Friday, September 4, 2015

Fangirl Fridays – Poldark


Demelza and Ross Poldark, 2015
One of my very first book boyfriends came back into my life over the summer! And even after almost forty years, he still set my fangirl heart all aflutter on fire!!

Yes, I’ve been in love with Ross Poldark for about 2/3 of my life — long before even Jamie Fraser — and it feels like a dream come true that he’s finally back!


Poldark was the show I COULD NOT MISS, way back in 1977. It was my first serious fangirl obsession, an important early step along the path that eventually led to the Saucy Wenches. I loved that show to distraction. I planned every Sunday night around it, much like I’ve planned my Saturdays around Outlander more recently. (Once an obsessed enthusiastic fan, always an obsessed enthusiastic fan!)

So I was quite nervous when I sat down to watch the new series. Like first-date jitters! Would I still be in love with Ross? And Demelza? And all the colorful characters of County Cornwall? As it turned out, yes! In no time at all I was planning my Sunday evenings around Poldark all over again! I was a little slow to fully climb on board the remake fanwagon, but by halfway through the season, heaven help anyone who got between me and my hot date at 9 PM on Sundays. I’m utterly smitten now and can’t wait for season 2! And I’m so glad to be able to gush about Poldark with a lot of new fans!

So if you are already a fan of Poldark, curious about Poldark, or just looking for some lovely photos of Aidan Turner, I hope you’ll join me after the jump for a little more fangirling.



Demelza and Ross Poldark, 1977
Why did I plan every Sunday around Poldark almost 40 years ago? Because it was that good. Because it hooked me with gut-wrenching stories, heartwarming stories, endearing and exasperating characters, and panoramic coastlines. It was an invigorating breath of fresh air amidst some of the stuffier Masterpiece Theater fare.

Here’s a snippet from long-time Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke’s original introduction of the show to U.S. audiences on May 8, 1977 (see full video here):
Now’s the time... to settle in to a spate of dueling, and loving, and wenching, and poaching, and marrying, not to mention banking and copper mining. Copper mining plays a big part in this story because we are in the county of Cornwall in England at the end of the 18th century.

Wenching!! I bet the thoroughly dignified Mr. Cooke never used that word to describe any other Masterpiece Theater series!

Here’s my synopsis of the original Poldark from a 2013 post about Masterpiece Theater:

Here’s the one that stole my heart and locked away the key! Tells the tempestuous tale of Captain Ross Poldark, a captain in the British army who returns home to Cornwall after fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Eager to resume his life, he finds that his father has died, his fiancée has jilted him, and the estate, farm fields, and copper mines he has inherited are in complete disarray. He quickly becomes embroiled in local mining, banking, and smuggling drama, weds an unexpected and delightful local commoner lass, and increasingly stands against the greedy landowners and businessmen of his own class to champion the interests of the working class.

The original Poldark was the most popular BBC period drama ever until the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice came along (With Colin Firth! You know the one!), and it remains in second place until this day. Though who knows, maybe new Poldark will eventually eclipse it.

They're back! Bigger, beautiful-er, and more high-def

The other reason I planned my Sundays around the original Poldark? VCRs didn’t exist. I missed episode 15 when it aired in 1977. I finally watched it 20 years later, after tracking down the videos formatted for the U.S. via eBay from a Canadian vendor. Aaaarrrggghhh! This is THE show that made VCRs necessary.

So the remake had a lot to live up to if it didn’t want to disappoint me. At first I was a little put off by the new actors, but most of them grew on me, some more quickly than others. Some of my resistance was a reaction to the polish of modern production technology and the fact that many of the actors were so beautiful to look at, which is not particularly realistic. Some was due to the differences in the character portrayals. A lot turned out to be my general reluctance to adapt to change and my impatience to get around to the stories I remembered.

New actors, same endearing characters,
same timeless coastline!

Why have I loved Poldark so fervently and for so long? To begin with, I’m a sucker for underdogs, rebels, and hopeless romantics. I love sweeping vistas, epic struggles for true love and justice, and historical period dramas. And I especially enjoy all these things conveniently rolled into one mesmerizing spectacle. Poldark is based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham. I’ve been slowly reading through them, and they are entertaining enough, but this is one of those rare times when I’m going to say that the show is better.

Ultimately, the characters are what keep me coming back to any story that I love. And the Poldark show does a better job than the books of developing the characters fully. It doesn’t hurt that it brings them to life wearing sometimes lavish, always authentically detailed costumes, amidst meticulously detailed settings overlooking breathtaking seascapes. Their surroundings become three dimensional before our eyes. The newer versions of the characters have changed a bit with our times; Ross is more of a post-modern, brooding anti-hero, and Demelza never loses that look of wary mistrust you’d expect for someone raised in her circumstances. But they’re still the same characters I’ve known and loved for all these years.

Since the first night I met them, these characters have been like family to me. And when I watched the remake, I felt like my very-long-lost family had returned to the homestead for a reunion. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them again, and I’d like to introduce them to you now.

Aidan Turner as a darker, moodier Ross Poldark
Ross Poldark
He’s the dashing loner with a bad-boy reputation, a ruthless streak of integrity, and a heart of gold. Born into the untitled branch of an aristocratic family, he chooses to fight for the working men and women rather than schmooze with the snooty socialites and kowtow to the cut-throat bankers who have maneuvered a stranglehold on local industry. The original Ross perhaps wasn’t one of the sexiest looking men in the world, but he seduced me nonetheless. He was gallant, strong, smart, willing to break conventions, and an unabashed romantic.

The new Ross Poldark? Frequently shirtless. *thud* He perhaps is one of the sexiest looking men in the world. This might have worked a teensy bit to his disadvantage at first, with me, because he had to convince me with his personality and his actions that he was Ross. Ross Of The Perfect Abs did not exist in the previous incarnation, and I was determined that he wouldn’t distract me from recognizing an impostor! Though I fairly quickly decided that indeed Ross Poldark is still gallant, strong, smart, a most enthusiastic convention smasher, and a total dreamboat... when he gazes into Demelza’s eyes and calls her my love, I just melt. And I admit that I didn’t mind patiently enduring multiple shirt-doffing scenes while I decided whether he was Ross.

A sample of what I had to endure

The actor who originally played Ross, Robin Ellis, plays a small part in the remake as the contentious magistrate, Reverend Halse. It is disturbing, to say the least, to see him be an asshole. For long-time fans, there is some wicked mind f*ckery in episode 6 when both the old and new Rosses argue with each other at the same card table, and it totally weirds me out.

Ross 2.0 and 1.0 chatting behind the scenes

Eleanor Tomlinson as a slightly wilder Demelza
Demelza Poldark
I loved the original Demelza, completely and unconditionally. Played by the late Angharad Rees, she had the most incandescent smile. Her entire face radiated joy when she smiled. She played Demelza like a feisty little firecracker in a deceptively petite package.

I didn’t wanted to like the new Demelza, but I couldn’t help myself. She remains endearingly spunky, free spirited, and kind hearted, but a little more the feral cat, always wary, looking like she expects her good fortune to disappear as quickly as it appeared, and I have grown to love her portrayal as well. She’s the perfect partner for Ross, anchoring him to his core values, grounding him to family and farm while freeing him to follow his convictions, believing in him when others do not, and helping him fight the good fight. Oh, and she also has a beautiful smile that I hope we will have occasion to see more often. I have to wonder whether radiant smile is first on the list of requirements, right next to gorgeous, unruly mane of red hair, when casting for this role.

Proof that love triangles don’t always spoil the story

No obvious lingering tensions between these two, right?
Elizabeth Poldark
To be honest, I never did understand what Ross saw in his ex-fiancée, Elizabeth. The original seemed timid and vapid, and the new one isn’t much better, so. What. The. Heck? And the men she chooses, other than Ross...ugh. The new Elizabeth, Heida Reed, seems smarter than her choices of partners would indicate, so if they are the best options she has, it’s a sad statement about women’s lack of options, or her lack of perseverance and gumption, or something. But I did begin to sympathize with some of her situations, eventually, and gain an odd sort of respect for her. So I’m not going to say any more, because my feelings for this character are deeply colored by what happens to her in the upcoming seasons, and we’re not there yet.

Kyle Soller as the founder of the
Frances Poldark Pity Party Drinking Club
Frances Poldark
Once an ass, always an ass. He doesn’t mean to be an ass. He’s just weak. And whiny. And, in the long run, boring and forgettable. And *snooooooooze*

His dad is an intriguing character, if not always likable, and I will miss him. Played by an ailing Warren Clark, he has great presence. His son is more like an annoying mosquito that keep buzzing around without ever doing anything useful.


The Warleggans
These guys do mean to be asses. Pompous asses of Dickensian proportions. The embodiment of greedy banking and monopolistic business practices, I loathed the originals. I loathe the new ones, and they don’t seem like such throwbacks to a previous era in today’s global economy. The new Cary Warleggan, George’s uncle and business mentor, is much like the old — obviously arrogant, cold-hearted, and predatory. Though Pip Torrens brings a disturbingly reptilian quality to the new character. But the new George has such a boyish face, kind of like Hugh Grant, which makes me think he should be a rom-com buddy instead of an evil villain. I’m hoping that changes, it would be interesting to watch. Perhaps his evil is simply more insidious and less in your face. (I have to admit, the late Ralph Bates played the original character a bit over the top, but so deliciously, insufferably pretentious!) Perhaps they want me to like him a little. Perhaps he’s keeping a portrait hidden away in his attic, à la Dorian Gray. He’ll be around for a while, and I’m looking forward to watching his true nature blossom.

Jack Farthing as the Snidely Whiplash of Poldark

Ruby Bentall as the surprisingly strong-willed spinster
Verity Poldark
If you’re looking for a BFF to share a pot of tea and an afternoon’s conversation, Verity is your woman! If you’re in a jam, she’ll be by your side to assist just as fast as her horse will carry her. I love this character, both the old and the new versions! She’s straight out of a Jane Austen novel — the trustworthy, capable female cousin of a certain age, often relegated to the fringes of life until someone needs help, condemned to a career of nursing the other generations in exchange for room and board. I love that she gets to participate in secret dalliances and adventures, occasionally save the day, and star in her own exciting story. I hope we see more of her.

Prudie and Jud Paynter
The domestic servants that Ross inherited from his father are stereotypical lazy drunks. It has always been a mystery to me why Ross keeps them around, since he can’t trust them to do what they are told. But the originals (played by Mary Wimbush and Paul Curran) had good hearts, deep down, when they weren’t drinking, and I begrudgingly grew to like them. They did care for Ross, they were just weak and very human. And hilarious. The new ones (played by Beatie Edney and Phil Davis) aren’t funny at all. That might not be the fault of the actors, though. Nowadays, many shows have moved away from playing alcoholics for laughs, but the new versions of these characters seem less relatable, whatever that says about me. They’re sullen and secretive. They give me the creeps, especially Jud. Now I really don’t know why Ross keeps them around.
 
The original Jud, more of a Frank-Gallagher-in-Shameless drunk

Dr. Dwight Enys
The original character was played in different seasons by different actors, so I wasn’t terribly attached to an original Dr. Enys. Despite his display of staggeringly bad judgment at the recent ending of season 1, I like this character and his upcoming story (and a new character we will meet!). That’s all I should say about him. Except that he’s a kindred spirit to Ross, less dashing but equally relentless in his mission to improve the lives of the working class. And how much would he enjoy talking medicine with Claire Fraser of Outlander — wouldn’t that be a fun crossover? Though I’m pretty sure I’d spontaneously combust at the sight of Jamie Fraser and Ross Poldark together on screen.

Cornwall’s Dynamic Duo of Do-Gooders Drinking Club

The coast of Cornwall
The original show broke with tradition by moving out of the studio and into the outdoors. The coastal cliffs of Cornwall were as central to the story as the characters whose harsh lifestyles and livelihoods they dictated. Since mining was one of their harsh livelihoods, many scenes were filmed within the underground mines, which I think was a first for a TV show. Smuggling and raiding scenes played out on beaches, sometimes at night. It was a treat at the time to see the real countryside where the fictional scenes occurred.

The remake has been equally generous with the sweeping coastal vistas, brought to our high-definition screens in all their spectacular glory by modern digital technology. There have been a few mine scenes, and many memorable beach scenes. (One involves Ross bathing in the surf. Not to shamelessly show off naked abs again. Instead, to show that his other side is equally appealing.) Technology has been exceedingly kind to this show, and I’m very glad to say it isn’t used as a crutch to replace quality storytelling and acting.





The opening music and title sequence
The only thing about the original show that IMHO desperately did need an update — if they insisted on monkeying around with a classic in the first place — has been fixed, I’m delighted to say. I never liked the opening theme music much. (Though to be fair, someone who posted the music on YouTube described it as “thrilling.”)

The new opening musical theme is gorgeous — classically simple, simultaneously sad and soaring, hauntingly beautiful, the perfect contrast to the stunning, turbulent, and treacherous world we see on our screens. It instantly sets the mood — a more romantic mood than the original. As the first notes waft from my screen, my surroundings disappear and I am transported.


Is there room in my heart for two Poldarks? Absolutely!! And I love both versions of Poldark. That’s why this is a fangirl post instead of a rant. :-)

Now that season 1 is ended, I think back to my original concerns about a remake. Would the new Poldark retain the high production values of the original, adjusted for technological advances? (Yes!) Would it take the easy route, hire a bunch of pretty actors, reduce the characters to caricatures, save a few bucks on script writing, and let the pounding surf and naked abs distract us from the lack of substance? (No!) Or would it do these characters justice, merely throwing in the naked abs as a very thoughtful perk? (Yes on both counts!!)


And most importantly, would I still love these characters and their stories?

I’m so happy to say, YES!! The new actors have convinced me, and I love hanging out with them again. The new Poldark aspires to well-written scripts, layered and nuanced performances, and lots of swashbuckling adventuring that keeps me riveted. I’m eternally grateful to series creator and writer Debbie Horsfield, who managed to condense these stories into a mere 8 episodes without losing the original’s charm. I hear that season 2 will have a total of 10 episodes, and I’ve already penciled in (oops, wrong decade millennium) updated my calendar app (and SET MY DVR!!!!) for 2016 summer fall Sunday night dates with Ross and Demelza and their timeless adventure!



Are you a fan of Poldark, Saucy Readers? The Original Show? The New Generation? The books? Or all of the above?

8 comments:

  1. I adore the new show but have never seen the former one. I found myself watching this one because I am a huge fan of Aidan Turner. I adored him in Being Human and was curious to see him in such a different role. I think he is magnificent in this show and not just because of his luscious abs. Poldark has major flaws but Mr.Turner makes you cheer him on and really hope that he will not only make a great life for himself and Demelza but that he will bring his whole community along for the ride. A truly beautiful series and one that I would recommend to anyone that wants to fall in love with the characters and the stunning place where it is filmed!

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    1. I so wholeheartedly agree with you—about the series and Aidan Turner! I liked him in Being Human, too, but I hadn’t thought of him in years before he showed up as Ross. It’s great to hear from another fan who also thinks he’s doing a wonderful job! I’m glad he lured you to the show, and I hope we can look forward to enjoying many more seasons!

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  2. Loved the post Kathi and I totally agree with you on pretty much every point and especially the characters. And the scenery is pretty amazing. I haven't seen the older one but loved seeing the pics from from it, so much difference, lookwise. Love the show and have you to thank for having watched it and look forward for season 2.

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    1. Thank you, Beta. I’m so glad you enjoyed the show! My biggest complaint is that there were not enough episodes in the season (the original had 2 seasons, 29 episodes), but I’m guessing it is a lot more costly to produce these series today. So I will just have to be patient, darn it. At least I can watch season 1 over and over until then, because we now have this wonderful newfangled invention that lets me play back shows whenever I want!!

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  3. Loved your post Kathi. New generation viewer here as I've never seen the original version. I just love the scenery as well. It's an amazing backdrop for the show to work with. I adore Ross and Demelza. Although there are so many heartbreaking moments amongst the characters storylines. The show pulls on the heartstrings.

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  4. To be honest, I never did understand what Ross saw in his ex-fiancée, Elizabeth. The original seemed timid and vapid, and the new one isn’t much better, so. What. The. Heck?


    Is it really a crime for someone to be quiet and more traditional? Isn't Elizabeth allowed to be herself without having to be some ideal woman?

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    1. Hi, sorry for my tardy response--I just saw your comment. Of course, Elizabeth can be herself! We love strong women! I tend to see her as someone who is not being herself, who is doing what others want her to do (marrying a rich heir), rather than following her heart (marrying the black sheep of the family). In fairness, it would be hard for her to do otherwise in her culture. I think she learns to stand up for herself over time, but is never able to fully speak up for herself. I do grow to admire her later in the books.

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  5. To be honest, I never did understand what Ross saw in his ex-fiancée, Elizabeth. The original seemed timid and vapid, and the new one isn’t much better, so. What. The. Heck?


    Is it really a crime for someone to be quiet and more traditional? Isn't Elizabeth allowed to be herself without having to be some ideal woman?

    ReplyDelete