Genre: historical, romance, drama, book adaptation
Network: BBC One
Ross Poldark returns to England after fighting in the American Revolution. His family and friends thought he was dead. The woman he hoped to marry is now engaged to his cousin. His father is dead, and the property he has inherited has been allowed to deteriorate. It is the late 1700s in Cornwall, England. This is a family drama, but is also about the challenges and conflicts between the rich and the poor. It is a time when fishermen are not catching much fish, tin and copper mines are closing down because prices are too low, but the price of food and rents are high. Ross faces the challenge of making his land productive, caring for the tenants who rely on him, and trying to win back the woman he loved – or finding a reason to live without her.
This is an amazing BBC production with fantastic landscape shots and good acting. The musical score adds another dimension to the atmosphere. Yet I feel there’s more to the story than we are shown. Sometimes I got the feeling I should have read the books before watching the series because it felt like they’ve omitted quite a few things along the way. I’ve also expected more focus on the romance and less on the economic state of Cornwall and their struggling mining industry. Perhaps I was just misinformed by shippers who gushed about the romance as the trailer got out. It’s a fascinating look at the mining, law, and social mores of the time though. I like it but the strange time-flow may disrupt your enjoyment.
I loved the first episode where Ross Poldark returns home from America; you can just see the awkward and tense atmosphere in the rooms he steps in, especially when the topic of marriage and inheritance is mentioned. He’s a determined character, very angry and outspoken – a lot of times to his own disadvantage. I agree with him when he questions the system and the exploitation but he needs more finesse when dealing with the stuck-up gentry. By fighting head on and in the public where the accused can’t safe face he prejudices them against his ideas and change they would most likely support if he approached them in private. All rich and influential people aren’t total bigots. Yet problems Ross faces often need quick acting and he has no time to lose by observing social niceties and aristocratic customs. I like him but he’s a hard man to love. His acts of rebellion feel damn good when they work out to benefit the poor though so I hope to see more of his revolutionary ideas implemented.
Then there is Demelza. She’s my favourite character by far. She comes from a very poor and dysfunctional family; her appointment as Ross’s maid is her chance to rise in society and she does her very best to learn how to take care of the house and Ross. She gets his routine down pat and then he’s out of anything he can grumble about in the house – their interactions are so funny at times because Demelza doesn’t fear him at all. She’s also the one to heal his broken heart and he learns to love her even more than he loved Elizabeth. They complete each other and also challenge each other to be better people. The series got better once he realises he loves her – she’s the kind of woman he needs and he’s the kind of man to suit her as well.
Demelza forms a tight bond with Ross’ cousin Verity and the two women are tight friends and allies by the end of the series. Verity is the underdog in the series and she has my full sympathy for the way her family exploited her as a nurse and nanny, already confining her to a stifling spinster status. The girl is no devastating beauty but she isn’t an ogre for Christ’s sake! She’s got the most sweet, loyal, and giving personality of them all and I’m so glad at least one person saw it and fell in love with her. I also love the close friendship between her and Ross.
I hated Francis Poldark – wow, that man is so stupid and arrogant. The way he is complaining about Ross just gets on my nerves. His jealousy is also misplaced since Ross is not interested in messing with a married woman. He loves Elizabeth too much to create such a scandal and besides, he’s got Demelza. His trust in George Warleggan is also completely misplaced, especially since that man has hooked him on cards and drink. What kind of a friend does that? His deep insecurities and a feeling of inferiority towards Ross make him stubborn rather than struggling to better himself and win this imaginary fight with his cousin. He’s got the upper hand but not for long.
Elizabeth doesn’t know what she wants or better said who she wants for the better part of the series. On one hand she wants mansions and a man who’ll adore her but she won’t risk anything to fight for the man she truly loves; on the other hand she isn’t above taking advantage of the lingering feelings for her by Ross or the budding feelings of George Warleggan. Ross is a safe net for her and it is no wonder she doesn’t like Demelza for taking him away from her. One good point is though that she isn’t antagonistic towards Demelza but forms a tentative friendship with her. The Poldark women in this series are often better people than the men. Elizabeth is a survivor though and George is now her hidden card should her husband continue his downward spiral.
The Warleggans are slimy, heartless extortionists, but I feel George could be a better man. Unfortunately his father won’t let him even contemplate alternatives to their plans and George is not above the lure of easy money. His manipulation of Francis though… I hope George gets to pay for this one day. I’m just afraid he’ll manage to seriously wound Ross and that their competition will bloom into a very intense antagonism. Ross’ dejection of his offer of friendship has left a deep mark and Warleggans get even one way or another.
The people who are hurt the most by the power-play of the mine owners are the workers and the peasants. The series makes it clear just how precarious work in the mines is and how any shock to the economy affects them. Their stories are some of the most heartbreaking ones. I like the characters but they depress me so much that the interludes from our romantic couple Ross and Demelza feels like a much needed breath of fresh air.