Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitrionia Balfe) drinking, eating, confiding on their wedding night (Outlander 7)

Friends and readers,

I carry on my comparison of Outlander with Poldark (see Outlander as a descendant of Waverley): as film art, as mini-series, made using the same kinds of cinematography (rich, mesmerizing, computer enhancement continual), dramaturgy (figures in a landscape not on a stage, montage, juxaposition), briefer dialogue, both seen as “women’s material,” albeit with plenty of male heroes and villains about, this dyptych again shows where the new Poldark is lacking (see scripts): the pair are symmetrically structured with the underlying paradigm for both a repetition of the same alluring exploration. As Emily Nussbaum puts it,

Outlander is, finally, as thoughtful about male vulnerability as it is about female desire, a rarity for television. It’s a quality that makes the show appealingly romantic in multiple senses (Emily Nussbaum, “Out of Time,” New Yorker, April 8, 2016)

When Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie, he says to Jamie and Claire separately that his purpose is both to secure Claire from the depredations of Black Jack Randall (yes played with fierce intensity by Tobias Menzies), and (as Murtargh [Duncan Lacroix] also suggested was needed, wanted) and to secure for Jamie an older mature woman.



It might startle some viewer that Jamie responds to Claire asking him if he will mind that she is not a virgin, no, as long as she doesn’t mind that he is (not that he’s never kissed a woman, “I said I was a virgin, not a monk”). But it fits the frequent reversals of roles in this series.

Garrison Commander when viewed as a whole is the second of two linked phases: in the first (from Jane’s memories in Rent or Outlander 5) we see Tobias capture, at first seem to negotiate with but then longingly flay Jamie, flog him until his back is permanently seared, scarred, somehow made shameful (like a slave’s); in the second, Garrison Commander, Claire lands in his hands for a few hours, and just as she thinks she has succeeded in winning him over to take her into an English situation where she can make her way back to Craig Na Dunn or where she wants to go, he kicks her hard in the stomach, threatens her humiliatingly and seems about to knife her mortally (as it is mortally dangerous for Jamie to come into the English lair).

The Wedding has three phases of love-making: the first just after the episode begins and the two, just married, come into their apartment together, almost as a duty:


the second after a long period of conversation about themselves, only Jamie tells far more of his family, background, memories than Claire, this a deep coming together lovingly, tenderly:


and then the third after Jamie tells her of his preparations for the wedding, where he takes over the woman’s role it seems — securing the priest and ring, getting the proper beautiful clothes which will endow them with great dignity, and finally the ceremony itself; and then third, hungrily, far more aggressively, letting go,


after which they are hungry and morning has come. We are allowed to dwell on each phase feeling it with no interference as it were.

It is framed by another wedding: as the episode opens we see Claire walking a city, perhaps London streets, in modern outfit with Robin Hood hat, and Frank suddenly eagerly begging her to marry him now, at city hall, with no preparations. She protests she has not yet met his parents, to which he responds, well now you’ll meet them as Mrs Frank Randall.



He is (like Jamie) while in the male position, yet abject and in need of her permission. This scene makes a striking contrast to the elaborate decorative ritual Jamie and Claire go through,



and lest we forget this, at end when morning comes and Jamie has left the room, Claire picks up the wedding dress, and out tumbles her wedding ring from Frank. In order to marry Jamie she had taken the ring off, and put it down the front of her corset, and now it falls to the floor almost going down a crack. But not quite. She kneels and picks it up and puts it on the ring finger of her right hand. This knits The Wedding back to the Garrison Commander for of course we know the same actor plays Black Jack as plays Frank.



There is nothing like this kind of consistent loving development in Horsfield’s Poldark. it’s partly the result again of taking a small and self-enclosed portion of a single novel (Chapters 12-15, “The Garrison Commander,” “A Marriage is Announced,” “A Marriage Takes Place,” “Revelations of the Bridal Chamber”); but it’s also this trusting to the material, not feeling that you have to supply something else, or qualify it.

Nussbaum suggests that what we watch in the first season is a “continual crumbling” of a bridge they build between them. I think that’s so, from when she “disobeys” him and he beats her, to when after the witch trial, she at long last tells him of who and what she is, where she comes from (the future), her other husband, and he generously takes her to the stone and leaves her to make up her mind. She does — for him, and again it’s his vulnerability risked, and her desire knitting them as one, her strength too as she says to him, “Get up, soldier” (making us recall her as as a battlefield nurse).

I just reveled in these two episodes. Yes because I loved the love-making (the first time watching I was embarrassed by the candour and directness of the scenes), but also because the way the development was placed against a background of serious disruption of any morality among the English and hedonistic vicarious joy among the Scots (though sometimes the episode again made me feel Claire had landed among a group of disciplined frat boys). In Garrison Commander there is an earnest British soldier who first sees Claire while she is with the Scotsman seeking rent, and thinks she may be their prisoner; he takes her for safety to the English fort, only to find she is now open prey and he can do nothing about it because of his lower rank. This holdover of emotion of a subaltern is matched by Dougal (Graham McTavish) in The Wedding, who clearly would cuckold Jamie, were Claire to be open to this; Jamie’s is as subject to Dougal and Colum as other of the British officers who would try to stop Randall, protect Claire but they can’t. Dougal is the linchpin of both episodes: following Claire into the English stronghold, pulling her out, engineering this wedding, to hold onto her. He has decided she is not a spy and wants her identity as useful to him and has a fierce authority over Jamie, his nephew it seems.


These patterns are not found in the chapters, rather they are filled with nuanced dialogue and thought between Claire and Jamie. In the novel for these chapters there are no memories of Frank. There is loss here: effective as the outward dialogue in the scenes of clash in Garrison, of argument at table, and of gentle and raucous comedy (the priest who must be dragged out of bed and then bribed to perform the ceremony, the trading of Biblical passages, Ned Gowan (Bill Patterson) among teasing prostitutes who are presences out of The Beggar’s Opera), I found the long give-and-take conversations in Gabaldon’s novel much more moving. The movie can risk only suggestive fragments of Jamie’s childhood, boyhood, who was this relative and who that. This is a building up of a picture of him as having pride as Laird.

The next episode, Both Sides Now (Outlander 8) will be a continual movement back and forth from 1943 and the desperate Frank at the police office, with the Reverend Wakefield, told by Mrs Graham that some supernatural neolithic charm has taken Claire off to another time, with Claire and Jamie traveling or wandering themselves as semi-outcasts through the highland’s landscape. They encounter a beggar, Hugh Munro in the novel, now called Willie (Finn Den Hertog) whom Jamie welcomes warmly, and has himself been made permanently mute (his tongue cut out), his feet ruined, during a captivity among the Turks, in Algiers, as a galley slave. Now he wanders through the world.


He is a parallel to Frank.


And this new trio comes near danger.


Again this is a lingering juxtaposition not in the book. But this is for another blog.


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Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth — as characters digging the deep past up in the form of a coffin of a Muslim who once painted a mural on a 14th century church wall (A Month in the Country)

Dear friends and readers,

While the fall term has hardly begun, today was time to put in a proposal for next spring for the OLLI (Oscher Institute of Life-Long Learning) at George Mason. I enjoy enormously Booker Prize books, winners, short-listed, nominated. I love most of the film adaptations, which also win prizes.

Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche as the English patient and wandering nurse (screenplay Anthony Minghella)

At the same time I am aware only a certain kind of book wins: you’ll find no John LeCarre’s there. And it’s not just books which can be fitted into formula genres that are excluded, non self-reflexive historical fictions are out. Nor is it that mawkish uplift, and the kind of woman’s novel that garners an Orange prize; anything profoundly reactionary. So casting about for some kind of framework whereby term after term I could slot in books and explore books of our time as well as the publishing industry, I came up with this:

The Booker Prize: a marketplace niche & selling tool?

In this course we will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for high quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and the three of the texts I’ve chosen have been made into great films. I ask that before class begins everyone have read J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country; in class we’ll read Rose Tremain’s Restoration, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Graham Swift’s Last Orders.

I originally had Paul Scott’s Staying On in lieu of Restoration, but it is such a painful story of retired people now vulnerable to subalterns and the readers I read with are older retired people, so I worried. I ruled out Carol Shields’s Unless on similar grounds: perhaps they had a grown child who succumbed to such a syndrome. None of the Raj Quartet has won — the prize usually eschews sequel kind of books. A course just on Paul Scott is possible.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Staying On carry over the typologies of Brief Encounter

[NB: later on I discussed it with other people in classes and with the organizers and I may well substitute Staying On for The English Patient (after all an exotice romance) and Unless for Restoration (not commonly known history though the topic of mental illness during and after a war is central). They are shorter, easier reads and that they come home to people might make for a much richer class.]

I loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, but perhaps that makes the list insularly English. We can discuss it in claas; it is so slender — a characteristic of some Booker Prize books (they gave a prize to a long short story by V.S. Naipaul once). Byatt’s Possession (very precious), Atwood’s Alias Grace (complicated structure and POV too), and Mantel’s Wolf Hall were all too long to do other books with; Adhalf Soueif’s Map of Love long and too Eygptian: I can see doing that with her In the Eye of the Sun, but hesitate before a heavily Jewish population. I like the idea of pairing Alias Grace with the real woman behind the novel: Susannah Moodie and her Roughing It in the Bush. And in future terms I can see myself doing Ishiguru’s Remains of the Day — how I wept over that film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson at the close, just missed out on what would have made their lives good, just.

The four frenemies carrying Jack’s ashes (in a box) to the jetty in “style” — a fancy car

Reconciliation by the sea (Last Orders) — my students loved the film

None of my choices are darkly despairing. There are fascinating films for all four. I hardly remember Tremain’s book except liking it intensely (and have never seen the film).

As a side-note: I noticed something typically about women’s books who win the prize: typically women winning the Booker either write very long complicated books — with a George Eliot impressiveness — and if I chose one I’d hardly have time for another. One or even two swallows do not a summer make for my thesis about Booker prize books. Or they write odd and/or very slender ones. It’s “as if” they have to strike an impression more than the men.

Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn (one of a continuum of heroines in Wolf Hall)

This is a new venture like my 19th Century Women of Letters which I hope to develop over a few terms — well within my taste, each time expanding my knowledge this or that way without asking too much, leaving time for scholarly reviews, essays, papers.

These books, indeed this sub-species, will be great fun to write blogs about here too.


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WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Geoffrey Charles and Francis.  Geoffrey Charles, Francis (KYLE SOLLER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
Kyle Soller as Francis Poldark returned from Bodmin, with his son, Geoffrey Charles

[Note: this blog assumes the reader has read all twelve of Graham’s novels, viewed the 1970s mini-series, and is interested in the content and art of the books and this older and the new 2015-16 mini-series]

Ross: “Have I told you what I feel about a disobedient wife?”
Demelza: “Have I told you what I feel about a reckless husband?” (Horsfield, end of new episode 10)

Dear friends and readers,

I had been holding off on writing about the second season of Poldark while watching the first two episodes of the BBC Broadcast on a BBC iplayer, but have given up trying to cover both airings. This week PBS put off for another week their first double-hour program. I have been told that the PBS production will eliminate 8 minutes of and blend (mash is the term) together the first two 60 minute hours of the BBC productions. And since by the third episode of this season, something genuinely interesting and worthwhile is beginning to emerge, I wanted to record it. For all I know it won’t be apparent in the PBS version for quite some time.

The second season, building on the first, is developing a different emotional temperature, a different mood for the story and characters of Horsfield. In a phrase, I’d call the mood an intersection between Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb (as interpreted by their wider readership and in the Hardy and one Webb film adaptations that have been made), contemporary edginess (it’s called), and a contained version of smoldering Lawrence (seen recently at its best in Joe Wright’s films). Quite a number of blogs by now and some comments on two of mine (“disconcerting news,” the “Horsfield scripts”) have been saying that the events to come are going to crucially change the characters and meaning of the series from that of the original books as well as the 1970s films (which except for the opening and closing episodes of the first season mostly stayed with Graham), but while I can see how these changes have been prepared for from the beginning of the first season (especially in the characters of Kyle Soller as Francis and Heidi Reed as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark and Jack Farthing George Warleggan), thus far the hinge-points of the book have been held to.

What’s been strikingly altered is the presentation of story and characters: I don’t mean the substitution of a stage for a pictorial presentation. That goes without saying for most films since the mid-1990s (not all, Wolf Hall and surprisingly some The Hollow Crown dared to return to theatrical-like direction), but the order of the events and dialogue content (so, e.g., in Graham’s book and the 1970s films Demelza tries to win Judge Lister over by discussing high cultural music and now Eleanor Tomlinson introduces however opaquely the issue of perjury). We have seen George Warleggan made into a personally injured villain (in the book and in the 1970s he is more simply a ruthless capitalist) and presented as persistently trying to corrupt Aidan Tuner as the fiercely fair-dealing, sincere and egalitarian Poldark to become his follower; more worrying (for those who are attached to the older conception of Ross and Demelza as founding their very identities in their relationship with one another) are the jarring sudden hostilities in apparently unprepared-for or unexplained scenes in Episode 3 between Demelza and Ross. She accuses him of coldness, withdrawal, indifference to her, and he ignores her at first. I say apparently because in reading the complete scripts for the first season I discovered that many brief character-rich scenes and suggestive dialogues were cut, creating just the same effect in the film realization as we see in the second season.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Demelza.  Demelza ((ELEANOR TOMLINSON) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
Not only has Demelza’s hair been smoothed out and made far thicker, her outfits given somber soft blues and greens, but Tomlinson is directed to look out at the world with a narrow eye when she is seen standing alone

The second and third episodes of this season were much better than the first which attempted (as was done in some of the episodes of the first season) to pile too much in, use continual rapid juxtapositions of too many story-lines at once. Here my comparing this Poldark with the precisely contemporary mini-series Outlander was useful: Gabaldon’s series is historical romance: while the films try to frame the story as a post-colonial critique of the British oppressions of the Scots, there is little exact history, and only a generalized version of crucial customs dramatized (such as the role of rents in controlling members of a clan). Graham’s books (and the 1970s films kept this up) genuinely attempts to convey specifics about the poaching and game laws, prison conditions, mining, banking, the customs of scavenging (and later smuggling, and county politics) and what Horsfield is trying to do is get some of this in. She has to struggle more than the 1970s films because she is so determined to personalize through George Warleggan, add scenes projecting a group identity to which all right-minded people will want to belong.

Robin Ellis as a bitter Ross (the older episode 9)

I cannot deny that I continue to love the 1970s mini-series: I have been re-watching them in tandem and they stand up beautifully. For those interested, you can click on links next to the new series and read about the older comparable episodes.


Episode 1 (or 9): for comparison, commentary on the 1975 Episode 9 and Graham’s book.

Aidan Turner as Ross in the first episode of this second season (he is rightly made thinner by episode 3 as in Jeremy Poldark he and Demelza and their household have not enough to eat; throughout all 3 episodes he needs a shave) at a moment of intense guarded suspicion

The structuring and explicitness of the episode make it quite different from the equivalent episode in the 1970s and Graham’s book. Horsfield has re-conceived of the prologue to the trial (so to speak) as a group of parallel stories running alongside one another, each of which is ratcheted up into a row of climaxes against one another.

In the book and in the 1975 film the story moves naturally forward, with different characters taking part as the chronology (or so it feels) calls for it. In the 1970s 50 minute hour each scene is allowed to develop on its own: so it opens say with the menacing threat-determination of Tankard and his men to bribe Jud into giving evidence against Ross. We then move to Demelza’s visit to Penvennen. There is no paralleling. Nor is there this explicitness. When in this 2016 episode Demelza heads off to see Penvennen it is made explicit she is going there to try to influence the man.

Four stories are ratcheted up and paralleled and contrasted: Ross’s with Demelza, Francis’s with (as it were) the bad devil on one side tormenting him), George, and the good person, on the other, Elizabeth, equally tormenting him. Francis is slowly despairing, and we see the steps he takes as he sees what is happening, finds himself unable to do anything useful, and driven wild with the life he feels has been imposed on him, attempts to get rid of it as a burden he cannot endure. There is Dwight Enys’s preparation for his testimony, his talk with Ross, his worries at what will ensue, his riding along and then the call to take care of her dog, by the new rich young heiress character, Caroline Penvennen: Gabriella Wilde, for most of the three episodes presently every bit as hostilely as the promiscuous “slut” Keren: she is ostentatiously supercilious and disdainful:

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Caroline Penvehen.  Caroline Penvenen (GABRIELLA WILDE) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jon Hall
The choice of red, the hats, the way she holds her body and head makes her stand out as not part of this group identity

George at the beginning and again at the end of the episode wants Ross to ask for help and to offer to be a kind of partner (none of these exchanges between Ross and George occur in Grahm’s books or the earlier mini-series); upon being refused the first time he makes up these ugly pamphlets and spreads them. (This is what I’ve seen happen in films that mean to be popular: you have to account specifically and personally for something happening. In the book and first film George’s hatred is more generalized, and he is not so focused on Ross. We see him prevent Demelza from getting into the assembly by implying she’s a prostitute based on her obvious lower class status.

Promotional shot of Eleanor Tomlinson for season 2

I was to Bodmin jail two weeks ago and can confirm that Ross’s entry into that tunnel hall is inside Bodmin jail, but again it’s odd how artifical the direction makes the settings feels. Why must so many of the characters be on cliffs at the height of emotion – it’s not persuasive that Ross and Demelza, Francis and Elizabeth should have out their intimate conflicts against pretty blues skies and cliffs. The photography sometimes made the hour seem unreal again. I don’t say everything: George is seen inside his house, Dwight and Ross, Pascoe and Ross, and later Clymer and Ross, Elizabeth and the aunt, Francis and Verity are all face-to-face head on encounters inside. But the parallels are overdone. Francis is writing while Ross is writing, and back and forth the camera goes to Elizabeth’s face, then Demelza’s. It’s an overdone, over anxious (lest we be bored) episode.

Among other unrealities of this first episode is this unreal focus on Ross: all the characters are made to have Ross on their minds almost all the time (except Caroline, absurdly over her dog and indifferent say to the people who are to elect her fiance, Unwin Trevaunance). That Ross explicitly refuses to help himself, insults and insists, and says what he knows will put him in jail is a way of ratcheting up the action, making it more suspenseful since obviously such behavior (we think, with his lawyer, Jeffrey Clymer [William Mannering] will surely lead to him being hanged. In Graham’s book and 1970s film Robin Ellis as Ross will not lie or act without integrity but by no means does he do all he can to ruin his case. The book and 1970s’s character’s first statement is unacceptable, but he does not defend it strongly in the counterproductive manner Aidan is directed to do. Filling the hour up this way, with this back and forth movement, has a stasis effect. They are all acting it very well but it’s so artificial, like puppets on display.

The only character I was able to come close to was Francis Poldark: he is prepared for very well; each of the scenes is designed to show us his aching self-hatred and despair; the scene with Verity is not as sharp as the one between Norma Streader and Clive Francis in the 1970s simply because it is not given enough time for his bitterness and her concern for him to be voiced, but that final moment before the letter, his cocking his pistol and thinking are pitch perfect in Graham and in both series. Perhaps Horsfield overdid it by making us believe the pistol went off; in the 1970s we “merely” see Clive Francis put the gun in his mouth.


Episode 2 or 10 (this does follow the matter of the second quarter of Jeremy Poldark up until the moment of non-conviction; for comparison, see outline and quotations from 1975 Poldark Episode 10)

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 30/08/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: Generic (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Verity **EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 30TH AUGUST** Verity (RUBY BENTALL) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Ellis Parrinder
Ruby Bentall as the satisfied matron of the second season (her hair has been smoothed out too) – as in the book and the 1970s films she shares a room in the Bodmin hotel with Demelza (promotional shot)

The dramaturgy of this episode is much better than the first: the action is allowed to flow forward naturally. This is an good effective episode. While there is juxtaposition, the central story of Ross’s coming trial and the swirl of events around it is kept to. I’ll follow the trajectory as it is possible to do this: We hear alluring minor music and watch a blurred flashback of Ross and Demelza happy on the beach together: this a parallel of the opening of the series where we saw Heidi Reed as a young Elizabeth on the beach with a young Ross, also soft focus. Switch to Turner’s face in the darkness with a candle by his side: he is remembering back. Now a side shot of him at the desk; slow moving, very well done. We see the corridor, hear the keys as the door is opened, Clymer comes in, the long list of people prepared to testify against Ross, including Jud (his potential testimony a “nail in the coffin”).

Camera on the streets, as yet peaceful, but we see how these wandering tough hard men with their torches could easil be turned into an actively violent mob. Demelza walks among them in the streets, determined to get into the assembly this time and talk with, persuade people who could help Ross. Now she slips in and meets with the kindley Penvenen (Caroline’s uncle is given her name in this iteration) and a superficial tactless Caroline: oh your husband is on trial, what did he do? Penvenen warns her she can only make things worse (as she is warned in the book and in the 1970s), but searching about, she spots Judge Lister, and makes for him. Caroline offers to go out with Unwin to the balcony; says she enjoys a baying mob.

Elizabeth pacing in a darkened Trenwith; reproaches Agatha for ever predicting the worst outcome; the old woman defends herself saying she is playing “snap” to entertain herself, “go to Bodmin, Elizabeth” she urges then, and Elizabeth is off to the coach.

Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 1 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Aunt Agatha.  Aunt Agatha (CAROLINE BLAKISTON) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
Caroline Blakiston as Aunt Agatha, nonetheless brooding over her win

Back in Bodmin, a crowded tavern, Jud seen morose with drink, all listening to talk of the election (as unjust, as a joke, as giving the ordinary person nothing), Luke Norris as Dwight is POV and he overhears talk about hunger, France, the revolution, ideas coming over to England, this world a power keg, Dwight speaks to Jud, surely all of us are for Ross

It is here that the group identity comes to the fore, presented complexly but as what people live in as in some soup. Thus the juxtapositions have some depth of apprehension, some larger context.

First juxtaposition from lawyer and Ross in jail to assembly. Clymer says Ross’s defense is proving difficult; and he takes out the will Ross had made. He has left all he can to Demelza. At assembly Penvenen is telling her “influence, I don’t have that sort. Tomlinson very good here: quietly, “I’m a little despairing;” as Lister is pointed out: he’s “somewhat severe.” “Does he like his port? “Resolutely sober. Ross telling the lawyer to “bequeath Wheal Grace and my other debts and liabilities; I really have left her nothing.” He is despairing too. She approaches Lister and it seems to go well. A nasty exchange of Caroline with Dwight: she is bored, not entertained; Dwight tells her he’s thankful not she’s not his business. In the elction names called are now tied in second place and Warleggan says to Trevaunance “Get up on chair and claim it: men irritated by Trevaunance begin to throw eggs and rocks. “Get me back inside. In the prison the man who is going to die for simply being aggressive at the election pushed into jail. “I’m a free man, [with] a right to speak.” He is punched in face, thrown down, jail shut, Ross watches. It seems he has no such right.

Warleggan to Penvenen: “See he’s established.” “Almost at expense of his life” inbetween Caroline’s supercilious remarks to Dwight who holds his own: “You’re mistaken madame, I neither solicit nor despise … Caroline sees people as rable. Penvenen glimpses Demelza talking to Lister, “oh my god you will hang your husband,” and now George is on the alert, goes over, interrupts her awkwardness, says who she is and judge becomes indignant; on the way out with Lister, George thinks he’s clinched it against “those who stir up disorder” (It is George who made the guy get on a chair, and he is indirectly responsible for the hanging of the man in the cell next to Ross’s). George does count his chickens before they hatch.

The great scene between Dwight and Francis: opening the door and there is Francis. Horsfield omits the plangent language and sorrow Clive Francis manifested but the scene is still effective.

Back to lawyer and Ross, are you going to die on a point of principle? There is a parallel with Francis who hates himself on a point of principle. Asks Enys the question in the book, “Are you a fatalist? or do you believe we are masters of our own destiny (again the 1970s sticks closer to Graham’s words, masters of the dance). Horsfield’s Francis: “Well the thing’s not done so for the moment you have a talkative companion instead of a silent one.” There is something artificial and arch in the 1970s version; this feels realer, truer, quieter.

Demelza accosts Warleggan: “Why do you hate him?”; and they clash over class status: “You will always be a miner’s daughter” while he is now a gentleman; she is a gentleman’s wife …

Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 2 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: George Warleggan.  George Warleggan (JACK FARTHING) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers
A promotional shot of Jack Farthing as the proud seething Warleggan of the second season

In the prison: lawyer to Ross: case against you is too strong, not a question of whether you’ll be found guilty but whether and what that sentence will be …perhahps you will reconsider before you sleep tonight …

Demelza now in the room with Verity: “if anything I made it worse Verity I lost my child how can I bear it if I lost Ross, too.” (She is seen in all three episodes going to the empty bed.” Camera on Ross considering in the prison. Effective juxtaposition

Elizabeth on her way in the coach, switch to Francis fixing the gun. Quicker now: Jud watched by Tankard, accosted by Prudie. Tankard reassuring Warleggan: he has augmented the crowd by people paid to share our views; George boasts he has convinced his Lordshiop without a penny changing hands

Dialogue of Ross and fellow prisoner: I wish you justice ..

Then the voice of the remorseless judge: as ringleader and instigator; for what happened that night – you will be hangd by neck until you die. Demelza, behind her Verity looking on. Ross coming out of jail. Horsfield is determined to make us disbelieve that Ross can get off so she adds Demelza’s father coming in to accuse Ross of lack of respect for law, custom, other men: “this man did think himself about the low. The whole long scene of trial very well done. so many against him, but if jury believes him. Camera on Francis, Dwight, Elizabeth … Turner does look handsome.

Prosecution: all the people lying (not in book), the paid witnesses – the audience is on Ross’s side, calling the witnesses liar, that’s a lie. One man says he saw Ross assault a customs officer, “aye sir assault’s a terrible thing sir.” Close up of all faces, POV Demelza, she goes outside cannot breath and now we learn she is pregnant when Elizabeth comes to her and senses it: “I never thanked you for nursing me … at such a cost how can you bear it .. I’m with child again.” Then Jud’s great moment: not as highly theatrical as 1970s; but in this version he says Ross didn’t help (when he did), claims Ross said “there’s women and children aboard who need saving from watery grave.” He did not say this, not in the book which is careful to keep to or skirt the truth. Now George turns bitter at Tankard.

Then Captain bray’s fair testimony – flashbacks to give concrete experience (not in previous episodes of 1st season); it was like a Dante’s inferno. Ross asks him, what did I do: “You came and offered me shelter.” Lawyer catches Bray on the issue of not knowing what Ross did afterward. We see Francis watching Ross


Prosecutor far more explicit about RP as revolutionary, chief perpetrator – repeats strong testimony Ross gave at indictment; “I did not consider it a riot, do you approve of food to keep them alive … did you have anything to do with Sanson’s death …regrettably nothing whatsoever/.

Dwight Enys is made chief witness for defense mental breakdown; he alone speaks for him in this version. He insists on his degree, his knowledge, and on the strangeness of Ross’s actions. A strong response on the court, and judge orders people for Poldark removed.

Tankard and George talking: the mane cannot bear for Ross to have anything, even a worthless mine left to his wife. Francis and Elizabeth meet: Francis feels she came for Ross; very awkward, stressed conversation. “Ross will be gratified” [to see her]. She: “Are you?”

Lawyer urges him; “you must grovel – do so now or you will not live to see the sun rise tomorrow. He starts but he cannot go on; it’s George’s scornful face he cannot bear. He is eloquent and says values all agree with on scavanging, starving, who should get flotsam and jetsam on beach and why. Judge unmoved and informs jury if they think Ross not guilty of three counts, if he participated he is still guilty. But they go out and back quickly and it’s not guilty. In this film this seems astounding; but it the book it’s prepared for by telling us of custom (juries loathe to convict) and in the 1970s trial not so stacked against Ross, Ellis as Ross not so angry, more witnesses for him. Francis cannot accept Verity’s husband he says: people do not change. Ross, Dwight (or is it Henshawe) on the horses, the workers on the beach waiting.

Francis and Elizabeth home to Agatha, and there is a getting along suddenly, a light in Soller’s eyes, and Demelza and Ross in their house. She says this is all I want, this private life together (true to book here) and a child in the crib, but he demurs.


Episode 3 (or 11): Book 2, opening of Jeremy Poldark (for comparison see outline and quotations from 1975 Poldark Episode 11).

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: episode 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Captain McNeil.  Captain McNeil (HENRY GARRETT) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jon Hall
Henry Garrett as Captain MacNeil — his complacent normalized self provides a coda of prosaic pro-life emotion distinct from the surrounding intensities

This is equally good as Episode 2 (10) and for the same reasons: the story is allowed to flow naturally; the actors given room and time to develop a scene; it stays yet closer to the events Graham whose book is very good, but it is here that the mood becomes drenched in a sense of the west country culture as providing meaning and purpose and community and that is what gives satisfaction.

Ross, now thin, leading horse with hay, longing look at two mines. We move into the Warleggan palatial house, inside George practicing boxing with Tankard looking on. Ross studying Wheal Grace maps –- back to unnecessary threats of Jud, Pascoe’s voice, saying loan shortly due. Now we get this inexplicable jarring outbursts: Demelza: “She’s scarcely seen him?, he “Would you have me neglect …” This is true to the book only Demelza is not angry over it. Ross: “We’ll talk soon I promise. Dwight chopping wood (has Horsfield been watching any Andrew Davies’s films lately?), Caroline passes, Demelza on the beach …

Meeting of Wheal Leisure group, what’s left of it, a woman shareholder sold to Coke, Tankard comes in as representing Coke. They know he’s a Warleggan mole. Juxtapose to Francis and Elizabeth declining invitation to Penvenen luxury county party where Warleggan will be and then (truly good feeling conveyed by Killer), Francis’s delight in son in taking him to fields. Better than chasing money and prestige and whatever else is admired. Demelza still on the beach, picking things up, MacNeil watching

The Wheal Leisure meeting ends. Henshawe they are going in direction of Trevorgie (from Wheal Grace) to see what they can find: All but Tankard and one wary man carry motion. MacNeil gains romantic entry to Demelza’s house –- he is there serving Trevaunance; brings a request for Demelza from Brodrugan about the cow, now Ross interrupts and he offers sudden jarring suspicions: Why the sudden sarcasm about Demelza liking Bodrugan? it comes from nowhere. It is prepared for in the book and is unmerited. We see
women washing at pond, the carriage with Caroline –- she is attracted to Enys as he moves about the village

Really very appealing moments of Francis and son in fields, POV Elizabeth to Agatha. Francis after having escaped death valuing life in a way that is consonant with his personality. Not asking of himself what he does not want, cannot do, does not care about.

Warleggan reading a letter; Tankard come to tell of meeting; we get another exaggerated dialogue (not credible) juxtaposed to Jud’s boasting.

Demelza angry at Ross’s suspicions: “Did you mislay manners, leaving me alone to deal with guest?” Ross says he not there for cow. She: “You give me cold shoulder and despise everything not at your high and mighty standard –- this is a jump without intermediary feeling. Perhaps it was there in the script, but not in this realization. Prudie: “What you saying to upset maid?

Demelza meets Elizabeth in wood; she is looks for Garrick, Ross hasn’t the heart for another child and she’s not told him, Elizabeth: “We’re to blame, discord not lightly set aside by Ross at least

Jud fleeing Warleggan’s men

Demelza in bed at night; Ross intently working hard at mine; back to Demelza in bed; Ross home to breakfast and then out to Truro. He comes home and she is staring at empty crib bed. He wants to talk, she looks encouraged but then it is money; he is working to find a new lead but the pressing concern is the debt. They must sell much that they have to make 400 pounds – ride to Truro, see if loan extended; the more he works better their chances, he tells her, “see what you can bear to part with and then look again.” She visits Brodrugan and cow with MacNeil looking on. Pascoe has secured his loan to be extended – 400 tomorrow – Demelza selling Emma their cow, Brodrugan gets aggressive (harassing her) and MacNeil interrupts to protect her. She is grateful.

Then we see Ross and Demelza walking, talking about what they can sell. They joke about Garrick and then we see them taking money for selling Emma, on the farm, pigs cock furniture. Caroline going to market too. Wareleggan smoldering at them. Dwight and Caroline encounters end in his curing her “hurt throat.” We see Ross and Demelza selling off their precious objects and a bitter encounter with Warleggan. They pay an amazed Pascoe: Ross: “we sold pretty much everything we own.”

Francis with child, real horse better, no more Uncle George, Uncle Ross in time will be our friend – these moments of hope and joy projected by this actor. They are part of the new emotional temperature of the series. (Not found in book or 1975 films.)

Mrs Tabb prefers Dr Enys to Dr Choake; and tells him Francis in better spirits these days; Elizabeth: “Hhe’s changed, did he intend to kill himself? Enys: “Whatever occurred, be glad of it, a broken man returned like that, and now playing with son.

Promotional shot of Heidi Reed as Elizabeth for the second season

Jud set upon very hard. Dwight agrees to carry invitation to harvest supper to Ross and Demelza. A modest meal, Francis: “Admiring our harvest, I hope to augment it; later that night Ross and Demelza discuss invitation that Dwight brought: he will not go, George is a still friend there. Demelza: “she is not sure, but she is not in haste to go to Trenwith” either.

Prudie with apparent death of Jud, impossible idealization of Prudie – the guineas – Martin thinks it’s from the trade … Ross knew him since he was a child, useless but he taught me. This material was comic in the 1970s but it is not comic now. Just puzzling. Ross: “George has played us all – perhaps we should accept invitation and maybe some things can be mended.” He wants to “connect to Francis again.”

Happy harvest scene — Soller has sweetest of smiles – cousin tis an unexpected pleasure – all shaking hands. Harvest ritual in the fields, hurrah hurrah hurrah – wonderful dancing. (None of this in book or 1975 film.)

Warleggan to Tankard: “I ordered you to scare not murder. Idiot Unwin at party with Caroline intensely frustrated.

Francis with Ross and Dwight: Francis says he now knows George a complee utter blaggard, Dwight called away at Killwarren. Tremendously elegant luxurious meal at Penvennen. “Last night a murder” we hear MacNeil saying.

The funeral meal – so three levels of characters — Prudie’s ludicrous speech – the slab empty. Demelza outside escaping nasty mother of Elizabeth: Prudie thinks it body snatchers

Dwight’s scene pulling fishbone from Caroline’s throat; at luxury party Warleggan exerts pressure on the Wheal Leisure man who sided with Tankard and he faints.

Francis offers to go in with Ross – “hole in the ground,” he has money, few hundred, and they propose to try final attempt

Fish bone out. Francis must go to bed, Dwight comes in – thank you Cousin. Prudie the shame of it – Jud without explanation. George is exulting over his successful bullying. Jud now appears as a ghost, and tells how it was It’s there as a left-over of condescending humor to the “lower orders” (on Graham’s part first.

Elizabeth with Ross left downstairs, he looks to help her, she thanks him. Demelza walking back from Prudie will overhear. She: “The money came from George to pay for false gaming loss.” Ross: “I remember a time you were perfect – today in the fields you looked like a girl of 16 your age when I first knew you.” He is half flirting, “Cannot love overcome such obstacles. She: “I cannot imagine how” Ross says she “has brought light back into Frances eyes,” but we know that’s not the source of Francis’s gladness. She tells him you should go to bed Ross, Demelza will be thinking you’re gone astray … he looks down disappointed rueful. This is a justified extrapolation from a scene in the book not filmed before.

This too: Demelza gone to bed crying, she in bed awake when he comes in. She tells of Jud’s alive, and blurts out, “First Christmas you told me you loved me.” He: “First days of love different then.” This reminded me of Joyce’s The Dead: the story’s ending in crying and hurt. Ross picks up she’s pregnant; he says it is different a child is not a thought and if she can risk he heart again, so can he …


Robin Ellis and Anghared Rees as Ross and Demelza making love the night before he must leave for Bodmin and the trial (1975 Poldark Episode 9)

To conclude, I’ve loved the books and still do, have taught Ross Poldark several times, Demelza twice, and Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan once. If Horsfield wants to soften the progressive politics of the books and 1970s films, eliminate the feminism, but not lose the inner life of the books which are so pro-egalitarian, decent in humanity, it seems to me to turn to a Hardyesque atmosphere is a good option. As yet there is no hint in these episodes that the series will take the crucial changes that people have been discussing elsewhere. Time (or next week on the BBC) will tell. I’ve commented enough on how much I valued the original emotional relationships and themes of the books and when they were kept to in the 1970s films.


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Claire (Catrionia Balfe) medicates Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) back (near opening of Episode 2, directed Ronald Dahl, scripted Ronald D Moore)

Claire remembering Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeeck) saying: “As I told you, there’s many things in this world we can’t explain …” (near end of Episode 3, directed Brian Kelley, scripted Anne Kenney)

We get no good
By being ungenerous, even to a [film],
And calculating profits — so much help
By so much reading. It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a [film]’s profound,
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth-
Tis then we get the right good from a book.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
(1857), i, 702-9

Dear friends and readers,

The general plot-design of these two episodes is quickly told (see Episode 1):

As the group comes up to Leogh, it looms in the way of Udolpho:

2) exploring Castle Leogh and its grounds, Claire settles in, is re-dressed, meets Laird Colum Mackenzie (Gary Lewis), dines with the clan, is led to believe she will be allowed to return to Craig Na Dunn (the stones), but finds herself appropriated as a “healer” and forbidden to leave, as no one important believes her story of herself. Slowly her relationship with Jamie builds, meeting to help his wounds, bringing food to him outside the gate; he tells of of Black Jack Randall, an English enemy (Tobias Menzies), and the doubling figure of Claire’s gentle Frank with this violent Black Jack makes Jamie an intermediary link

As the episode opens, we are back in time, five years before 1945, where Claire is bidding adieu to Frank her husband as she refuses to accept an offer of escaping front-line nursing

3) Claire becomes involved with a woman like herself, expert in the use of medicinal compounds, foods, healing, Geillis Duncan, and witnesses a culture of harsh punishments and mortifications, defies the fanatically punitively religious priest, to save the life of a boy said to be in need of exorcism. Again her relationship with Jamie builds, now she sees him rescue Leoghaire (Nell Hudson) from punishment, free a boy nailed to a pillory by his ear, take her to the Black Kirk to reveal the poisoned herb afflicting the boy.

The second episode feels more complicated than the first, building on it: we see Claire is in danger of being seen as a witch (by her apprehension of Mrs Fitz’s (Annette Badland) probable response to her story; the blending of time frame-times, from what Frank is doing now to to try find Claire, by himself by the rocks, with the Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet), to deeper past memory and again Claire at end of episode 3 with a vision of the stones, but the more she does deeds to gain gratitude, the more she is held fast.



I’ve been trying to account for the deep appeal of this mini-series (at least to me and the legions of readers and viewers, mostly women) beyond the sex: I am intensely drawn to the sexual relationship between the heroine, Claire, and the central beloved hero, Jamie; its configuration is the same as Suzanne Juhasz says is central to women’s romance (Reading from the Heart) and is found in the relationship of Demelza and Ross in the Poldark books. (I gather for some modern young women brought up recently or women of the later 20th century this no longer appeals.) In the films, protective, gentle, tenderly loving, a helper-brother, in Demelza’s case a father substitute, in Claire’s an oddly feminized hero. But what else?

I am trying to see how it differs from Poldark beyond the genre (women’s historical romance v men’s historical fiction). Why does it seem so coherent, the story move forward with ease, with less strained staccato switches from scene to scene, and all the scenes allowed more dialogue and development.

Cinematography at Black Kirk provides continual mirroring effect, as if the two were reflections of themselves in one another’s mirrors

Claire amid the stones in a memory sequence (from Episode 3)

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye
Billow and breeze, islands and seas, mountains of rain and sun
All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

It’s the time-traveling. a what if nature of the fiction set up in the past, a playing with time so different times blend and part, doubling of characters from the past and the future. The real material is the relationship between Frank (yielding, gentle, heterosexual) and Black Jack Randall (sadistic, bisexual), Claire and Jamie (he attracts dominant gay males) to both of these. Claire moves away from a stressful life-passage in 1945 where the marriage is not working, a double narrative echoed or repeated in Claire’s relationship to Geillis, who we will learn is also from the future. Christianity versus paganism is an important strand across DuMaurier’s works. There is no magic but the one break from realism in time transportation

Jamie remembering his sister, Jenny Fraser (Laura Donnelly) raped by Black Randall (will occur in narrative in Episode 12, Lallybroch) (from Episode 2)

Swirling about these are the strong female types, with Claire as voice-over narrator, her memory controlling all. We’ve met Mrs Fitz, Colum’s silent wife, Letitia (Aislin McGuckin), Geillis; we’ve seen Jenny Fraser thus far. There is a succession of scapegoats (made to suffer) who Claire works to free from suffering at the risk of her life and identity: Jamie is continually offering himself up, and she continually rescuing him (as he will her in the traditional swashbuckling mode). It is a question of a transcendent identity: a drive to abandon the daily material world (so you cross the stones) to lose yourself in a Bronte love. Jamie’s alter-ego, semi-servant, brother, Murtagh Fraser (Duncan Lacroix) advises Claire that Jamie needs an experienced woman, not a girl-virgin; like a Walter Scott male companion-servant he finds his meaning is serving Jamie.

At the same time the mater is rooted in Scottish culture, literature, and myth:

Murtagh, ever there (opening Episode 2), a companion first seen in Scott’s fiction

In both episodes there are these vast hall scenes, in the second a man sings ancient songs to pipes:

Claire’s first entrance (within the first phase of episode 2)

The harp-player and bard (towards the end of episode 3)

Now this one is about a man out late on a fairy hill on the eve of Samhain who hears the sound of a woman singing sad and plaintive from the very rocks of the hill.
[eerie music] [Gaelic singing continues] “I am a woman of Balnain.
“The folk have stolen me over again, ‘ “the stones seemed to say.
“I stood upon the hill, and wind did rise, and the sound of thunder rolled across the land.
” [singing in Gaelic] “I placed my hands upon the tallest stone “and traveled to a far, distant land “where I lived for a time among strangers who became lovers and friends.
” [singing in Gaelic] “But one day, I saw the moon came out “and the wind rose once more.
“so I touched the stones “and traveled back to my own land “and took up again with the man I had left behind.
” [applause] She came back through the stones? Aye, she did.
They always do.
It was a folktale, madness to take as fact, and yet half of what Gwyllyn had described had actually happened to me.

They have substituted Scotland for Cornwall: there is a loss DuMaurier is much darker ultimately and deeper, while Gabaldon more consistently self-conscious post-pastiche, playing though with similar strong female imagery

DuMaurier poem:

‘What can I cling to in life, what can I hold?’
With a cynical twist to the mind and a husk for the heart
The scapegoats of this generation go drifting past.
The children for whom the war was apparently won,
And nothing is certain, and nothing likely to last
For the child not bombed in Kensington (from DuMaurier Companion, edd Sarah Walters, p 131)

Gabaldon picturesque layering, the imagery is that of a woman’s body as as redemptive:

We struggled upward, out of the womb of the world, damp and steaming, rubber-limbed with wine and heat. I fell to my knees at the first landing, and Jamie, trying to help me, fell down next to me in an untidy heap of robes and bare legs. Giggling helplessly, drunk more with love than with wine, we made our way side by side, on hands and knees up the second flight of steps, hindering each other more than helping, jostling and caroming softly off each other in the narrow space, until we collapsed at last in each other’s arms on the second landing.
    Here an ancient oriel window opened glassless to the sky, and the light of the hunter’s moon washed us in silver. We lay clasped together, damp skins cooling in the winter air, waiting for our racing hearts to slow and breath to return to our heaving bodies.
    The moon above was a Christmas moon, so large as almost to fill the empty window. It seemed no wonder that the tides of sea and woman should be subject to the pull of that stately orb, so close and so commanding …. Outlander, the book p p 627

In technique the pace is slow, lingering, not much happens in the sense of moving the story forward. Instead we move back and forth in time as the film-makers develop the relationship between Claire and Jamie (the arc over-all) and unfold the other characters as Claire settles in and begins to practice her assumed profession and role. This too makes it differ from the new Poldark, which is too jumpy, with all too brief juxtapositions.


British in Scotland (Black Jack Randall from the back) as imagined in this film series

It’s common knowledge that literary criticism is not a popular form — nor is real film criticism; only a small percentage of readers read it. One of the pleasures of Margaret Edson’s play, Wit (known for its presentation of a woman dying of cancer, whose excruciation of pain is not so much from dying from cancer but from the techniques, chemo, radiation and operation, used to “fight” cancer, one of the pleasures is its meditations on reading and especially making editions and essays; at one point Vivian Bearing claims the greatness of her work is that she offers ‘a thorugh examination of each [John Donne] sonnet, discussing every word in extensive detail.”

Jamie as Scots farmer-landlord at Lallybroch (memories from Episode 2)

Where does this detail come from? Let’s admit it: out of the mind of the reader elaborating thematically (it can be political, or moral, or psychological, or sociological, lots of options since the mid-20th century) on the text? and essentially it’s made up, it’s an extension. Take a much praised older book on Austen: Stuart Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen. It’s no longer read much or liked because the words he tells his tales of are disciplinary of women: exertion (Elinor has to practice this] in S&S, expectations (Catherine’s false ones] in Northanger Abbey. mortification (Elizabeth’s) in P&P; the properness (Fanny) of the heroine in MP. We prefer the tales of say Claudia Johnson. One difference is these tales are not structured as narrative, but as arguments, within which the writer tells of the story of how her or his mind read the book.

Claire discovering what year it is by opening a book (Episode 2)

Criticism is not popular because most readers it seems do not tell themselves these tales. Most stay with the literal fiction and do not recognize the truth of that exegesis. They don’t see it, can’t see it, can’t go that far away from the story and characters, and can carry or elaborate a theme very briefly. Or are bored. Don’t see the point. They can read fan fiction, though and fan fiction is a form of fiction that elaborates from the text by telling a story not producing an argument. Film adaptations are further fictionalizations of a text. Further specific visualizations, aural, sensory.


Castle and thistle (Episode 3)

The point is then which fictions about fictions seem to us to hold important truths — which seem to explicate the original fiction and which seem to us not connected enough to what we find there. What I am putting together is an attempt at adequate fictions about these films. All this from an intuition that the books and films descend from Sophia Lee’s Recess (1783, first gothic romance) at a distance, but immediately are an update of DuMaurier — so historical and regional romance inflected by time-traveling, what if fictions, playing with time so different times blend and part, doubling of characters from the past and the future.

Same street used for 1945 and 1743 (Episodes 1 and 3)

Next time: the nature of the story-telling and Scottish post-colonialism in a film


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Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) looking into Farrell’s shop window in a highland village


(Outlander 1, scripted Ronald Moore)

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. Like the moment I realized I’d never owned a vase. That I’d never lived any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing. And how at that moment, I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own. It was a Tuesday afternoon. Six months after the end of the war (taken direct from Gabaldon’s Outlander, opening.


It’s time. Overdue. It may be my readers think I am above Outlander. I am not. I love it. I have now watched all sixteen episodes of the first season three times. I’ve read Gabaldon’s novel, I’ve read her Outlandish Companion. It connects to so much I’m deeply engaged by: it’s Daphne DuMaurier in the high romance mode, elegant, controlled wildness. Outlander is a cross between DuMaurier’s The House on the Strand where the hero travels back and forth between the mid-20th and 14th century:


This older cover for and BBC Radio 7 image for a reading aloud of The House on the Strand capture the strangeness of a book moving back and forth from mid-20th to 14th century Cornwall

Also her historical romances, say King’s General (set in the 17th century civil war), Frenchman’s Creek, or Jamaica Inn (smugglers as misunderstood free-trader outlaws set in the very early 19th). Claire is the many times great-grandaughter of Sophia Lee’s Elinor and Matilda, the twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots in her The Recess. I’ve been reading about Scotland and its civil wars, diaspora (to among other places, Canada), poetry and fiction by its writers (from Anne Murray Halkett to RLS Stevenson and Margaret Oliphant and onto Margaret Atwood) for years and years.

The immediate inspiration though is the new Poldark. Outlander reflects mores of the last few years far more frankly explored, and unlike the new Poldark thus far is a woman’s mini-series, a proto-feminist series of films. I’ve learned the second season of Poldark is going to depart so radically from Graham’s books as to change a crucial thread across all twelve novels and one of my favorite characters (though like Jane Austen over Emma it seems no one but me will much like), Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. So I thought I might sustain a comparison of the two similar mini-series: Poldark drawn from historical novels, Outlander from historical romance, both obeying naturalism and verisimilitude once the terms of the fiction are set up). I don’t say I won’t compare the 1970s Poldark nor the two books, Jeremy Poldark (1950) and Warleggan (1953), but I will keep in mind and bring in this contemporary comparable series. Run them on this blog in tandem.

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. But this is Claire’s story, make no mistake about that. The central consciousness, the voice-over in this season in all but one episode (when it is Jamie’s [Sam Heughan] and that very unusual, as “real” men don’t do over-voice). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone. Jonathan Wolverton Randall aka Black Jack (Tobias Menzies, also Frank, Claire’s gentle husband in the mid-20th century, a descendant of Black Jack, whom he has been researching) proceeds to try to rape her. But she is a 20th century woman, pro-active on her own and others’ behalf, not inclined to regard herself as secondary person or take punishment, self-confident, with a sense of what she is entitled to.



As our story begins, Claire Randall has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. They are trying hard to recreate what they once had, but it’s not quite working. The whole section, the way the bed-sit room looked, reminded me of women’s films of the 1940s, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard stuff. The two actors convey the strain the couple is trying to overcome:



I thought of V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival

All photographed with soft brown lights too, stark dark and bleak blacks for the houses, yet in gentle light grey light. He explores genealogy, ruins of ancient fortresses, clans, primitive neolithic stone sites; she half ironically goes along.



Frank has made friends with a local scholarly vicar, genealogist a Reverend Wakefield, as in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, played exquisitely fine, with subtle humor and gravity by James Fleet. Our honeymooning (in effect) couple take to visiting this gentle vicar and Mrs Graham (Tracy Wilkinson), his wry housekeeper. Again I was so reminded of say Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers material before the murder occurs. The men discuss Scots and English aristocracy, Scots clans, the injustices of the 18th century, the patronage system, speculate that perhaps Jonathon Wolverton Randall could act with inpunity because his patron was the Earl of Sandringham. Claire goes off for women’s gossip and tea; Mrs Graham asks to read her palm and finds odd marks on Claire’s hand, and tells of rituals she participates in by Crag na Dunn, a circle of standing stones.


They are allured by these woman’s midnight rituals.


Here I was not only reminded of Dorothy in Oz, but the language in the book and series alludes to Frank L. Baum, especially later when Claire-Dorothy wants to get back to the stones as gateway to Kansas, but there is something new here: this is a tale of national identity, of seeking who one is by asking what group one belongs to, and it’s done from a post-colonial perspective, highly critical of the British. Whence the title: Claire is an outsider, a Brit, from elsewhere we know. A Scottish film company is a major producer, Scots actors, venerable (Bill Paterson as the lawyer, Ned Gowan) and new (Duncan Lacroix as the faithful Murtagh, so we are not far from Scott after all) are everywhere. Geography, landscape, blended time frames, intense interiority, mix with lessons in clans, Jacobitism, and the medicine and witchcraft of the era.

What I hope to do is apply to Outlander, several studies of DuMaurier, the gothic, women’s films and Scottish studies, and then by transference see how what is said today about films and books like Outlander relates to the new Poldark mini-series and what is being done to Graham’s Poldark books in them. So this is film, historical fiction, historical romance and delvings into time-traveling fantasies research in progress. It fits into post-colonial patterns too.

We begin for real and earnest when we move into the time-traveling sequence. Gabaldon knows that women in the 18th century went in for botany, studying herbs and so does our Claire so while Frank is buried in papers, she goes back to the stones and touching one she melts into another realm, coming out somehow into the year 1743.

She leaves her car

She has to come close to the stones of Crag Na Dunn to reach the flowers and herbs she wants

She hears something, music, looks up, and moves to touch the wondrous tall neolithic stone

The transported moment


An empty world, different older trees, no city in the distance (this is straight from Hungry Hill)

At first Claire thinks she has stumbled onto the set of costume drama (wonderful self-reflexity here) but no the bullets are real and she finds herself having to account for herself. So a re-naming, using her birth name, Beauchamp, she has to deal with everyone looking at her as stray whore: who else wanders in the wood in just her shift. This is an extraordinary moment that can only be done by a film: having the same actor, Tobias Menzies, play the hard mean ancester, Black Jack. Claire does a double take: he is but he is not Frank

So it’s a re-encounter

He now the 18th century educated man

she still the mid-20th century educated woman

The drums of sudden movement, excitement, she flees, he after and so her adventure begins. A snarling redcoat, upholder of a vicious colonialist order, and she finds herself shot at, nearly raped (this will repeat and repeat) by Randall, is taken up by one of the Scotsmen (Murtagh we later realize), rescued (or herself takes up, saved) by the Scots clansmen, and is paired with the wounded Jamie Fraser, whose arm she correctly sets (and thus saves), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza), warning the clan from her memories of what Frank told her of ambushes, becomes one of them. She resists at first and we get the most old-fashioned of gentle abductions:

Claire: [having fled during the ambush, Jamie having gone back to retrieve her] I hope you haven’t been misusing that shoulder. You’re hurt.
Jamie: This lot isna my blood.
She: Not much of it, anyway.
He: Dougal and the others will be waiting further up the stream. We should go.
She: – I’m not going with you.
He: – Yes, you are.
She: What, are you going to cut my throat if I don’t?
He: Why not? But You don’t look that heavy. Now if you won’t walk, I shall pick you up and throw you over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?
She: No.
He: Well, then I suppose that means your coming with me.
She – [Climbing, he Grunting] – Serves you right. Probably torn your muscles as well as bruising.
He: Well, wasna much of a choice. If I dinna move my shoulder, I’d never have moved anything else ever again. I can handle a single redcoat with one hand. Maybe even two. Not three. Besides, you can fix it for me again when we get to where we’re going.
She: That’s what you think.
He: Here’s to you, lass. For tipping us to the villains in the rocks and giving us a wee bit o’ fun! [All speak Gaelic] [Speaks Gaelic] Have a wee nip.It willna fill your belly, but will make you forget you’re hungry.


One blanket, one whiskey pouch

The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabited. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special (from the early 1950s like the Poldark series. I though of Radcliffe’s Emily coming up to Udolpho:

they lookuphesitant


Only the voice again is wry, prosaic, slightly comical:

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if you consider it uneventful to ride fifteen miles on horseback through country at night, frequently without benefit of roads, in company with kilted men armed to the teeth, and sharing a horse with a wounded man. At least we were not set upon by highwaymen, we encountered no wild beasts, and it didn’t rain.

When they get inside we are not in a gloomy, grand place, but a busy courtyard where everyone is going about her or his daily business. From the next episode:

Mrs Fitzgibbon [Annette Badland]: Mwah! Ye’ll all be needing breakfast, I reckon. Plenty in the kitchen. Away in, and feed yerselves. [chuckles] Murtagh, you look and smell like a rat that’s been dragged through sheep dung.
Murtagh: Gi’ us a kiss, then.
Mrs Fitzgibbon: Oh, no! A kiss, then! [laughing] And what do we have here?
Jamie: Claire Beauchamp, Mistress Fitzgibbons. Murtagh found her, and Dougal said we must bring her along with us, so So.

Mrs Fitzgibbon looks at Claire in ways the men do not, sees what the men do not see

Mrs F: Well Claire. Come with me. We shall find you something to eat, something to wear that’s a bit more Well, a bit more

It’s the voice-over that held me especially in this first episode, compellingly, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for a DuMaurier Rebecca too. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill. I will be concentrating on the women in the series.

As for the book, the source, this first episode is lifted directly from the novel. Many of the lines are taken from Gabaldon; it’s as if she wrote the book with a film in mind. She began in earnestness from an online experience, a Literary Forum in the Net’s earliest days. In her Outlandish Companion her language gives away hat when she started, Gabaldon had Now Voyageur, the old Bette Davis trope in mind but was also thinking of “the Age of Enlightenment,” i.e., the realities of the 18th century.

I love her illustration are soft-focus photographs or line-drawing illustrations, evoking imagination on the part of the reader: emblems, herbs, older symbolic pictures (the zodaic for example). Much richness for us to explore for quite a number of weeks to come.

From the site of Castle Leogh in Scotland today


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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (the first season)

Aidan Turner as Ross

As all those who have been waiting for the second season of Poldark to air know, there has been an unexpected delay in the airing of the second season of Poldark. Usually when a series is a real hit, the producers, channel, film-maker strike while the iron is still hot. The second season of Outlander came before the end of another year, and a third and possibly fourth season have already been announced.

I am among those eager to see the new second season. So late last spring I noticed a column by Debbie Horsfield containing a carefully worded statement (around the time a second season might have ended) that they had decided to present the sexual events of the coming season discreetly. They were going to be suggestive, not graphic. All who have read the books knew a rape was coming and I took this to mean that as in the 1975 Poldark, we would only see the prologue to rape, and then the screen would go dark. She was saying that modern film-making customs would not be followed, and explicit sex scenes would not be developed.

Not that Ross’s rape of Elizabeth would be obliterated altogether.

Robin Ellis as Ross in the scenes prologue to the rape

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth in the same scenes (1975-76 Poldark)

That is what has been done. A suddenly timid BBC has perhaps pressured the film-makers of the new Poldark series to destroy a central event that makes for a meaningful plot design with a first climax at the end of the 7th book (The Angry Tide) and the final denouement of the whole cycle, at the close of the 12th book (Bella):

The BBC and film-makers say they feel that the modern audience could not accept a rape from a hero. It’s too shocking, rape. Have they not been watching other TV series of late? read any recent contemporary novels?

I wonder how much or if they fought over this. Robin Ellis tells us that in Making Poldark the script-writers and director were in conflict with some of the actors over the way in the 1970s mini-series Ross’s marriage to Demelza was presented as a shot-gun wedding, the result of a pregnancy which she first tried to abort, none of which is in Graham’s books.

Anghared Rees as Demelza protesting the morning after sex, declaring she wants to leave

With Ellis as Ross, she struggles to free herself so as to go for her abortion (again 1975 Poldark, wholly invented and unlike the book)

In Graham’s books Ross rebels against hierarchy, rank, status norms to marry a servant in his house because he and she have started to go to bed together, and he feels he is destroying her future unless he stops this before she gets pregnant or marries her. He finds himself comfortable with her, does not want to give her up as a servant, companion, and bed-mate, and is deeply angry against the social order. So defies it. Was this an important change? thereafter the script-makers and director kept faithfully to the books until near the end of Warleggan (Episodoes 14 to 15 in the first season, 1975-76) when they again departed radically, causing problems for the second season two years later (1977-78).

How important is the rape? I’d argue it’s far more important than the initial precipitating cause for Ross and Demelza’s marriage, as nothing else hinged on it. Not so the rape. To put it abstractly, in what ways can a film adaptation depart from a novel in order to erase or betray it? well, it can expunge a crucial plot-event that gives rise to a succession of climactic and centrally thematic fraught consequences in this or later novels, in other words further crucial plot-events. A series of consequences that make for the very ending of novels that are turning points in the novel series. You might say, this would not be easy to do. If A (so we’ll call the final moment in a novel) is the result of B, C, D, and E, and they came as a direct result of F, and F is missing (the rape), what happens to B, C, D, and E? Especially if they are particularly moving and tragic and give the characters acting these events depth and intense interest?

True. events A, B, C, and D will not come until the 3rd season. The results of Ross’s rape of Elizabeth about 2/3s the way through Warleggan (Poldark Novel 4) do not emerge until the birth of Valentine, Ross and Elizabeth’s son in The Black Moon (Poldark Novel 5), i.e, Season 3. The intense jealousy of Warleggan, and his abuse of Elizabeth, and her misery and wretchedness begin only when Warleggan has reason to suspect Valentine is Ross’s much later in The Four Swans (Poldark Novel 6). Indeed the script writer, Debbie Horsfield will not have to trouble herself over the final tragedy in say Episode 8 or 10 since it is only at the close of The Angry Tide (Poldark Novel 7) that desperate to make Warleggan think her present pregnancy is by him and accept Valentine’s his, Elizabeth decides she will make Warleggan believe she tends to give birth early and goes to a doctor for a dangerous concoction of herbs to precipitate early parturition and her own death. Never can tell, there might not be a Season 3.

But if there is (and I hope there will be), how will all this be handled? In Graham’s books Elizabeth was left to deal with it on her own. In the older Poldark mini-series ditto.

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth, this time pregnant by Warleggan, ashamed as she visits a doctor

The unsympathetic suspicious doctor who supplies the needed abortifacient

If there is a third season, and say, we actually reach a last season, and the 12th and final book of the series, Bella, what will they do with the plangent meaningful tragic close (our hypothetical E)? What guilt could Ross have over how Valentine became twisted and isolated if he did not for all these books and all these years evade his responsibility, refuse to admit to anyone that the boy was his, he was the father who left the boy fatherless? The gut-wrenching nightmares, Valentine’s turn to a pet orangutan (don’t laugh, the last books do justice to characters with disability, and develop an animal rights point of view implicit in the early books), Valentine’s own choice of death or self-destruction?

A very young David Hemmings and Samantha Egg in the 1970 Walking Stick

Graham has been credited with being an instinctive feminist, and with presenting women in transgressive and iconoclastic roles. Not just in his historical novels, but also his spy thrillers and modern mysteries and a few remarkable novels centering on mental disorder and disability (i.e., Marni (1964, Hitchcock film), The Walking Stick, both of which were filmed, the second brilliantly). I knew much of this was erased in the new first season, including any undermining of male gender stereotypes, but the protest level of feminism had been at least embodied to some extent in Verity’s story as well as Demelza’s. The first season saw the character of Elizabeth, in the original books and series, an insecure and ambitious woman, who found more joy in motherhood than she did understanding or support in her husband Francis; who didn’t care for sex particularly, turned into a pious moral exemplar, whose every thought was to make her husband a good entrepreneur and imitator of his father, Charles and every waking act to nurture her baby.

Heida Reed as Elizabeth near tears because Francis is not coming up to masculine norms (2015 Poldark)

Kyle Soller as a moving Francis Poldark in considerable distress because he’s come down in the world as he can’t manage the work ethic (wholly unlike the aristocratic Francis of the books and 1970s series)

Henry James said what a character does is central to how we know a character’s psychology and ethical character. I am wondering now how they will change this character so that she falls into adultery with Ross? If they have an affair, that means sex with some frequency, no? If we are to see a succession of days and nights of sex between Ross and Elizabeth, what does that do to his character? his relationship with Demelza? In the original books and mini-series, the Scots Captain McNeill almost succeeds in seducing Demelza; she backs away at the last moment. Will she “have an affair in turn.” I hope not because she does have a real love romance in The Four Swans that is meaningful: as a young girl she never had a romantic courtship nor a man near her age, respect and courtesy and poetry she yearned for comes her way. No one is expecting Graham’s hero to be as believable as Tolstoy’s Pierre (from War and Peace) I suppose, but the books do contain a real man as protagonist, a complex enough character to interest us. Real men who are not utter villains rape women — this even happens the statistics tell us often. This is an issue that should not be swept under a rug.

In the first season Horsfield boasted that she was closer to the original books than the 1970s mini-series. She’s given that up — or was forced to. Could it be that the BBC read fan sites where people have argued fiercely that Ross could not have raped Elizabeth; or, that Elizabeth is to blame for the night of sex; or anything rather than Graham’s disquieting novel for mature adults. No longer do fans have nowhere to voice their displeasure. They were worried lest sticking to the original books mar their ratings. Recent film studies have shown that further seasons of a series will alter intentions and characters to please on-line fan groups or at least exert considerable pressure (Andrea Schmidt, “The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction” in Julie Taddeo and James Leggott’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume TV Drama: The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey). So perhaps the BBC was willing to mar their matter and pressured Horsfield to change her stance towards faithfulness. Whether the result will deprive the central heros and heroines of a complexly develping consistent personalities over a long series of books or (if it should come to pass) series of films remains to be seen.

I had been planning to write about the second season without referring to the 1970s mini-series. Now I will compare the two series with the books as I did last year (see my blog and an essay, Poldark Rebooted, 40 Years On). I may even teach the second trilogy of Graham’s books (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, 1973-77) as last and two years ago I taught the first quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan, 1945-53)

From the cover illustration of the first paperback edition of Graham’s Black Moon


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The first shot of Tom Hollander as Dr Thorne in the film’s first scene with

Stephanie Martini as Mary Thorne, where she asks the question [visible in the subtitle] as a prompt for Hollander, Prospero-like to tell us and her not just many chapters of history but what is held back until near the end of the book’s plot-design (ITV Dr Thorne, 2015, scripted Julian Fellowes, director Niall MacCormick)

Friends and readers,

Julian Fellowes has managed to turn the novel Michael Sadleir ended his ground-breaking study of Trollope on (the book that first attracted respectable attention to Trollope — with preferring Dr Thorne to The Way We Live Now) into an embarrassment. A telling travesty. Reviewers veer from lamenting the very existence of this throw-back to picturesqueness as a travesty to earnestly showing how it has eliminated just about everything that counts in the novel. Viv Groskop of The Guardian suggested we take a drug to forget this disgrace. The courteous and judicious Alison Moulds of the Victorian clinic demonstrated the central matter of the tale, medicine and illness, comic and tragic, is left out. As might have been expected, Philip Hensher of the Telegraph demonstrates that the point Fellowes gets across (and by implication, Trollope’s) is that it’s impossible to cross (ontological?) class boundaries.

As it happened when the film aired on British TV, I was teaching the novel to a group of retired adults genuinely engaged by the book. Two British, the rest American. Contrary to Hensher (and like a number of scholarly critics, e.g. James Kincaid), they are persuaded this is an obsessive attack on the mindset that erects uncrossable boundaries and about the hurt (Mary made a taboo person) and damage, indeed death (Sir Roger’s and Sir Louis’s) the behavior enacting this idea incurs. Miss Dunstable’s role is to expose the hypocrisy of the social codes as we watch money and power throw people away, ruin their lives (e.g., Mr Romer, the liberal barrister who tried to help Roger Scatcherd, the railway contractor and banker) into parliament). I had hoped to screen the film until I saw that (worse than Downton Abbey where all deeper issues may be skimmed over, but at least suggested) Fellowes was simply not going to allow any depth to this, among Trollope’s most emotionally direct of all his novels. I admit there was no character they hated more than Lady Arabella and Fellowes fed this by giving full vent to her as the villainess who experiences a mortifying comeuppance (rather like Miss O’Brien and other upper level servants in Downton Abbey). She is in many scenes endlessly repeating her mantra, but then she is presented simply as winning out, having her way in the end. Rebecca Front was given this thankless role as she was given an analogous sycophantic snob in Andrew Davies’s recent War and Peace.

Trollope’s novel utterly resists treating it as light satiric comedy or “fairy tale romance” (which Fellowes in the feature labels his film and by extension Trollope’s book).


As Hollander squirms and twists his body to avoid the barrage, the scene becomes a tasteless joke

So why bother write about? Fellowes’s erasure and corrections reveal where the power of the novel lies and where there are cranks for us in Trollope’s attitudes.

In all the Fellowes’s films I’ve seen thus far he abjures all flashbacks, voice-over, soliloquy, montage, filmic epistolarity (where a character writes or reads a letter that is voiced by the actor who is played the character who wrote the letter) or any techniques that demands we go into the vulnerable psychology of any character to the extent of questioning a norm or value asserted. Trollope’s first four chapters are a daring retelling of deep, intermediate general past, and individuals personal histories (which he ironically apologizes for). He then recurs repeatedly throughout the novel to these pasts so that when the character in a social scene reveals his inner psychology, we realize the context which has given rise to this self normally hidden to us in our daily lives the social scenes. I had not realized how the novel is continually working through, back and forth, deeply layered intertwined time until I watched this film adaptation. In most of Trollope’s novels we recognize his gifts for showing the private self unable not to reveal itself in the social scene for those with eyes to see and understand (Trollope’s narrator and occasional preternatually perceptive characters like the Signora Neroni and Miss Dunstable). Here in Trollope’s seventh book he was consciously adding to that by making the character a product of a particular time, relationship, literal and social space.

Since Fellowes resists all deep wide explanation that filmic techniques can offer (including in-depth dialogue), all we have as opening for the film is some dialogue of nasty excluding of Mary from Frank’s coming birthday party by his (in this film) by his stupid dense and clumsy sister, Augusta (Gwyneth Keyworth) egged on by the apparently frigid manipulative Lady Alexandrina de Courcy (Kate O’Flynn). We then launch into Frank’s proposal to Mary to marry him, her “no,” and stay in the superficial linear time of the present, with the party, and Lady De Courcy’s nagging Frank (Harry Richardson, who plays the part of a privileged sheltered and thus idealistic male aristocrat — true to the book) to chase the rich Miss Dunstable (Alison Brie) now an inanely giggling rich American. (I read that the ITV people were told they would get no American funding unless they had an American character in the cast.) As in Downton Abbey Phoebe Nicholls is given the distasteful role of an utterly ineffectual despicable older woman bully. (She is paid well for it.) Fellowes just loves to invent this kind of female monster. But he must tell the important past or the present story makes no sense. How to do it? he is reduced to having Hollander as Thorne in the very first scene he appears, Prospero-like, tell Stephanie Martini as Miranda, just about everything in one go of her sordid Scatcherd family background. Since there is too much to tell, Thorne and Mary get together twice more (after the said party) and again in the second episode after her other uncle, Sir Roger Scatcherd’s death. What’s done for compression leaves the effect of a story turned inside out.

Far from admitting to anything serious in the novel, in the feature released on the DVD, Fellowes says he regards the book as a fairy tale romance. What he has done is chosen the scenes susceptible to being presented as light satiric comedy. I had not realized before what an experimental novel this is in its use of layered past and movement within different times and memories.

Then Fellowes has the problem of the book’s hinge points which he feels he cannot eliminate. Scatcherd must die so that Mary can win the property. In the novel Scatcherd dies from alcoholism and we read a rare protracted death scene in a Trollope novel. The man has drunk himself to death because he has not been accepted by his true peers because of his lack of surface manners, he regrets deeply what has happened to his son who has been similarly ostracized and exploited, but can do nothing about it. The unhappy man his son has become results from cultural realities beyond his reach. Trollope captures perfectly the mood of someone near death, and shows us that real kindness to such a person is to take seriously what they have to say and respond to it — as Dr Thorne does and Sir Roger’s son does not. He is devastated when the powerful remove him from the place in Parliament he has worked hard to win.

Lady Scatcherd (Janine Duvitski) over-hearing her husband talk to Thorne

I’m told that Ian McShane is a great actor; well he’s thrown away here. He is presented as foolish jackass. His alcoholism is made a joke of in order to us to laugh at elections as such. The working and townspeople are of course fools, and McShane directed to play the part archly until he falls into a pigsty. (Fellowes might tell us, have you not been watching how popular Donald Trump is?) In the book’s death scene, the pain of Scatcherd’s isolation is made worse because Thorne himself has invested so much in Mary, he cannot get himself to allow Scatcherd to know or to see her after Scatcherd first offers all his money to her and his son, if Thorne will encourage a marriage with that son. This horrifies Thorne who is as exacerbated by the class structure of the place as anyone. He wants above all that his darling niece-daughter be a lady, live with ladies and gentleman and turn to him. And how does Fellowes treat this matter at the center of the second episode? For a moment I had a hard time believing that Fellowes was allowing Thorne allow Mary to come over and nurse Scatcherd so we could get this emotional bath of sentimentality instead and listen to McShane as Scatcherd say he is consoled for his “misspent existence.”

angelsappears2 (2)

angelsappears2 (1)
“Very well,” says Hollander, and the puzzled angel appears, at which McShane says he thinks he will now cope better with “what is to come … ”

Beyond erasing all the material hung from the present time romance story (including its use of excruciating and satiric letter presences), Fellowes has done a Nahum Tate, a David Garrick! Nahum Tate was the man who rewrote King Lear to give it a happy ending; Garrick-like was the the man who rewrote Romeo and Juliet so as to make the lovers wake up to bid sentimental tearful farewells before they lie down to die. He reverses Trollope’s Dr Thorne’s refusal to allow Sir Roger to see or be seen by his sister Mary’s grown daughter, lest he, Dr Thorne, be dispossessed of what has made his existence meaningful, before he dies, even when Scatcherd threatens to leave all his fortune away from her (without which Mary has only the interest from 800£ in the funds, all Dr Thorne has managed to “amass” from his village doctor practice). Perhaps he thought no one reads Dr Thorne, or if we read it, we don’t remember it. Is there no limit to the man’s contempt for his audience?

Well yes.

Fellowes almost unexpectedly turns Scatcherd’s son, Sir Louis (Edward Franklin), the character pitied by Trollope’s narrator just a little, but most often despised, caricatured, sneered at, presented as a money-hungry creditor (as if he has no right to look into the arrangements Dr Thorne has made to keep Squire Gresham afloat all these years) — into the tragic hero of the film story. A chunk of its second episode and full third of the last was given over to a mortifying plangent rendition of Louis’s pursuit of Mary Thorne, his excruciatingly inept presence at a dinner party and then death (not from delirium tremens) but a suppurating bleeding lung (reminiscent in its stagy-ness of Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham near death for a few seconds in Downton Abbey) because he galloped across the landscape out of anguish at her rejection and fell off his horse and punctured his rib cage with the horse’s saddle. This subtextual slapstick is not in Trollope.

Among the character’s last lines is “she thought me a buffoon,” but Fellowes has not lifted him out of that

Fellowes has highlighted a problem his predecessor film adaptors managed to finesse. What are we to do with Trollope’s shameless stigmatizing of lower class males trying to “ape” gentlemen as ultimately slime to be expelled? In 1983 Alan Plater, scriptwriter of Barchester Chronicles (and thus the linchpin person) cast the part against type by hiring Alan Rickman and then had Rickman play the part with a self-controlled dignity, guarded rage, subtle manipulative ability (though out-maneuvred by Susan Hampshire as the irresistible erotic Signora Neroni). Before that a full 40 years ago (1975) in The Pallisers Simon Raven similarly endowed Trollope’s anti-semitic depiction of a Jewish hypocritical murderer, the Rev Emilius (Anthony Ainley) with a seething intensity of ambition that the amoral Lizzie Eustace (Sarah Badel) was too stupid to flee from. Fellowes, though, wanted to grant the character a full burden of human gravitas earlier, but could not pull out enough depth to invent longer scenes to show this. All we get is his screeching at his mother, Lady Scatcherd, how could you prefer Frank to me? Lady Scatcherd (as in Trollope) is otherwise mostly caricatured but as Lady Scatcherd’s preference for the heir is too much even for Fellowes (and he feared too much for pious viewers) Fellowes made her feeling acceptable by having her much earlier on insist how she loved both equally. To this low is Trollope brought and for those who know the text exposed.

I grant Fellowes much of the dialogue used in the film is in the novel — he chose the surface dialogues. He transfers the powerful epistolary narrative chapter where Augusta is treacherously persuaded to give up a possible happy marriage with the De Courcy solicitor, Mr Gazebee (Nicholas Rowe) on the grounds of his lack of rank into pantomime comic moments of dramatic startle. Her great cousin-friend, advisor has grabbed Gazebee for herself.

Augusta is made into an “old maid” buffoon

There are a lot of silences. Another actor-character thrown away is Richard McShane as Squire Gresham; he wanders around looking sheepish by the end behaving as if by not cold-shouldering others he’s doing enough. In the book it is his unexamined snobbery and self-indulgence in the book that wasted the Gresham fortune; the ambivalent and interesting friendship with Thorne and their dialogues are gone. Istead Fellowes has Hollander as Thorne giving Brie as Miss Dunstable sly glances. Yet the man avoids montage so the explanation at the end must be gone through in words character by character.

As a side note the production did not pay for the the use of the houses. We never see anyone going in and out. They were filmed from afar and then we found ourselves in the usual sets. One reminded me of the set from the 2009 Sense and Sensibility for Norland Park.

Ironically the film adaptation vindicates Trollope from being seen as simply material which lends itself for hijacking from the elite. Last year John McCourt asked why the bicentennial celebrations were so muted? He suggested that the kinds of things done were not the sorts of events a larger audience, especially one not equipped with tuxes and gowns could easily join into. As has been said before (John Letts among those saying this), Trollope has partly been hijacked by his elite mainstream fans. I’d maintain that more than his academic readers lean to the left. Plater wrote brilliantly radical 1970s style plays for TV and stage; Simon Raven was radical in his outlook; Andrew Davies is a humane left-leaning liberal; Herbert Herbert’s gem, “Malachi’s Cove” shows just how down-to-earth is Trollope’s appreciation of humanity.

So while I regret very much this opportunity to film another Barsetshire book was botched, it’s salutary to see the material of this Trollope novel resist the kind of treatment Fellowes tries to give it. A friend said to me this film adaptation is something Popplecourt (from The Duke’s Children) might have written. Perhaps that’s too strong, but pace what I’ve heard some fans say, Trollope’s novels are not at all like P. G. Wodehouse.

A rare far shot of the bedroom scene: Winterbones taking notes, Scatcherd helped up from his bed by Thorne, Lady Scatcherd leaving …


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