Venture Once More–Poldark 2, Episode 5

With ten episodes allotted for this series, I can only applaud Newdark‘s decision to devote six installments to Warleggan, the fourth book of the Poldark Saga and an undisputed game changer.  Oldark managed to fit it into four episodes fairly efficiently, but had to cut some corners and downplay some emotional beats. Six episodes gives the story more room to breathe.

While Newdark tends to focus strongly, sometimes even claustrophically, on Ross, this week was mostly about another Poldark: the ill-fated Francis, whose death by drowning was foreshadowed as early as Book One. His fate is rendered more tragic by the redemptive arc his character begins in Jeremy Poldark, to the point where many who disliked him last season and in the early books are now genuinely saddened by his loss.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 27/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2016** Francis (KYLE SOLLER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers

The Good

  1. The Short (Semi)Happy Life of Francis Poldark: Following his failed suicide attempt in Jeremy Poldark, Francis is shown developing a new lease on life: embracing his personal and professional responsibilities. He becomes a devoted family man, a diligent partner in Wheal Grace, a fair-minded magistrate, and a force for good in the county. He even reconciles with Elizabeth and they renew conjugal relations. Things are slightly less rosy in Graham’s novel and Oldark: Francis continues his redemptive journey, but he and Elizabeth tacitly accept that their marriage is over, as far as romance is concerned. They co-habit and co-parent amicably enough, but it’s clear that they are no longer in love. In all three versions, however, Francis has grown closer to Ross and Demelza, sharing a touching scene with the latter, in which he urges her to not to sell herself short and assures her that she is more than capable of keeping her husband’s affections. Kyle Soller’s Francis is less sardonic and mercurial than Clive Francis’s (or Graham’s, for that matter), but his earnestness as Reformed Francis manages to be affecting and effective. The character will be missed, and it was only fitting that the episode concludes with his funeral and the Poldarks mourning the loss of one of their own.
  2. Dwight and Caroline: The doctor and the heiress take it to the next level by finally admitting their attraction and sharing a kiss in a beautiful bluebell wood. I loved Oldark‘s Richard Morant and Judy Geeson in these roles, but Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have both grown on me. His Dwight is an appealing beta hero and her Caroline is believably young and touchingly uncertain when she lowers her formidable defenses.
  3. Ross and Elizabeth’s dinner conversation: Straight from the book and more or less faithful to the source. The only thing different is Elizabeth’s claim that she is “happy” to be with Francis. In the novel, she emphasizes her mistake in choosing him over Ross, an admission that has Ross reeling–and perversely, liking her a little less despite his ongoing attraction because a) her choice screwed up a lot of lives, b) her “buyer’s remorse” screwed things up even more, and c) he feels somewhat manipulated by her confession now. It’s not altogether clear whether Newdark‘s Ross feels the same as his book counterpart, but he looked appropriately taken back and not altogether happy over what Elizabeth had said.
  4.  Letting us get to know supporting characters over the course of several episodes, which is an improvement over last season. Weaving in the Hoblyns (Jacka and Rosina), the Carkeeks, Charlie Kempthorne, and other mining/fishing families builds recognition and the sense of community that Nampara should have. Oldark did this well from the get-go; it’s reassuring to see Newdark finally taking a similar approach.
  5. Agatha vs. George: As someone familiar with the whole saga, I’m pleased to see the groundwork being laid for this poisonous enmity that will have huge repercussions down the road. Newdark‘s Agatha feigning deafness so she can hear what George really thinks of her, Ross, and Francis was an interesting twist. It’s not book-canon exactly, but even there, Agatha was no fool, despite her advanced age, and she knew that the loathing between George and herself was entirely mutual.


The Bad

This week, the good outweighed the bad, for the most part, though there were a few things that I thought could have been stronger.

  1. George’s childish spite continues to irritate me, especially since his tirades nearly always follow a set-down from Ross. Petulance is no substitute for the genuine power he manages to wield in the novels and Oldark. Also, I’m so tired of his boxing lessons that I half-wish someone would knock me out so I wouldn’t have to watch them anymore!
  2. While it was enjoyable on one level to watch Francis forbid George the house and access to Francis’s family, Graham’s Francis was a little shrewder about his enmity, playing his cards closer to his chest. In the novel, he and Elizabeth have an interesting conversation that shows he’s begun to suspect George’s partiality for his wife, which has prevented the Warleggans from moving against the Trenwith Poldarks, for now.
  3. As likable as Redeemed Francis has become, I still have my reservations about Newdark‘s conception of him as being in Ross’s shadow. It was never that simple or simplistic in the books. Ross wasn’t the family golden boy, and Francis was actually considered the better catch: the only son of the eldest son and the heir to Trenwith, a far more impressive estate than Nampara. And he had the confidence and arrogance to conduct himself as the favored one. He was jealous and insecure only about Ross’s claim on Elizabeth’s affections, and by Warleggan, he’d become disillusioned enough about his wife to no longer feel threatened by her private conversations with Ross.

For the second episode in a row, nothing tripped my WTF? switch. I wonder how long this streak will continue!

Until next week!

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!

Happy Memorial Day!

--Photo by Nicoray
Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, photo by Nicoray

The Battlefield

They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers goes.

They perished in the seamless grass, —
No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
Can summon every face.

–Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilia, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592)St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilia, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592)



HAIL Bishop Valentine, whose day this is ;
         All the air is thy diocese,
         And all the chirping choristers
And other birds are thy parishioners ;
         Thou marriest every year
The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove,
The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
The household bird with the red stomacher ;
         Thou makest the blackbird speed as soon,
As doth the goldfinch, or the halcyon ;
The husband cock looks out, and straight is sped,
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine ;
This day, which might enflame thyself, old Valentine.


Till now, thou warmd’st with multiplying loves
         Two larks, two sparrows, or two doves ;
         All that is nothing unto this ;
For thou this day couplest two phoenixes ;
         Thou makst a taper see
What the sun never saw, and what the ark
—Which was of fowls and beasts the cage and park—
Did not contain, one bed contains, through thee ;
         Two phoenixes, whose joined breasts
Are unto one another mutual nests,
Where motion kindles such fires as shall give
Young phoenixes, and yet the old shall live ;
Whose love and courage never shall decline,
But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.


Up then, fair phoenix bride, frustrate the sun ;
         Thyself from thine affection
         Takest warmth enough, and from thine eye
All lesser birds will take their jollity.
            Up, up, fair bride, and call
Thy stars from out their several boxes, take
Thy rubies, pearls, and diamonds forth, and make
Thyself a constellation of them all ;
         And by their blazing signify
That a great princess falls, but doth not die.
Be thou a new star, that to us portends
Ends of much wonder ; and be thou those ends.
Since thou dost this day in new glory shine,
May all men date records from this day, Valentine.


Come forth, come forth, and as one glorious flame
         Meeting another grows the same,
         So meet thy Frederick, and so
To an inseparable union go,
         Since separation
Falls not on such things as are infinite,
Nor things, which are but one, can disunite.
You’re twice inseparable, great, and one ;
         Go then to where the bishop stays,
To make you one, his way, which divers ways
Must be effected ; and when all is past,
And that you’re one, by hearts and hands made fast,
You two have one way left, yourselves to entwine,
Besides this bishop’s knot, of Bishop Valentine.


But O, what ails the sun, that here he stays,
         Longer to-day than other days ?
         Stays he new light from these to get ?
And finding here such stars, is loth to set ?
         And why do you two walk,
So slowly paced in this procession ?
Is all your care but to be look’d upon,
And be to others spectacle, and talk ?
         The feast with gluttonous delays
Is eaten, and too long their meat they praise ;
The masquers come late, and I think, will stay,
Like fairies, till the cock crow them away.
Alas ! did not antiquity assign
A night as well as day, to thee, old Valentine ?


They did, and night is come ; and yet we see
         Formalities retarding thee.
         What mean these ladies, which—as though
They were to take a clock in pieces—go
         So nicely about the bride ?
A bride, before a “ Good-night” could be said,
Should vanish from her clothes into her bed,
As souls from bodies steal, and are not spied.
         But now she’s laid ; what though she be ?
Yet there are more delays, for where is he ?
He comes and passeth through sphere after sphere ;
First her sheets, then her arms, then anywhere.
Let not this day, then, but this night be thine ;
Thy day was but the eve to this, O Valentine.


Here lies a she sun, and a he moon there ;
         She gives the best light to his sphere ;
         Or each is both, and all, and so
They unto one another nothing owe ;
         And yet they do, but are
So just and rich in that coin which they pay,
That neither would, nor needs forbear, nor stay ;
Neither desires to be spared nor to spare.
         They quickly pay their debt, and then
Take no acquittances, but pay again ;
They pay, they give, they lend, and so let fall
No such occasion to be liberal.
More truth, more courage in these two do shine,
Than all thy turtles have and sparrows, Valentine.


And by this act these two phoenixes
         Nature again restorèd is ;
         For since these two are two no more,
There’s but one phoenix still, as was before.
         Rest now at last, and we—
As satyrs watch the sun’s uprise—will stay
Waiting when your eyes opened let out day,
Only desired because your face we see.
         Others near you shall whispering speak,
And wagers lay, at which side day will break,
And win by observing, then, whose hand it is
That opens first a curtain, hers or his :
This will be tried to-morrow after nine,
Till which hour, we thy day enlarge, O Valentine.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Walking in a Purple Wonderland

800px-JacarandatreeThere is some sweetness not to be seen in air,
Not to be trapped in rain, not to be found
In earth, that made this sky of blossoms flare
In blue and sparkling daylight out of the ground;
Some struggle of more than earth is in triumph here
In that gesture of joy and fulfilment lifted on high
Where, dancing with pale blue fire, the branches rear
And the dark twigs hold the sky up to the sky.

Touch the tree with your hand: it is only wood,
A pillar of rain and earth; and what will you find
But rain and earth in its flowers or curious blood?
Yet you cannot hold this tree in a hand of the mind.
Its roots in the earth where some blaze of midnight is lost,
Its boughs in the light wherein more than the stars is concealed,
The jacaranda flames on the air like a ghost,
Like a purer sky some door in the sky has revealed.

While the blue shade falls like a blessing on grass and stone,
I feel the Presence who waited all winter with me
And worked unseen while I watched, with rain and sun
And earth in her hands to make of a simple tree
The loveliest mask that beauty wears on earth.
Is it her banner and symbol the branches bear,
Or the living spirit herself come down to birth,
Glowing in a flesh of blossoms upon the air?

–from “The Jacaranda,” by Douglas Stewart (1913-1985)

I don’t remember much about the day I accompanied my sister to her high school. I was only eight or nine at the time, and my recollections of who we met or what was said–beyond the observations that we looked a lot alike (observations that are made to this day)–are hazy at best. But I remember my first sight of the trees blooming alongside the walkways leading from one building to another: slim, graceful, grey-barked trunks, delicate green fern-like fronds, and trumpet-shaped lavender flowers with a fragrance like spiced honey.

It was years before I actually knew those were called “jacarandas,” but they’ve remained my favorite tree. Like the lemon, the avocado, and the grey squirrel, jacarandas aren’t indigenous to California but they’ve thrived here, putting on a splendid show every spring and sometimes in the fall, if the weather is mild enough.

Resize_P05-28-13_09.00-1Right now, as June begins, jacarandas are starting to hit the peak of their bloom season. The trees are thick with clusters of flowers, ranging in hue from pale lavender to deep violet, and their scent hangs in the air like a cloud, especially on mild, still mornings. They shed liberally, so that there are almost as many flowers on the ground as they are on the branches, and on my walks, I sometimes need to watch my step so I don’t slip on them or crush the honeybees I occasionally spot crawling out of the downed blossoms. (This seems a rather dangerous way to gather nectar, but I can’t blame the bees for being unable to resist the smell.) And motorists who park under jacaranda trees sometimes complain about the sticky residue the flowers leave on their cars.  But, by and large, most Californians welcome the jacarandas’ blossoming, and enjoy the few short weeks of walking in a purple wonderland.