Back from my travels with a double edition of Poldark meta! Having rewatched Episode 4 on a TV screen with less exaggerated proportions, I can honestly say that I like this episode best of the ones that have aired so far. Not that there weren’t several WTF? moments, but by and large, the positives outweighed the negatives.
*The Honeymoon Period: What a difference regular conjugal relations makes, especially for Ross who seemed downright jovial at times! I thought he was all set to have his way with his new bride right there on the kitchen table when he came home (I was relieved for Demelza’s sake that he took her off to bed first). Aidan Turner does have an appealing smile, and it was nice to see it so often during the Happy!Ross scenes. Demelza glows, of course—canonically, she’s always the more sanguine of the two and contentment becomes her.
*Demelza and Verity: The development of their friendship is true to the source material and well-portrayed by both actresses. I like the way they unbend in each other’s company, Demelza becoming more confident in her role as hostess, while Verity takes on the task of teaching her cousin’s wife the finer points of etiquette and deportment. I attribute Demelza’s improved posture by the episode’s end to Verity!
*The pilchard harvest/copper strike: Two feel-good moments, effectively presented in parallel. In both cases, Ross and his associates are Waiting For Something To Happen. I was a little sorry that that the pilchard harvest didn’t take place by moonlight, as it does in the books, but it was still attractively filmed, with women waiting patiently on the cliffs for sight of the fishing boats’ return, then the almost giddy excitement and relief over the catch coming in as the whole community rushes in to claim their share. The copper strike had “Christmas Miracle” stamped all over it, but one would have to be a total Scrooge to begrudge the miners’ good fortune.
*Christmas at Trenwith: One of my favorite sequences in the first novel, and almost everything I liked was retained. The oppressiveness of the Poldark family history that has Demelza overawed on her arrival is straight out of the book—unlike the unpleasant exchange between Francis and Elizabeth before dinner, although it’s plausible, given their deteriorating relationship at this point. The Trenegloses aren’t quite as uncouth as to crash Christmas dinner as they do here, but they do pay a call afterwards, with George Warleggan in tow. And Demelza being sick after dinner, owing to nerves and her pregnancy, then rallying to win over the whole company with her singing, was lovely—as was the rendition of the song itself. And the way Ross’s expression softens as he listens, and he finally begins to realize and appreciate what he’s found in Demelza (in spite of his lingering glance at Elizabeth’s nape earlier in the sequence). I did miss Demelza’s discovery of port, which also gives her the Dutch courage to face her social “betters” and which becomes an endearing quirk of her character.
*I will never get used to Ross’s tenants calling him by his first name.
*Charles and Ross: While familial affection does exist between them, they aren’t close, and Charles never entrusts Ross with the well-being of Francis or the rest of the Poldark family. Nor does he compare Francis unfavorably to Ross. Charles may have reservations about his son but he would never have voiced them to Ross, who is too much the son of Joshua, the reckless, rakish younger brother with whom the more conventional Charles never got along. (I very much regret that neither Poldark 75 nor Poldark 15 dramatized the Charles/Joshua scene at the start of Book One, because Joshua turns out to cast a very long shadow.) In fact, the whole Ross >>>>>>Francis angle feels very overplayed.
*For some inexplicable reason, the screenwriters passed up a golden opportunity to mount a very important gun on the wall—namely, George Warleggan’s attraction to Elizabeth. When he accompanies the Trenegloses on their Christmas visit to Trenwith, he has eyes only for her, especially during her musical performance. He very much covets his neighbor’s refined, gracious, blue-blooded wife, and that becomes a major complication in the ongoing saga. It was one of the best reasons I could imagine for introducing George early in the series, and they completely dropped the ball on it—much as they have on most of George’s other defining characteristics: his ambition, his ruthlessness, his barely concealed resentment of and burning desire for acceptance by the landed gentry. This George comes across as a sneering aristocrat (the resemblance to Hugh Grant in his “posh frock” days doesn’t help), not a driven but tightly controlled up-and-comer determined to buy and maneuver his way into power and social prestige.
*Ross’s imprudent marriage causes gossip, but not social ostracism. And he doesn’t lose any backers for Wheal Leisure over it—not even Dr. Choake.
*Still no explanation as to why Nicholas Warleggan is absent, but the less important Cary Warleggan is retained.
*Ross has an annoying habit of making unilateral decisions without taking Demelza’s feelings or opinions into account—inviting Verity to stay, accepting the Christmas invitation to Trenwith. Or making much of an effort to talk her around to his POV. He also seems to expect her to adapt immediately to her changed status and criticizes her when she doesn’t, which seems neither fair nor kind. I know this version of Demelza is softer, more outwardly vulnerable, and more easily squashed than either the books’ or ’75 series incarnation. But I hope she does gain enough confidence to stand up to Ross eventually or he’ll steamroll right over her. One thing I loved about Rees’s Demelza is that she was never shy about giving Ross what-for when she disagreed with him.
*From Ross galloping along the Cliffs of Alienation, we now transition to Francis staring out over the Sea of Inadequacy. Brooding appears to run in the Poldark genes.
Sad to say, I found this installment anticlimactic, after the emotional payoffs of the previous episode. I suspect that is largely attributable to the transition from Ross Poldark to Demelza, which is a much darker novel. I hope there will be an improvement as the events of Book Two unfold. Still, there were some things to enjoy, even if there were more things to shake one’s head over, especially if—like me—you’re coming to the series primarily as a book reader.
*Ross and Demelza’s happiness about becoming parents. I always liked Ross being perfectly happy with having a daughter as his firstborn instead of a son. It’s kind of a pity, though, that the comic elements of Demelza’s delivery weren’t dramatized: Ross dragging Choake away from his breakfast to minister to his laboring wife, Choake’s wig flying off in a gale, Ross bewildered by all the younger Martin children waiting in his kitchen while Jinny and Mrs. Zacky attend to Demelza—and safely deliver Julia before Choake even arrives.
*Verity’s expression when Ross agrees that maybe he does want to have Demelza and Elizabeth: a cross between “TMI, Cousin!” and “Men are pigs!” I’m not surprised she walked away from him after that. Of course, in this day and age, Ross probably could have both women…
*Demelza becoming subtler and learning how to keep secrets from Ross in what she sees as a good cause. It’s an occasional bone of contention between them later, but it’s true to her development as a character. Plus, it shows a growing autonomy.
*While I’m not a fan of the new series’ effort to soften Elizabeth, they are doing a good job in showing her all-consuming preoccupation with Geoffrey Charles. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that motherhood becomes her consolation for a less than satisfactory love life.
*Is it really necessary to make Francis even more of a failure than he is in the novels? Having him lose Grambler in a card game is overkill—not to mention something of a cliché that I’ve repeatedly encountered in Regency romances. Grambler does close, but it’s mainly because it’s no longer yielding enough copper and the cost of unwatering the mine to seek out new lodes is prohibitive. In the ’75 series, Grambler’s closing is portrayed as a haunting flashback from Francis’s POV, as he stares into space, drink in hand and the clock ticking loudly in the background, reliving the moment when he had to shut down the family inheritance and put all his miners out of work. The only thing I liked about this version’s portrayal of the same event was Francis writing “Resurgam” on the wall. (In the book, he writes it on the side of the boiler.)
*Changing Dwight’s backstory wasn’t necessary, either. I suppose the screenwriters thought it would simplify things to have him and Ross already know each other from the war, but that seems to age Dwight and make some of his impending errors of judgment less youthful and more stupid. Dwight originally enters as a guest at Julia’s christening: a newcomer to the community, very recently qualified as a physician, earnest, idealistic, hard-working (this Dwight hasn’t even been shown practicing medicine yet—I thought they might have him deliver Demelza’s baby, but no), and full of zeal to try new medical ideas and approaches. Dwight is also the first friend Ross and Demelza make after their marriage, which may not seem significant but is, because he accepts Demelza straight off, without holding her origins against her. Finally, the actor playing Dwight in the new series is sadly bland, without a fraction of the charisma or screen presence of Richard Morant, who played the role in the ’75 version. That was one hot young doctor!
*Eliminating Julia’s double christening: In the book, Ross humors Demelza’s desire to keep the classes separate by holding two christening parties, making Tom Carne’s deliberate attendance on the wrong day all the more dramatic and potentially catastrophic. It also underscores Demelza’s ongoing insecurities about having married into the landed gentry and her fear about never finding acceptance among them. The new series’ choice to simplify that subplot made for rather tepid viewing instead of fireworks.
*Speaking of tepid viewing, the formation of the secret Carnmore Copper Company—which should have been more exciting and dramatic—seemed muted and furtive. And while Ross canonically plays his cards close to the vest with this scheme, Aidan Turner’s portrayal was almost too low-key and subdued. You had to wonder why his Ross was chosen to be the leader, when he appeared so hesitant about claiming any responsibility for the scheme in the first place.
*Keren and Mark Daniel: This isn’t one of my favorite storylines by a long shot, but at least in the book, the characters’ motivations are more fleshed-out. Keren is on the make, but she’s also a very young girl trying to escape the hardships of life as a traveling player, as well as the unwelcome advances of several men in the troupe. Mark is socially awkward, inexperienced with women, and dazzled by this girl who’s completely out of his sphere. At bottom, neither really knows or understands the other, and neither knows what he or she is getting into when they marry, which sows the seeds for future tragedy. None of that comes across in the new series so far—both characters appear one-dimensional (simple miner and calculating hussy) and likely to remain so, unfortunately.
*Making Keren’s traveling theatre troupe more “high-brow” by having them perform a Shakespeare play (All’s Well That Ends Well, one of his more obscure works into the bargain) instead of a popular melodrama of the day. Also, did it really take Ross five acts to notice that his pregnant wife hadn’t returned from stretching her legs? Talk about oblivious…
* Francis’s snide comment about finding “a price for Mama” was slapworthy. Lady or not, Elizabeth should have thrown the teapot at his head for that remark. That said, there is a little too much emphasis on Saintly Elizabeth: the failure of that marriage is attributable to both parties, and I’ll be annoyed if the new series glosses that over.
*Still no indication that George secretly hankers after Elizabeth. I’m starting to suspect this drawling, foppish incarnation secretly hankers after Francis–or Ross!
*Blamey’s sense of timing—pouring out his heart to Verity while a riot rages around them—leaves a lot to be desired.
*The riot itself is set up much more clearly in the book. It begins as a protest against exorbitant corn prices being charged by a local merchant (the Warleggan cousin, Sanson, is also involved) and escalates when the hungry miners storm the warehouse to take the grain instead. Couldn’t we have had some of those details instead of repeated shots of various Poldarks standing on cliffs and staring at the sea?
*Ross has his Cliffs of Alienation, Francis has his Sea of Inadequacy, now Verity has her Storm Clouds of Heartache, and Demelza her Breaking Waves of Childbirth. This family’s relationship with Nature is nothing if not fraught—and picturesque!
Until next time!