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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Does the Poldark remake work??

When I was but knee high to a TV remote, I remember my mum (whose viewing habits were peculiar at the best of times) would go bonkers about something called Poldark, which was always said with a sort of wistful longing in her voice.

She was, of course, going all swoony over the 1970s BBC adaptation starring Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, but her reaction has stayed with me over the decades.


Whether the shiny 2015 version of the well-loved romance will have the same effect on a new generation of viewers will be interesting to see.  I suspect there will be an army of veterans who adored the original, sitting in front of their flat-screen, digital HDMI-ready sets, arms folded, lips pursed, waiting to be impressed come March 8th.

I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. As BBC period dramas go, the all-new Poldark starts enticingly enough.

There’s swarthy leading man Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, being all dashing in uniform and manly in a scuffle during the War of Independence in America (but he’s only there to avoid the long arm of the law).

Despite his best efforts, the war is lost and Poldark – the son of a libertine, according to local gossip – is sent back to Cornwall to learn his father is dead and has let the family estate fall into ruin. Adding insult to injury, our scarred and bedraggled hero’s sweetheart, the lovely Elizabeth (Heida Reed) is on the brink of marrying Poldark’s weedy cousin Francis.

So much for a warm welcome home. eh?


Ignoring the fact he has no money, no food and zero means to make a living (yet strangely there’s always a bottle of plonk in the cupboard), Poldark sets out to turn his fortunes around, selling scraps of silver and working himself to the bone to put the estate back on its feet.

Of course he’s not helped by two lazy servants (played with delicious glee by Beatie Edney and Phil Davis), his scheming, manipulative uncle Charles – Warren Clarke in his last role – who tries to bribe him to bugger off to London, and ambitious social-climbers the Warleggans.

But trouble really kicks off when Poldark meets and takes in scruffy Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), who makes him realise where his loyalties truly lie… IOTTS_Poldark

Poldark is, on the one hand, soapy nonsense. Aidan Turner is beautiful. We know this because of the many, many shots of him looking soulfully into the middle distance wearing just a hint of eyeliner and channelling his inner Adam Ant.

Elizabeth is beautiful, so it makes sense that she should attract the only other beautiful thing in a 500-mile radius: Poldark. And of course Cornwall is beautiful, especially when bathed in golden sunlight (as it often is here).

Meanwhile, the supporting cast of locals fall into two distinct camps: posh people – though that might have more to do with that dodgy BBC version of Jamaica Inn than their actual social standing – and everyone else, who has bad teeth and says “ee” instead of “you”.

Scratch beneath the surface of it all though, and you find rot at every turn: the mines are empty, the land is barren and many of the residents – rich and poor – are morally bankrupt.

Turner’s Poldark might be a shade irritating with his insistence on doing the right thing and standing on his own two feet, but the wonderful, almost Hogarthian caricatures surrounding him more than make up for that little disappointment.

I’m hoping there’s more to come from Edney and Davis, as well as a chance to really get under the skin of Clarke’s brilliantly drawn Uncle Charles, and all the other unsavoury locals inhabiting this 18th century tale.

Minor flaws in this opening installment aside, make no mistake: Poldark still has plenty of opportunities to make me swoon.

Poldark Concludes Sunday from 9.00pm.
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington

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