Friday, November 6, 2015

Masterpiece Theatre and PBS Presents the BBC One Series Poldark - The Review

                          The original trailer from BBC One.

I'm American and I'm American to the core. I'm well-read. Americans used to be well-read. That may no longer be a trait of most Americans. Having said that, I had never read a single entry in the Winston Graham Poldark series. It turns out there are twelve books in the series and I highly doubt I will take them on at this stage in life. I'm way too busy to get involved in a series that long. My primary reading material now consists of historical non-fiction, not historical fiction. I loved Jane Austen novels. Hey, I'm a woman, so of course, I loved Jane Austen novels. My particular favorite is Pride and Prejudice. It remains the most romantic novel I have ever read.

This leads me to the character of Ross Poldark. Poldark is a conflicted and multi-faceted man. He's brave, fearless and a major pain; and I mean that as a compliment. He's so fearless he has loaded pistols on a wall in his home, but perhaps, everyone did that in the 1780's. We are getting to a stage on planet earth where we may need to go back to that plan.

This is a man who has been through a great deal in life. He has gone off to a war in the New Land and he has suffered badly. He now brandishes a scar from the physicality of the war. While he was gone he lost his father, his fortune and the woman he loved since his youth. Austen's Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley (Emma) were privileged people who never lost much, if they ever really lost anything. Mr. Poldark has lived a full life and loss is a mark on his being.

Poldark is one of the most fascinating characters in television. From the moment you see his red coat fall in the American woods, you sympathize with his struggle. He balances between the upper class and the working class better than any character on television in recent times. Like Dr. Zhivago before him, he proves you can genuinely love two people at the same time.

Late last spring I saw a couple of promo spots pushing the PBS series Poldark. Poldark is a BBC production (of course it is - Americans no longer are capable of crafting something with this elegance), but in the United States it is a presentation of Masterpiece Theatre. When it premiered I didn't bother to watch Poldark. Two weeks ago, I was watching something on PBS and Poldark started while I was chatting on the phone. I was able to follow the storyline while in conversation. When the conversation ended, I was hooked on a show I hadn't heard a single line of dialogue from. The storytelling was so perfectly tuned, one didn't need dialogue. It was like watching a silent film. The story lay before me. Poldark is so visually stunning it reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. The difference is Barry Lyndon was beyond boring.    

Poldark is a lush and bountiful production taking place during my favorite period of American history - the French-Indian War through the second term of Thomas Jefferson. The series opens in 1783 when the most powerful army in the world failed to defeat George Washington's seemingly non-threatening group of private citizens. Thank God Washington was victorious. We certainly wouldn't want to be bowing before a British monarch.   

Mr. Poldark is a well bred, educated, cultured and sophisticated man. He returns home after a three year absence and everyone back home that he ever loved is either dead or they think he's dead.  

The kicker here and always a good way to wrap a story is that the woman he loved is now getting hitched to another man and that other man happens to be his first cousin. How many times has this plot device been used, but we love it. It may not be original, but it works in the frame of a story.  
                                        Poldark and Elizabeth 

Ross Poldark also likes to help poor people and not in a phony way. We have lots of that today. People telling the world we must help the homeless, etc... and yet they personally do absolutely nothing to help anyone. Support a climate march, but then go and eat a steak. Getting back to Poldark. Poldark's compassion runs deep and true. This guy's for real. 

The production provides excellent technical achievements all the way around. The first season of eight episodes delivers gripping and compelling drama, but only when Ross Poldark is involved in a scene. Yes, the character of Ross Poldark is the reason to search and find this series.

In the end, I did near loathe the last two episodes; and what was that insensitive remark about "pray that the great love of my life isn't taken." Didn't he recently think someone else was the great love of his life? Admittedly, people who believe the brink of death will take a loved one act differently, but I was troubled by his insensitivity to Elizabeth. I'm getting way ahead of myself...

I am sounding contradictory, but Ross Poldark is a man of many contradictions. He is a character for the ages.        

Aidan Turner plays Ross Poldark. Hopefully, Turner stays close to his family and finds a good woman. Get married and start a family. Live a normal life and keep your residence on that side of the ocean. Don't move to the United States. You will become a superficial goof living in the near immovable traffic of Los Angeles or you will become a snarky elitist living in New York. I would hate to see this actor become a drunk, doper or promiscuous cad. I love Poldark so much, I am now willing to defend the man behind the character.      

Most people seemingly think Poldark is romantic. I've decided it isn't. I originally thought it was, but it isn't. The lack of his willingness to fight for the woman he loved since his youth shows I can't completely respect the character. Who cares if she's engaged to the wimpy cousin. They AIN'T married (well, not when he first arrives home). He falls for his kitchen maid a little too quickly which inevitably leaves little to root for. She keeps making mistake after mistake - even if her heart is in the right place much of the time. She's not interesting. Elizabeth, on the other hand is complex and intriguing. It is difficult to keep an audience interested in characters and story lines when the two leads end up with one another so early in a series. We need anticipation. We need something to root for. To hope for. To dream of.       

I may be one of the few women on the planet that prefers the character of Elizabeth (that's the woman he left behind). Ultimately, they are better suited for one another. We know Elizabeth eventually dies (I looked it up) and that will definitely end the suspense for me. I love the back and forth of feelings and without her he has no emotional attachment to go back to. 

Poldark was shot in Cornwall and if you have spent time in Great Britain it certainly ranks as one of the most beautiful areas in the entire nation. Stunning place draped with work horses, grassy hills, amazingly gorgeous sunrises and sunsets proving God is indeed the greatest of all painters.

Outside of Aidan Turner's spirited turn as Ross Poldark, acting kudos must go to Heida Reed as Elizabeth. She is outstanding in the role of the sophisticated and elegant woman Poldark admires and loves. Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (the kitchen maid turned Poldark wife) is excellent. She embodies the character with all the right touches. Kyle Soller as the wimpy cousin is darn good in his thankless role. The best performance in the series belongs to Jack Farthing as that evil George - nemesis to Ross. If Farthing plays his cards right, he will have a long and successful career.

Poldark and Demelza (the woman he ends up with for the balance of his days)

     Jane Asher and Paul McCartney-1960s look-a-likes 

Poldark does an excellent job of combining a period piece with some current "speak." Perhaps, a bit too much. For example: when the pretty prostitute asks Poldark if his wife is pretty (Demelza is the wife) he says "in a way" and then she nails him with, but do you love her and he says "we get on." One need not be an expert in late 18th century language to know Poldark wouldn't have said either of those things in the 1780's. 

Poldark is the ultimate black sheep, but he wants to restore his family's fortune. Most viewers can relate to the dedication to family, occasional financial burdens and love, so this story is timeless.

It may not be in the books, but Poldark needs to go to London. Bring him back to the former colonies. He needs a life outside of the small town. I'm using my imagination.   
If you haven't caught Poldark, look for it On Demand. It is definitely worth paying for. Superb television from our British brothers and sisters in television programming. I now have to wait until either late 2016 or early 2017 to see season two. By then, I will most likely not have the time or will have moved on, but I suspect Poldark will bring me back to my couch.

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2015   

1 comment:

Jane said...

I had to wait until I finished the entire first season of Poldark On Demand before reading this Flaming Nose piece, just in case there were any spoilers. It's a terrific period piece that isn't afraid to show how dirty and dangerous the 18th Century was. Teeth were terrible. Disease or starvation could carry off an entire village in the blink of an eye. But the lush scenery of the Cornish coast and the gorgeous actors make for delicious eye candy. Mr. Poldark is as attractive as described in this post. He reminds me a bit of Anson Mount who plays Cullen BoHannon in another recent period piece (Hell on Wheel).

I'm definitely smitten! When oh when is season 2 coming!!!