repeat themselves – whether the character is called Demelza, Anne Boleyn, or some version of Elizabeth. In short the heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity (Katherine of Aragon, Mary Boleyn). Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty and then punishes her hard. Elizabeth seeking a life outside her family and ending up dead; Verity escaping to a kind of solitude of two in Falmouth.

Heroheroine

Scene from Wolf Hall
Hero and heroine scenes from both

For the supposed heroine of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the great and important book on Anne Boleyn is Retha Warnike’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn,– she shows the false constructions, where they came from, tries to disentangle this woman from myths, but go look at the popular historical fiction (The Other Boleyn Girl or Mantel’s Wolf Hall – I’ve not yet read Bring up the bodies). In Mantel’s presentation of Anne it’s as if Warnicke never wrote her accurate and moving portrayal of this woman,  caught up in a world of totally male hegemonic world where her family was out to sell first her sister and then herself corrupt coteries, a totally male and we are back with Boleyn as sly, amoral, wrongly ambitious, untrustworthy, deserving almost to be beheaded. I should bring up how in the 18th century Elizabeth Tollett wrote one of these Ovidian narratives deeply sympathetic to Anne, and full of the terror of beheading, but she sentimentalizes her.

We are hearing about the terrific performances of Rylance, Damien Lewis, watching Anton Lesser as More. But what of the women of Wolf Hall? Since she left off Amy Dorrit (Bleak House, scripted by Andrew Davies), Claire Foy has taken on ‘evil’ shallow ‘spoilt’ women — she did this kind of role for the 2010 Upstairs Downstairs, the pro-Nazi, Lady Percy, sexually exploiting the chauffeur. Angel face. But Foy is overdoing it, standing there stiffly; and Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn is mawkish (apart from the historical reality Mary was not acceptable at court once she had had a son by Henry who remained illegitimate — has no one read the recent history on these women?). The presentation of these women is not feminist — it’s typical historical fiction across the board. The heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity. Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty but then the structure of the novel and everyone around her punishes her hard for trespass. She was not supposed to rescue Verity to choose her own life. And the actresses can’t do as well. Liz, More’s wife, has depth — but she’s all caution and prudence, won’t even read the Bible, sticks the prayer book as safer but she’s killed off by a dread disease of the era (sleeping or sweating sickness) — so Natasha Little (the great actress of the 1998 Vanity Fair) goes to waste — unless she’s brought back in flashbacks later in the series. By contrast, Eleanor Tomlinson has a complex role to play as did Jill Townsend for Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan in the 1970s. Elizabeth has a real ambition, for society, to rise in life; Caroline Penvenon has agency. The real sin among these women is the same as Anne Boleyn’s: when they are not loyal first and foremost. I admit my bonding thus far from the films is Demelza as played by Tomlinson and Liz Cromwell as play by Natasha Little. The books are different: I deeply enter into Verity’s case, bond with the intelligent Elizabeth but have not gone far enough for a second time into Wolf Hall or its sequel to grasp where I can find some purchase.

What is the definition of manliness in such films or their books? the heroes are Thomas Cromwell who takes More’s old place as the tolerant man of integrity; Ross Poldark who builds a home and world.  It’s curious to see how physicians, Dwight Enys (Poldark), Stephen Maturin (O’Brien’s sea-stories — to me Paul Bettany is perfect) are held in high repute in historical fiction and merchants (Stephen Vaughn of Antwerp, Antonio Bonvisi from Lucca, friends to Cromwell) in Wolf Hall.

For myself I still haven’t enjoyed a costume drama mini-series in the way I am thus far Wolf Hall and also only intermittently the new Poldark since some of Andrew Davies’ film adaptations in the first decade of the 21st century. Bar none (perhaps exceptimg Breaking Bad, better in its depiction of women, probably much more thematically important and relevant), Wolf Hall is absorbing, entertaining most of the time, usually intelligent (though not Anne or Mary Boleyn). Certainly Downton Abbey was problematic even in the first two years. The new Poldark’s closer reading of Graham’s depiction of the sources of Demelza and Ross’s relationship is teaching me why I so bond with these recurring two characters, Wolf Hall is pulling me into strange violent terrors of the 16th century, religious — you can’t mock the way Clive Francis as Francis Poldark or Paul Curran as Jud dared — a world without any individual rights. The savagery reflects our own era.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

cover

Dear friends and readers,

Way back in December 2014 I announced the publication of this volume, edited by James Leggott and Julie Ann Taddeo, in which my own essay on “Epistolarity and Masculinity in Davies’s Trollope Adaptations” appeared. I’ve now read the whole of the volume and had a chance to view some of the films I knew nothing about before reading it. In the Foreword, Jerome De Groot makes a strong argument for regarding costume drama as a central export of British TV, and when done as film adaptations of great books, truly fine movies; at the same time he brings up why and how they are dissed continually. I thought a review of its sections and individual essays would be of interest to those who love these mini-series as I do. Since the volume is quite rich (see the Table of Contents), I’ve divided this blog in three parts following the divisions of the collection. This review is of the essays in Part One: Approaches to Costume Drama.

shouldertoshoulder
From Shoulder to Shoulder, a young Sian Phillips played Emmeline Pankhurst

Clare Monk’s “Pageantry and Populism: Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 190s,” is on the power, the liberal outlook, and variety of themes and art of the mini-series and costume dramas of the 1970s. She opens with an excellent demonstration (convincing) that the costume drama of the 1970s has been ignored, partly because it had a number of centrally influential highly liberal mini-series, only one of which has appeared on DVD, Days of Hope (it’s upbeat at last). Shoulder to Shoulder a significant contribution to the history of suffragettes and how they were treated is not wiped out but obstacles are still put in the way of re-digitalizing. Monk demonstrates the richness of the 1990s and a type of structure, pattern, cinematography, historiography is a development of the 1970s and lasted until 2003-4 when (alas) Mobil Exxon withdrew its support. She does not say but Eaton tells you that was when the bottom fell out of PBS. She also shows (I’ve know this for years as does anyone with some access to British TV) that only a small number of British mini-series came over to the US, the type that Downton Abbey comes out of.

The second essay by Thomas Bragg, “History’s Drama: Narrative Space in ‘Golden Age’ British TV Drama, also examines the 1970s, as a seminal period of costume drama: the sixties began it, and it was serious because of the simultaneous presence of the play of the week (Wednesday nights) and the reality that the people on the London stage were the same people on the TV in these plays. They began to cross over to the mini-series in the 1980s when British film having collapsed in the movie-houses (due to Hollywood’s popularity) moves into TV (e.g., My Beautiful Laundrette), writers and all.) Bragg’s thesis is not so admiring of the 70s, is a corrective. The 1970s have been credited with going-out-of-doors and several of the famous mini-series are repeatedly said to be photographed on location, out of doors, most famously Poldark. Bragg demonstrates that while the film-makers did indeed go on location and film some sequences there, these are few and far between. The central space remained the studio and built versions of rooms. At the same time though the uses of camera work changed: in the 1967 Forsyte Saga, a filmed stage play, the camera becomes a narrator, moving in and out of spaces; the rooms themselves are highly appointed visual versions of the era (made to seem accurate by specifically elaborate props). A strong use of mirrors, windows, and angles made the viewer aware there was an outside which was redolent of wide open spaces. Bragg argues this is the equivalent of how historical fiction works or had worked since Scott; the important scene within a confined area, carefully described objects and houses from the era, with occasional forays out to descriptive landscapes. This is interesting: how does one give the effect of a past time in a written fiction.

Fristfamilygroup
A scene of the family group in the 1967 Forsyte Sage (early on, Episode 1)

Bragg suggests this way of filming changed again in the 1990s when TV film-makers no longer had to rely on older film techniques to film out of doors but could take their computer equipment, moving cameras, one tied to the waist of the cinematographers. Then he makes the point that in Downton Abbey, the one standing heir to all these older dramas, focuses on the outside. The way the characters are filmed, walking, talking, interacting the effect is that of a group of people say in a courtyard (as in Poldark when Ross when to market they filmed in a courtyard in Ealing Studios) — but the great emphasis is the house, the lands, the dominating wealth. Where in the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs do we see the grand houses, the outsides, the gardens? we don’t. Some film-makers wanted to give the impression of landscape more than others; I’ve been thinking about the 1972 BBC Emma: this would be one much less concerned to make it seems as if the story is filmed in a landscape but I can see how the disposition, way of filming, where arrangement of scenes is that of the 1970s Poldark, and Upstairs Downstairs.

James Leggott’s “‘It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!': Costume Comedy and British TV” makes this an unusual volume. Leggott is a BBC person; he teaches film and TV at Northumbria University and is chief editor (he started it) of the Journal of Popular TV. It’s on a topic I’m not qualified to evaluate: a kind of BBC and (in a way) elite costume drama that rarely comes over to the US: Blackadder was a rare cross-over and it appeared later at night on PBS; I watched maybe one or two. Jim used to like them when he was watching TV. He’d laugh and laugh.

Blackadder
A remembered moment from Blackadder

Blackadder belongs to a sub-genre of hour-long and mini-series which make fun of serious costume drama; He mentions Upstairs Downstairs Abbey and Lark Pies to Cranchesterford (a mocking title). These types include Monty Python’s Holy Grail, on the one side, and Benny Hill on the other: low humor pretending not to recognize its own salaciousness, boy’s stuff. The Carry On movies come out of this: Carry on Cleo for example (mocking the Cleopatra movie). Leggott covers sitcoms: Brass, Dad’s Army, and others which are anti-war, anti-hierarchy. For those of us who didn’t see the full panoply of the 1970s costume drama we won’t recognize what’s rejected and made fun of. Leggott shows these deconstruct and expose the fallacies and harm; they are often attacked — as “not clever, not funny and anachronistic.” So what? Well, as he proceeds he shows that some viewers begin to believe the history they see in these programs; they really do and instead of getting the parody or critique the original shows ideas are reinforced. And some come out of a reactionary point of view very strongly. Apparently you can find British people who believe in the medieval period they see in these or the 18th century mock-ups. Not so much the Victorian.

Marc Napolitano’s “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion: British Costume Drama, Dickens and Serialization,” attempts to show that the costume serial drama embraces many of the attributes of soap opera by looking at the techniques of serialization. Napolitano says the incessant reiteration of Dickens’s name as what early films were like because Dickens is so cinematic was an attempt to gain respectability; yes Dickens published in installments but his installments were words. What was influential was not so much the vaunted pictorialism of his texts but their open segmented narratives. Napolitano says Dickens’s novels are open-ended; and what we have in costume dramas from Upstairs Downstairs on is an open-ended story that can keep going. In fact, the continuity and themes are grounded in character and setting not story. They use a limited number of sets while an overarching story narrative which ties the season together. By contrast there are older film adaptations of specific books that no longer how long do have an ending because the books have an ending: Forsyte Saga and Pallisers. By chosing this open-ended structure, the writers and film-makers can respond to audiences and experiment. He’s really describing and defineing a television novel: that we have television novels nowadays. He writes in detail about The Foryste Saga, and Duchess of Duke Street. He mentions in a note Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan had a general idea where he was going but at any point at the end of a season he could have pulled the curtain down; and he did pay attention to audience response and grew far more daring as he goes along. It’s the daring experiment that makes for the innovation. They dare not do that anywhere near as much on PBS, and we in the US get only a limited range of what goes on on British TV.

BleakHouse2004SergeantGeorgeSirLeicester
A lesser known moving moment towards the end of Davies’s Bleak House: Sergeant George (Hugo Speers) caring for Sir Leicester (Timothy West)

Benjamin Poore develops Napolitano’s essay further — “Never-ending Stories: the paradise and the Period Drama series.” Beyond an analysis of structure he pointed to features we see after 2005 or so. The lead writer who becomes an executive producer and is the linchpin was in place by the mid-1980s. An emphasis on the workplace which makes the workplace a substitute for family (and not said in the essay remains pro-establishment utterly); source texts which are relatively unknown (like Zola’s novel, Gaskell’s short stories — My Lady Ludlow is narrated by a crippled servant in the book); production practices: the fully built complicated set and precinct (the house or department store and land or streets around it); a “warm bath” atmosphere — everyone kindly, communitarian — the new reassurance factor is strikingly different from the 1970s. He discusses Davies’s Bleak House as a half-way between the older forms and this newer one — alas it did not get enough audience and so now the BBC and ITV people want a “springboard’ rather than a classic book. Poore discusses pragmatic practicalities and how decisions are made based on commercial considerations and audience numbers.

Quieter
One of the quieter and feminine of the many epistolary scenes in The Way We Live Now, Georgiana Longestaffe (Anne-Marie Duff) writing to her Jewish lover while she is in the London house of the Melmottes

Mine comes next — “Epistolarity and masculinity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films. Here rather than summarize or evaluate my own essay, and in order not to interfere with copyright (so I won’t put my essay on the Net), I offer Taddeo and Leggott’s summary of my paper in the volume’s introduction:

Perhaps the most subversive writer to examine, Ellen Moody argues, is Andrew Davies whose two BBC adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s novels, He Knew He Was Right (2004) and The Way We Live Now (2001), offer a liberal feminist interpretation of Victorian domesticity and masculinity. Moody closely analyzes Davies’s televisual techniques of filmic epistolary sequences, montage, flashbacks, and voice-over, critiquing and shedding light on the relationship between the original source texts and their adaptations. Davies not only undercuts the conservatism of these novels while exploiting conservative tendencies in heritage films, but also freely adapts Trollope’s male characters’ psychological experience as they cope with the demands the characters make upon themselves while they attempt to enact sexual ideals of manliness and achieve financial and social success.

UncleArthur
In Small Island, the mentally distressed Uncle Arthur (Karl Johnson) coming upon the Jamaican British solider, Gilbert (David Oyelowo)

The section concludes with Karen Beth Strovas and Scott M. Strovas on “music in the British Serialized Drama,” the first half of whose title is “What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?” It’s more than an allusion to a music hall song and dance Sarah the servant does in the 1970s Upstairs/downstairs,” but is a trope: in Small Island, there is an aging working class man called Arthur, and the joke his while others around him regard him as a simpleton or treat him like one (as in the older programs; Mr Weston in the 1972 Emma is made into a sort of semi-salacious genial simpleton), Arthur is rather cunning, and more sophisticated in his tolerance and observation than any one gives him credit for. There are few essays on music in film of any usefulness — so few have the technical knowledge and those who do can’t write to make themselves understood and anyway write on classical music and history (musicologists). This pair of people manage to describe pieces of music with concrete words that yet eschew technical language. New terms have evolved: source music for music that the characters in the film are making, and underscore music for the music we hear but the characters do not. The thesis is that music is so important to all film, and even in the 1970s ones where it seems it was not used to provoke emotional response the way it is today. The mini-series used the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs, the 2003 Forsyte Saga and again Downton Abbey. (Before people cry out against this obsession with DA, the people doing it make their materials available for study. The composers for DA have published material that is usable — the way Fellowes’ scripts and 2 of his companion books are scenarios and of real use.) These three mini-series can be used to analyse others — so here again we have a rare instance of the editors and write managing to produce an essay that those outside costume drama might find useful and general.

The Strovas show that what developed is a use of music beyond the opening and close themes. All three have theme music that begins and ends the show each hour, and is brought back in particular different ways to make emotional and thematic points. In the 1970s music was a tool to define and intensity the class conflicts of upstairs and downstairs — and conflicts were much much stronger, it was a polarization. Eventually upstairs took over when the hero became the son and heir, James as a tragic figure, but not so before that. What happened was a development whereby source material states explicitly some of the themes or underscore but in key scenes the two interact so as to musically enact emotions and thoughts and what’s happened. It is much more developed in Downton Abbey because they are more conscious of what they are doing and have more money than U/D did. DA uses music more psychologically and very effective it is — much more lush, but not drooling because of pace. Those who have watched the 2003 Forsyte Saga will know that operatic music is used a lot; the book and film take advantage of Irene being a piano teacher, musical and the wealth of the family leads to soirees and going to opera. The Strovas analyses the first encounter, sex and rapes scene to show our source and underscore music is used as a counterpoint. Sarah in U/D loves music hall and we see contrasts of her singing and dancing downstairs as the upstairs ones sit composedly. A scene at the close of the 2nd season of DA has Mary and Matthew playing the gramophone with a haunting love song at the time and an underscore that stops and starts as well as allusions to a show that flopped. The 4th season of DA used music a lot: Dame Nellie Melba came and sang Puccini; the black Jazz singer of course sang his songs and there was dancing. In both Forsyte Saga and Downton Abbey when a woman is raped, all music ceases where she is.

Paratexts
Poldark 1975-76: one of four sets of paratexts that opened and closed the mini-series, each having images epitomizing the actions of the four episoces and accompanied by the same memorable alluring music

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers