After last week's dramatic and family-based episode, the second instalment of Poldark finds Ross settling down to his role as both land and potential mine owner. The Warleggans have struck again, refusing to extend credit on one of the local mines, leading Ross' friends to lose their livelihoods and the mine owner to commit suicide. Ross decides to re-open the Wheal Leisure mine and begins to gather investors to his cause, including cousin Francis, hoping to rejuvenate the dying industry of his home. Meanwhile, Demelza is at the mercy of Jud and Prudy who keep attempting to convince her that she doesn't belong in the Poldark home and taking advantage of the new kitchenmaid. Verity's decision to attend the Assembly Ball proves to have massive repercussions for the family Poldark as gauntlets are thrown and shots are fired. Well, it is the eighteenth century. They had to find some way of entertaining themselves.
It's a bit of an uneven affair this week as the opening few scenes are laboured with the same problem that weighed the first episode down. There's still a little too much exposition going on in order to cement the current economic status of the mining industry in Poldark's Cornwall. Whilst the opening suicide provided a short, sharp shock to the system that hinted at the depth of the Warleggans' greed, it isn't until later in the episode that any of it begins to pay off. In fact, the later intertwining scenes of Ross meeting with his investors and George attempting to manipulate Francis does far more to establish these tensions than anything that had been seen previously. It's cut beautifully, written well and shot in such a manner that the closer the audience gets to the respective conversations, the more they feel the weight of these decisions.
The entire episode revolves around the ideas of decisions, choice and liberty and it's the ball at the heart of the story that gives rise to many of these themes. Any reader of eighteenth or nineteenth century based literature knows that you can't beat a good ball for getting the story going. Anna Karenina dances with Vronsky and sets tongues wagging, Madame Bovary does something very similar as does Irene Forsyte. Basically, if you're a woman even thinking about being a bit wayward, a ballroom is the place to do it. It also functions as a meat market for those women out to get a husband. For young, pretty things like Ruth Teague, practically throwing herself at Ross, it's a chance to avoid the fate of someone like Verity who, at 25, is already considered past it.
Poor Verity. Offered a chance to escape the dreariness of a life serving her family and being treated little better than a servant, it's not surprising she falls for the dashing Captain. She is by far the most sympathetic character in the series so far and one who stands as a stark reminder of the restrictions placed upon women by the ideas around freedom and choice. The relentless pursuit of Ross by Ruth Teague and her innuendo-spouting mother provides the levity before it all goes a bit mad. The climactic duel isn't even fought over her, but because Francis felt slightly put out by the unsurprising fact that a navy captain could punch harder than him. Now, Verity is once more left stranded with her family as honour dictates it's probably not a good idea to elope with the man who shot your brother. Francis really is a turnip.
I also have to single out the performance of Eleanor Tomlinson this week as Demelza is fast turning into the one character who I have to watch whenever she's on screen. Tomlinson does well with the dramatic and emotional stuff attached to the role, particularly in the final, touching scene where she declares her home to be in the Poldark household, but it's her physical performance that is astonishing. Her awkward, loping walk contrasts perfectly to the elegant, refined gliding of Elizabeth or Ruth Teague, conveying their differences beyond their respective dialogue. Her uncomfortable attempt at a proper curtsey provides one of the sweeter moments of the episode and the subtle changes to her posture and walk once she's wearing a proper corset and dress maybe barely noticeable, but enough to show that Demelza is moving up in the world.
Despite its unevenness, there is something compelling about Poldark. The balance between comedy and tragedy is neatly struck and now that the stage appears to be set, it will hopefully enable the rest of the show to even itself out. And look, I got through the whole review without mentioning that swimming scene. Go me.
Read Becky's review of Poldark's first episode here.
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