Poldark combines two of my greatest loves – Cornwall and, of course, period drama. This second series was long awaited, as it had been over a year since the end of series one when the first episode was finally aired.
The first series saw the return of Captain Ross Poldark to his home in Cornwall after three years of fighting in the American War of Independence. Here, he is dismayed to find that his father has died, his home is neglected and his former love, Elizabeth, has become engaged to his cousin, Francis. He nevertheless picks himself up and between marrying his kitchen maid, Demelza and re-establishing his home, also becomes a figurehead to the people of his land by helping them to regain control of their homes and their tin mines from the greedy aristocratic Warleggan family.
When, in 2013, it was first announced that there was to be a remake of the classic and hugely popular Poldark (first shown in the 1970s) there was outrage from fans who believed that nothing could be better than the 1975 BBC version. However, since then, this modern version has also enjoyed great success, fetching in an audience of 5.1 million viewers for the first episode of series two.
I cannot comment on the comparison between the two productions, as I have never seen the 1975 version. Nor can I comment on whether Aidan Turner’s Poldark is true to the original character in Winston Graham’s series of novels. However, I can review the series simply as I have seen it.
The music and the scenery in this drama are both stunning. The opening sequence gives me goose pimples each time it is shown, and I particularly liked the way that folk songs, usually sung by Demelza are woven into the soundtrack of many of the episodes. This drama celebrates its location as much time is devoted to showing the breath-taking beauty of Cornwall – its rugged, untamed cliffs, the glittering sea, the grand, elegant houses…they all combine to make this programme a pleasure to watch – a treat for the eyes. Let’s not forget the stunningly good looking cast too; they’re equally as indulgent to watch. Aidan Turner, who has now become almost as famous for his topless Poldark scenes as Colin Firth became for his ‘wet shirt scene’ in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, plays a character who is very human and full of faults, despite being the hero of the piece. In series two, I think we see more of this than in the first when, as far as I can remember, his good-guy status was pretty well fixed. Now that he has been married to Demelza for some years, this series switches focus somewhat to examine Ross’ relationship with Elizabeth and those feelings which we cannot shake that he has never completely gotten over her. This is, of course, is what lead to the controversial episode which caused all the outrage – the one in which he finally seduces Elizabeth, or perhaps it was the other way around. Whichever it was, the only outrage I felt was at Ross’s betrayal of Demelza and I think the emotional fallout was played superbly by all the actors involved, particularly Eleanor Tomlinson. The scenes in which Demelza toys with taking revenge on her unfaithful husband by sleeping with Captain McNeil were horribly believable to watch, but luckily her character was restored to form for any viewer who loves Demelza for her loyalty and innate goodness.
There is also the relationship between Poldark and George Warleggan which takes precedence in this series. After George effectively tries to get Poldark hanged in episode one, the tension understandably grows between the two, to the extent that George seems to be after everything that Ross holds dear – his mine, his family and even the supposed love of his life, Elizabeth. This enmity between the two provides a gripping narrative for the second series that sees many of the other characters harmed or sometimes elevated in the viewers’ eyes.
Poldark is not a cosy, reassuring period drama to watch on a Sunday night as, for example, a Jane Austen adaptation might be. But it is exciting, visually stunning, passionate and engrossing. This second series has certainly persuaded me to go back and re-watch the first series (which did not capture my imagination quite as much) and I am looking forward to series three. Let’s hope it’s not such a long wait this time!