TV REVIEW: Poldark - Episode One


When anyone mentions Poldark in a room full of people, there's usually someone who starts waxing lyrical about the virtues of the original adaptation of Winston Graham's series of novels. It was a popular and enduring production, one which casts a long shadow over the arrival of a new Poldark for the 21st century. With the original's stellar reputation, it seems a few people had written off Debbie Horsfield's new take on Graham's material before it had even begun. Such attitudes seem somewhat premature as the first episode gets everything off to a solid, if not entirely captivating start.

Ross Poldark arrives back on our screens, now in the form of Assorted Buffery favourite and Being Human star Aidan Turner, newly returned from fighting a losing battle in the American War of Independence. Presumed dead by his family, Ross returns to find his father dead, his inheritance in tatters and his unofficial intended, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), now betrothed to his wet cousin Francis. It's not long after he arrives home that everyone is telling him to leave again, bar his loyal tenants on his father's estate. However, a chance encounter with saucy wench (there really is no other term for this kind of thing), Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), and an ensuing familial brawl suggests to Ross that there is more for him in Cornwall than everyone would have him believe.

As one would expect from a series set in Cornwall, everything looks stunning, from the landscapes everyone wistfully gazes across to the costumes worn by the cast. Cornwall had also been showcased beautifully in last year's BBC adaptation of Jamaica Inn, but there it had been used to its full Gothic potential as storms closed in and the sea roared dangerously. The landscape of Poldark feels much more opportunistic. Although much is made of the exhaustion of the mines on which the Poldark fortune is built and the barrenness of the land they own, the sun glints off the sea and the fields looks luscious. It fits nicely into Ross' renewed determination to make his inheritance a success, not to mention ensuring that the production looks absolutely beautiful.

Of course, the show would be nothing without its Ross Poldark and Turner cuts a fine figure at the heart of the adaptation. It would have been easy to make Ross nothing but brooding looks and masculine posturing, but Turner also adds a quiet, emotional undercurrent to the character that remains restrained but visible. He also fires off a one liner or two with ease, particularly at the expense of his catty near-mother-in-law, which undercuts the tortured longing looks enough to bring some levity to the proceedings.

As for the rest of the ensemble, the cast are suitably strong in their respective roles, though most act more as satellites for Ross' return at this stage, rather than characters in their own right. Phil Davies nearly steals the show as he wraps himself up in a Cornish burr and engages in a good old fashioned fight before the episode's end. Heida Reed simpers very prettily as Elizabeth, but that amount of trembling can't possibly sustain a full character arc. Here's hoping she gets a little more to do as the series develops. Another standout is Jack Farthing as the scheming George Warleggan, clashing his bought and paid for elegance with the rugged Poldarks wonderfully, carrying on the well-worn tradition of the nicely speaking baddie with aplomb.

Horsfield's adaptation skilfully combines exposition and context for the ongoing storyline, but it is here that it feels like there is a spark lacking. With the sheer amount that this first episode needed to set up, it ensures that the story feels more like a primer for eventual events rather than anything particularly significant in its own right. Tensions of all kinds are set up with thwarted romances, financial burdens and socal climbing familial disputes all getting a look in, but it feels like place-setting rather than any particular advancement. If that was the intention, then the series now has a solid foundation from which to spring, hopefully ensuring that it all gets a little more like the comical brawl to end this episode's proceedings than the many exposition-heavy scenes of familial struggle.

If you've been following the blog for a while now, you all know I'm a sucker for a period drama so I'm immensely looking forward to seeing how Poldark unfolds. With everything set up now as Ross retakes his position in the county, it looks like it might be duelling pistols at dawn in next week's instalment. How exciting!

- Becky

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