UK TV review: Poldark Season 1, Episode 1 and 2
Ivan Radford | On 16, Mar 2015
Poldark and handsome. Apart from that pun, what does the BBC’s new costume drama have to offer?
Based on the novels by Winston Graham, the series follows Ross Poldark, who returns to Cornwall in the 1780s after several years in the army. His father has since passed away, his estate has fallen apart and, with him thought dead in battle, his sweetheart, Elizabeth, is getting hitched to his cousin, Francis. Forbidden romance? Luscious countryside? It’s all par for the course in period TV land, right down the fabulous hats.
Inevitably, Ross decides to try to revive his family name and mining business, battling with social disdain and harsh economic conditions – both of which are neatly summed up by wealthy banker Warleggan, played by Jack Farthing with a fantastic, snivelling sneer.
Poor old Ross, though, his heart’s not as hard as his enemies: in Episodes 1 and 2 and he seems to hire all and sundry simply out of pity. On the down side, he’s never going to be the Mark Zuckerberg of the 1780s Cornish mining industry. On the plus side, though, he’s soon accompanied by maid Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). She’s feisty, red-headed and really knows how to wear a cape, which Ross kindly buys for her.
“Am I a circus attraction?” the caped kitchen gal yells at blokes gazing at her in the street. We like her.
The rest of the cast match her enthusiasm, from Ruby Bentall – Ross’ cousin, Verity, the only who seems happy to see him back from the grave – to Kyle Soller, who is wonderfully drippy as the dim-witted Francis. All wide eyes and soppy expressions, he’s as bland as you could wish for a rival romantic suitor.
Sadly, the same can be said of Elizabeth. Heida Reed more than looks the part as the object of Ross’ affection, selling her inner conflict. But despite the skill of Reed, the script leaves her surprisingly shallow. Poldark was adapted in the 1970s to much acclaim, but Elizabeth was reportedly not very popular then due to being two-dimensional. It’s a problem that perhaps stems from the source material: written by a man and inevitably sat alongside the countless costumed escapades adapted from Jane Austen, we’re so used to seeing our troubled literary men from a female perspective, with the witty women leading the tale, that anything less than rounded characters in corsets simply isn’t enough.
Two episodes in and we’d sooner see Ross shacked up with Demelza than his doting star-crossed lover: shots of them galloping across beautiful cliffs on his horse only add to the couple’s appeal. Even a subplot involving Verity – played by Bentall with an endearingly hopeful grin – and a potentially dodgy suitor has more emotional weight than Pol and Liz.
For many viewers, though, that might not be an issue. When Aidan Turner is your leading man, things like narrative feel less important than your racing pulse: after his scene-stealing turn in The Hobbit, there can be little doubt that he is a well-suited lead here, from his glowering expressions and likeable disregard for social etiquette to his, well, suit. His facial scar may look like his mascara’s running, but he’s an attractive bloke and a half, something confirmed by a Mr. Darcy-like dip in the water during the second hour. Of course, that comparison only reminds you how much Poldark appears to be lacking in the Pride and Prejudice stakes. But for a Sunday night swoon, Turner ensures that at least one half of Poldark’s central love story gets your heart beating.
Poldark and handsome. The BBC’s costume drama does not offer much more than that, but does it need to?
Photo: BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan