For over forty years, PBS Masterpiece has been good to us Anglophiles. As our main importer of many of BBC’s classic television series, Masterpiece has given us such memorable visual feasts as Jeeves and Wooster; Upstairs, Downstairs; Agatha Christie’s Poirot; and Sherlock. If you, like me, thought Downton Abbey was the peak of Masterpiece’s best programs, then think again. Poldark, the latest English drama to invade America, has been sending its fans indoors every Sunday night to enjoy the most recent episode. With the release of Poldark on DVD and Blu-ray this week, those of us who missed it on television can catch up. (Follow the link at the end of the post to enter my giveaway of 5 Blu-ray sets of Poldark!)
Episode One opens on unusual territory for BBC: the thick woods of Colonial Virginia, 1781. We are introduced to Captain Ross Poldark (how’s that for a hero’s name?), a British soldier who seems dissatisfied with the American Revolution and his own lot in life. After two years and an injury that leaves a scar down the side of his face, Poldark returns home to his family estate in Cornwall, England. Only, neither his family nor his estate is the same as when he left.
His father having died in his absence, Poldark’s only family left are his uncle and cousins who live on an adjacent property. They at first welcome home the man they thought had died in battle, but when Poldark learns that his former love interest, Elizabeth, is now engaged to his cousin, his family relations start to decay.
If coming home to a dead father and unrequited love isn’t enough, Poldark returns to his inherited estate which has been essentially abandoned to the decay of dust and rodents. Poldark, worn down by combat and the corrosion of his entire life, works to restore his home, a difficult task considering the poverty-stricken economy Cornwall has acquired since the war. His two current servants being next to useless, Poldark does much of the work of rebuilding walls and upkeep himself. His lack of funds and food eventually drive him to seek investors in order to reopen his abandoned copper mine, in the hopes that his luck will turn.
Meanwhile, Poldark, whose local reputation is slightly less than respected, takes an interest in others who have likewise nothing to lose. He meets Demelza, a red-headed girl dressed as a boy to escape her father’s abusive supervision. Despite his inadequate money for food, Poldark takes her in as a kitchen maid and even fights off a hoard of brutish relatives when they arrive to claim her. As Poldark struggles to survive, we see him grow into his circumstances, helping those around him in his community.
Captain Ross Poldark, played by Aidan Turner (known for his role as Kili in The Hobbit trilogy), is our complicated hero. Known as the gambler that he was in his youth,, Poldark has been changed by his experiences in the war. His life has been darkened by tragedy, and he approaches life’s uncertainty with a calm, confident demeanor. He is not just a likeable hero; he is lovable. We love him because of his determination in the face of loss, his compassion on Demelza, and (of course) his sexy, brooding charm.
Elizabeth, the girl Poldark left behind, is played by Icelandic actress Heida Reed (from the film One Day). Although at first we find her attractive and pitiable (how could she know Poldark was still alive?), before long, we realize that she ties herself to her circumstances by obeying her culture’s rules of decorum and going through with the marriage to Poldark’s cousin Francis. She still feels something for Poldark, however, but this only makes matters worse when she risks reputation-damaging gossip by seeking his attention in public.
Demelza, the red-headed girl who transforms from being dirty, afraid, and dressed like a boy, into a clear-eyed, beautiful, and supportive companion to Poldark, is played by Eleanor Tomlinson, who is no stranger to English television drama, having played in The White Queen and Death Comes to Pemberley. Demelza provides a refreshing contrast to Elizabeth: she tackles life’s hardships head-on and stays by Poldark’s side no matter what. Over time Demelza comes into her own and we can quickly imagine her
Three-cornered hats off, if you please, to playwright-screenwriter Debbie Hosfield for her adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels. It’s been forty years since the first television adaptation of the series, and Hosfield, together with directors Edward Bazalgette and William McGregor, has refreshed modern television with a renewed old story.
I’d also like to note the gorgeous score by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley. The soaring violins run along with the dramatic views of cliffs and ocean swells, adding that extra dimension to film which deserves to be recognized in its own right. The scenery itself is absolutely breathtaking as the show was filmed on location in Cornwall. Overall, Poldark shouldn’t be missed as it captures all the elements that make a great Masterpiece!
Poldark is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from PBS Distribution. I’d like to thank PBS Distribution for providing me with the material I needed for this review.
If you would like a chance to win your very own Blu-ray set of Poldark, enter our giveaway here. But hurry, the end date is midnight EST on Monday, July 20th!