Venture Once More—Commentary on Poldark, Eps. 7 and 8

Clan Poldark: A Family Affair

All right–that had to be two of the strangest hours I’ve ever watched! Some of the closest fidelity to the original source material–right down to the dialogue–juxtaposed with departures from canon that were almost Twilight-Zone levels of Bizarre.

So, just as the Poldarks of Nampara experienced a reversal of fortune, so is this week’s commentary experiencing a reversal of sequence.

The Wreck of the Edwin Fitz–oops, Queen Charlotte!

The WTF?

*Who knew that 18th century Cornwall was so technologically advanced that the Warleggans could receive breaking news reports of a shipwreck at least ten miles away, at night, in a howling gale? Must have been their cutting-edge social media outlets–no, wait, not invented until the 21st century. Their telegraph system–no, not invented until the 19th century. Their semaphore system–no, not invented until 1792, in France. The Pony Express—whoops, wrong century and wrong continent! Seriously weird–the earliest George and Cary could have found out about the wreck would have been the following morning. Unless the series was trying to imply it was flashing forward from the wreck to the Warleggans learning about it? In which case, the writers should have made it clearer to the viewer. Moreover, if the Warleggans were receiving such up-to-the-minute bulletins on the wreck, who was on the spot to write them up and/or deliver them? And why was there no sense of urgency once they received that news? Instead of springing into action and rousing the militia to rescue passengers (including their own cousin) and reclaim cargo, they sit around—at night, when business is over and most folks are abed—sipping brandy, speculating about Ross’s involvement, and passively awaiting further news with all the immediacy of guys anticipating texts and tweets on their cell phones.

*Mystified as well by the elimination of Ross’s more heroic actions during the wreck. While he does alert the starving community to the cargo coming ashore and doesn’t stop them carrying off the lot, he also takes a line and goes into the water to look for survivors. Sanson is found dead, floating face down in the remains of a ship’s cabin. All of Ross’s actions that night–the commendable and the morally ambiguous–play a major role in his upcoming trial, and the former is important because it’s a mitigating factor in the charges against him.

*George’s Inappropriate Advance: Francis, Elizabeth, and Geoffrey Charles all survive a life-threatening illness, but this is the time for George to ooze over to Trenwith to declare his “intentions” towards Elizabeth? Back the mine cart up, buster! Her husband’s still alive and could live another 30 or 40 years for all you know. If George was insinuating that he meant to make a play for Elizabeth despite her married status, she’d have been well within her rights to slap his face and throw him out of the house, because the most likely interpretation of his remark would have been that he wanted to make her his mistress. And while I don’t hold with the saintly Elizabeth this show is trying to sell me, I do acknowledge that she is virtuous and chaste by the standards of her time. She may be disappointed in Francis, but she wouldn’t cheat on him, least of all with George whom they (erroneously) believe is their BFF. Graham’s George played his infatuation with Elizabeth closer to the vest, so he could keep on seeing her. Plus, he used the perfectly legitimate excuse of being Geoffrey Charles’s godfather to call frequently, bring gifts, and ingratiate himself with Elizabeth in that way. He was certainly never this indiscreet.

*Talking of indiscretion, Ross was pretty shortsighted, even stupid, not to have safeguarded the names of his fellow shareholders better. “I’m going to sit here with my Carnmore paperwork in a public place, so anyone who looks over my shoulder or sits across from me can get a nice clear look at the names of all my partners in this Top Secret Venture.” In the books, Ross entrusts a list of his partners’ names to Pascoe, who promptly locks it in a safe. Ross realizes that only Francis could have betrayed him because he was the one who knew who was present when the Carnmore Copper Company was first formed. To be honest, I was also underwhelmed by much of Turner’s performance last night. He seemed to be in a fugue state most of the time, delivering his lines in this morose monotone that never varied. That worked for the scenes surrounding Demelza and Julia’s bout with diphtheria (the official name of the “putrid throat”) and the wreck, but not so well when he was dealing with his business failure and Demelza’s betrayal of his trust. I wanted to see a more active anger, even some outrage or passion, rather than this ongoing low-voiced sullenness. A little variation in vocal inflection or facial expression would have been welcome.

Sympathy from the Devil?

The Bad

*Francis was even more pathetic than usual. In the book, he betrays Ross in a moment of white-hot rage over Verity’s elopement–you can believe it’s something he might regret later after he cools down (which proves to be the case in Book 3). Here, he sings like a canary after George plies him with liquor and plays him like a fiddle. He seems more peevish than furious when he offers up the names of Ross’s partners, and the lack of any real sense of closeness or affection between Francis and Verity doesn’t help. Like their father, Francis appears to want her to continue to be the spinster prop and unpaid drudge in the household, while Verity seethes with unspoken resentment whenever she looks at Francis. In the books, she was the older sister and surrogate mother (Charles’s wife died young), and he was her baby brother, making it easier to understand his dependence on her and her reluctance to leave him when the family fortunes decline.

*Spare me from more of St. Elizabeth. Graham’s Elizabeth never sympathized or sided with Verity’s elopement; in fact, she was most put out when Verity left. Nor does she visit Nampara to return Demelza’s favor of nursing her through the illness. This is not to say she wouldn’t have tried to show some kindness by sending things like restorative broths, home remedies, and possibly a servant to help out, along with a letter of condolence. I can easily imagine her doing that, though that doesn’t happen in the novel either. But given how debilitating the illness was, the Trenwith Poldarks wouldn’t have been in any shape to drag their sick butts out of bed to attend Julia’s funeral or call on bereaved Ross and his mortally ill wife in the dead of winter.

*I don’t believe for a single second that George would give a damn about Ross’s child dying. Or that he was ever truly interested in Ross’s friendship, except as a means to an end. Plus, this George is such a pretty-boy fop, more posh even than the gentry, that his supposed insecurity about his family’s origins fails to ring true. His solicitude is as phony as his curls.

*Am I the only one disturbed by the way this series seems to be making women complicit in their own murders by their drunken or jealous husbands? Keren was depicted as a cheap little slut here, but Book-Keren didn’t attack Mark physically in their last confrontation and he didn’t kill her while trying to defend himself. It was murder, though committed in the heat of the moment, not premeditated. Graham didn’t soften the edges in Mark’s situation any more than he did in Blamey’s. The whole “She attacked first” argument here squicks me out.

*As I feared, having an older Dwight made his succumbing to Keren’s crude seduction attempts much more stupid. I did notice that this series implies that it was a one-night stand, rather than the ongoing affair it is in the novel—doubtless to minimize Dwight’s indiscretion. At least he was seen actually practicing medicine, for a change.

*Firing the Paynters. This is a much more explosive occurrence in the book, with a drunken Jud becoming violent, breaking crockery, getting into a physical scuffle with Prudie, and scaring the babies. Also, Demelza was not in the house at the time, but Jinny was, and Jud’s unfounded accusation about Ross fathering her child upsets her terribly. This series treated the whole sequence perfunctorily and with much less detail and depth. Plus, this Jud is always such a nasty, mean character, drunk or sober, that it’s hard to understand why what he says this time is so much worse than what he says at any other.

For Better or For Worse
For Better or For Worse

The Good

So, what did I like?

*Ross and Demelza working as a team to spirit Mark away. When things are right between them, they are impressively, even wonderfully in sync. Demelza continues to grow into herself and prove that she’s the quick-witted, capable partner Ross probably never knew he needed or wanted.

*The introduction of Captain MacNeil has potential—he’s a worthy but not evil adversary of Ross in the books—though what’s with making him also another ex-army friend of Ross’s? That’s neither accurate nor necessary, any more than changing Dwight’s backstory was.

*Verity finally making a bid for her own happiness. The payoff was sweet, and the moment of her boarding Blamey’s ship in the end was very reminiscent of the 1995 film version of Persuasion, when Anne shows that she is going to be fully involved in Wentworth’s life.

*The whole tragic arc of Ross and Demelza’s life crashing down around them in the wake of the Carnmore Copper Company’s failure and the morbid sore throat epidemic was painfully well-executed. And reminded me how dark Book 2 is and why I re-read it the least often of the saga. Tomlinson’s performance as a bereaved mother was heart-wrenching.

*There is going to be a second series of Poldark, and with ten episodes instead of eight. I hope that means that significant supporting characters will get the attention and fleshing-out they didn’t get here. I hope that extra time won’t be squandered on atmospheric “filler,” no matter how scenic. I’ve seen enough Galloping In Silhouette Along The Cliffs sequences to last me a lifetime.

Until next season!