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.

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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: Poldark 2, Episode 4

Episode 4 wraps up the plot of Jeremy Poldark, leaving the remaining six installments for Warleggan, one of the pivotal novels in the saga. This past weekend, however, I ended up watching the corresponding episodes from Oldark, so the comparisons between the two series are fresher in my mind than usual. While my affection for Oldark remains unabated, not all the advantages are on its side, though I will say that Oldark seems to do a more efficient job, overall, of moving the story along within its allotted 50-minute installments; plus, the Jeremy Poldark episodes–written by Peter Draper–are particularly strong, even though Draper seems never to have met a cliffhanger he didn’t like!

Newdark‘s version of Jeremy Poldark has been a bit hit-or-miss,  and the concluding episode was no exception.

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The Good

  1. Verity and her stepfamily: I very much appreciated Newdark showing Verity adapting to married life and trying to befriend the Blamey children, resentful Esther and (thankfully) warm-hearted James. In Oldark,  Captain Blamey essentially disappears into Offscreenlandia after he and Verity wed, though we are told that they are happy and the marriage is eventually fruitful.
  2. Dwight and Caroline’s growing attraction: Miffed Caroline is always entertaining, so I enjoyed the back-and-forth of their letters when she was pointing out that he hadn’t come to see her since the fishbone incident. And the part where she anonymously sends him a cartload of oranges for his scurvy-ridden miners is one of my favorites in the book.
  3. The three-way reconciliation between Ross, Francis, and Blamey: all three of them manning up and attempting to put the past behind them. And coming together at the end for the opening of Wheal Grace.
  4. The birth of Jeremy: I was a little annoyed that Demelza’s rowing herself back to the beach while in labor was undercut by Ross showing up to haul her ashore, but the sight of them with their new son being christened was sweet, as was their romantic exchange on the cliffs at the end.

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The Bad

  1. An excess of George: He seemed to be popping up like a jack-in-the-box at various points in the episode, and I found him, in Georgette Heyer’s words, “decidedly de trop.” In addition to seeing more of his silly boxing lessons, he intrudes unnecessarily upon Dwight and Caroline while they’re discussing the oranges and has an equally annoying scene where he seems on the brink of making an indecent proposal to Elizabeth…which never occurs in the books. (Graham’s George, for all his faults, felt a genuine reverence towards Elizabeth and was shrewd enough to play the long game by visiting Trenwith as Geoffrey Charles’s godfather.) About the only time Newdark‘s George didn’t seem out of place was when he was receiving a major beatdown from Ross at the Red Lion Inn. My only regrets: no blood, and Ross doesn’t throw him over the stairs the way he does in the book.
  2. Dear Ms. Horsfield: Just so you know, the sun won’t stop shining and the tide won’t stop coming in if a character other than Ross has a heroic moment. It really would be okay if Dwight was allowed to show his medical expertise and correctly diagnose scurvy among the miners without input from Ross. It would also be okay if Demelza, having gotten herself into trouble by going fishing while pregnant, also managed to get herself out of trouble by successfully rowing ashore. Dwight being competent and Demelza determined does not reflect negatively on Ross in any way. Plus, he gets enough of his own big heroic moments so that he shouldn’t need to intrude on anyone else’s.

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Nothing this week was bizarre enough to qualify for WTF? status, though I came to the realization that Oldark seems more efficient about basic storytelling for two reasons:

  1. Fewer transitional scenes: repeated shots of Ross galloping along the cliffs from Point A to Point B aren’t always necessary. He has a horse, so we can assume his mode of transport. Why can’t he just be shown departing and then arriving at his new destination? There’s period detail, and then there’s self-indulgence.
  2. Knowing when to tell rather than show: some of the dullest scenes in Newdark involve Ross’s board meetings, especially when George and/or his minions show up to taunt Ross about the shares Warleggan was acquiring in Wheal Leisure. That happened at least twice in this episode. Oldark covered the same material more briskly and effectively in a single conversation held in Pascoe’s office. Sometimes less really is more.

Until next week!