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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Poldark: BBC One's Sunday night hit offers more of the same

When the BBC unleashed their new adaptation of Winston Graham's Poldark on the British public early last year none of us quite new what to expect.


After watching the first episode I was of the opinion that  it was another lavish BBC adaptation but nothing to write home about.  It may not have appealed to me on first viewing, but I was in minority. It went on to become one of the BBC's biggest dramas of 2015 and fans have been eagerly awaiting the second series since the first finished. The BBC have such confidence in its popularity that they have already committed to a third series for broadcast in 2017.


As far as I could ascertain most of the reason for the success was down to handsome leading man Aidan Turner and the amount of time he spent with his top off during the series. The relationship between Turner's Ross Poldark and his love interest Eleanor Tomlinson's Demelza also swept the nation with the two becoming one of TV's most popular couples. I have to admit that I wasn't one of the people won over by the first series, so as I sat down at a screening for the first episode of the second series I was more than a little bit sceptical.

The second series begins with the Poldark family in turmoil as Ross finds himself facing charges of inciting a riot, looting during a shipwreck and murdering a relative of the drama's main antagonist George Warlaggen (Jack Farthing). George is really presented as a complete villain here, trying to find as much dirt to throw at Ross as possible and even compiling a propaganda pamphlet to further besmirch his rival's character. George's only weakness is his affection for Elizabeth (Heida Reed), the wife of Ross' cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) who he himself was in love with before he went off to war. Francis and Ross have been at loggerheads since the former lost the family's mine as part of a dodgy bet and Elizabeth's attempts to get George to help our hero don't do anything to try and mend the relationship. As the trial in Bodmin looms, Ross is more interested in doing a spot of topless mining; which was one of the elements of the series that went down well with a certain part of the audience. So it's left to Demelza to try and find someone of standing who will support Ross during his trial and save him from being hanged.


That supporter may turn out to be Ray Peneven (John Nettles) whose future nephew-in-law may turn out to be politician Unwin Trevaunance (Hugh Skinner) who is running in a local election in Bodmin which coincidentally is occurring the same day as Ross' trial.

Demelza arrives at Peneven's house and attempts to sway his opinion of Ross which in turn will get Unwin onside. Unfortunately, as the episode goes on it seems that Ray's niece and Unwin's intended Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) has eyes for one of Ross' only allies Dr. Dwight Enys (Luke Norris). In fact Caroline seems more interested in her little dog, possibly one of this new series' most likeable additions because let's be honest who doesn't love tiny animals?

As all of the series' prominent characters arrive in Bodmin, writer Debbie Horsefield amps up the tension as we the public wonder if Ross will ever be able to return to his mine again.

It was quite interesting watching this first episode on a big cinema screen and surrounded by an audience made up of writers, industry bods and paying members of the general public. I found it particularly interesting that people would pay to see this episode seeing as it was airing a week and a half later. I do think it's a testament to the popularity that the series garnered last year which, after watching this episode, I began to understand.


Part of the reason Poldark is so well-loved is that it provides a sense of escapism which is enhanced by director Will Sinclair's insistence to focus on the gorgeous coastline as much as he can. One of the unsung heroes of the revival has to be Anne Dudley whose sweeping score provides a great accompaniment to the gorgeous cinematography.

It's unfair to say that Aidan Turner's popularity mainly comes from his impressive physical attributes however I do feel they contribute to its success. In fact the biggest reaction during the screening came during the aforementioned topless mining scene to the extent that it was clear why certain members of the public had paid to attend the screening. But I feel that Turner is good at playing the brooding, man of few words and that helps to make Ross a likeable hero albeit one with plenty of faults.

Eleanor Tomlinson also delivers a great performance as the feisty Demelza and is able to give emotional depth to her character as we see her grieve for her baby daughter who sadly passed away last series. I personally feel that the best turn amongst the cast comes from Kyle Soller as the weak-willed Francis who is aware of his faults and whose debt to George has cast a cloud over his relationship with Ross. It's also great to see John Nettles take over the veteran performer role previously occupied by the late Warren Clarke. Nettles' turn as Peneven adds an air of authority to the series which is lacking elsewhere other than in the comedy asides of Caroline Blakiston who is absolutely hilarious as the prickly Aunt Agatha.

It's fair to say that  by the end I couldn't help but be swept up in the beauty and simplicity of it all. Poldark is a drama that does exactly what it says on the tin. Whilst it's never going to be on my list of the best shows of the year I can certainly appreciate why people were drawn to it the first time around and will inevitably flock to this second series. The cinematography, music, direction, writing and performances all contribute to make this a comfy, safe Sunday night hit which will provide plenty of escapism as the nights begin to drawn in. Whether Poldark will face competition from ITV rival Victoria remains to be seen, but judging from the reaction at the screening and the success of series one I feel Debbie Horsefield's drama will retain it's Sunday night crown throughout the autumn.

Poldark continues on Sunday Nights at 9pm on BBC1

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