Does Poldark rape Elizabeth after all? BBC sparks outrage over controversial scene
Published 23/10/2016 | 18:12
WHEN Poldark fans heard that a violent rape had been toned down for the BBC’s TV adaptation of the novels there were accusations the programme makers were pandering to 21st century sensibilities.
(Those who don't want to know what might be about to take place in the next episode should look away now.)
But it appears the scene in question, involving Ross Poldark and his former love Elizabeth, may in fact be as disturbing as originally depicted in Winston Graham’s fourth Poldark book Warleggan.
Earlier this year Aidan Turner, who plays Poldark, said of the scene: “It seems consensual. He goes to talk, [not] to commit a crime.”
Heida Reed, the 28-year-old Icelandic actress who plays Elizabeth, even said she fought to have the scene changed to remove the suggestion of a sexual assault and so the audience would retain its sympathy for Poldark as a romantic hero.
She said: “Actually, [the scene] did change, as we had conversations. It was a collaborative decision. Initially, it was a bit more intense, but we felt it wasn’t right.”
But TV insiders have suggested that the encounter depicted is far from being consensual and may be indeed far closer to the brutal reality of life in 18th Century Cornwall envisaged in Graham’s 1953 work.
Prominent anti-rape campaigner Julie Bindel said there was no doubt in her mind that the scene depicted a rape. Ms Bindel, who has served as a Home Office expert, said: "We are seeing rape. It’s wholly irresponsible."
And leading criminal barrister Matthew Scott said: "It is rape. If I saw that in evidence on CCTV from a hotel room I would convict him."
In the scene from the second series, being broadcast on Sunday evening, Poldark confronts Elizabeth in the middle of the night after hearing she is to marry George Warleggan.
It is understood that during the episode Poldark kicks open Elizabeth’s door and refuses to leave despite her repeated pleading for him to do so. "‘Please leave now, Ross. I am my own mistress and I will not be instructed," she tells him.
Inflamed by her stance, Poldark grabs her face while he kisses her. She struggles to push him away.
Poldark then glances towards the bed and she says: "You will not dare." He replies: "I would Elizabeth. I would and so will you."
One insider has suggested that Elizabeth appears to give no clear consent to sex during the scene. If true the act can only be interpreted in modern terminology as amounting to sexual assault.
That is itself likely to provoke further controversy following transmission, this time over the portrayal of sexual violence in a popular peak time family drama.
A spokesman for the BBC programme told MailOnline that the scene did not show a rape. "These are two people who have been so crazily in love with each other, then they thought they had lost each other, then they thought they had found each other but actually they had lost each other still.
"They have to come to terms with being next-door neighbours but still wanting each other. It’s for viewers to make up their own minds."
But novelist Joanna Trollope says the corporation was trying to "have their moral cake and eat it".
She said: "It looks as if the producers of Poldark were so desperate to protect Aidan Turner’s heart-throb status, that they overlooked how repellently Ross Poldark behaves in this episode. And it is rape."
In the book, the scene has Elizabeth telling Ross: "Stop! Stop, I tell you", but then adds that "he took no further notice. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed."
Karen Thrussell, the programme’s producer, said the the TV version had the approval of Winston Graham’s son, Andrew.
Ms Thrussell said: "We’ve always been aware that the scene in question has been called controversial and that the controversy is all the more acute when an isolated instance is taken out of context. During the script process this was one of several scenes we discussed with Andrew Graham," she said.
Poldark has won a legion of fans for its story of a veteran of the American revolutionary wars attempting to restore his own fortunes by reopening one of the family's derelict tin mines, set against the romantically windswept landscape of the Cornish coast.
Aidan Turner’s portrayal of Poldark has made him a pin-up in homes and offices around the country, a status which may now be undermined, should the accounts of his latest behaviour towards Elizabeth prove accurate.