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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Poldark: The return of romance


Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) and Elizabeth (Heida Reed)
Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) and Elizabeth (Heida Reed)

Emily Hourican

The original Poldark, shown between 1975 and 1977 on BBC to enormous acclaim and affection, drew audiences of 15 million at a time and was the most talked-about series of the day, making stars and sex symbols of its lead actors.

A  tangled romantic drama set in late 18th-century Cornwall - originally starring  Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and a very young Trudie Styler - Poldark is based on the books by Winston Graham, ran to two series and was one of the most successful British adaptations ever, exported to the US, France, Spain (where it was huge) and beyond.

And now it's back. Well, a rebooted version is, this time with Irish actor Aidan Turner, who plays dwarf Kili in The Hobbit (and is dating Vikings actress Sarah Greene), as Ross Poldark, who returns from the American War of Independence to his native Cornwall, where he must try to re-establish the family tin mine, while controlling his passion for Elizabeth, played by Heida Reed (pictured above with Aidan Turner), his childhood sweetheart and the woman he expected to marry, now engaged to his unpleasant cousin Francis (played by Kyle Soller). He must also control his naturally rebellious nature, provoked into consciousness by his recent experiences of battle.

"How was the war, sir?" he is politely asked in the trailer.

"As any war," comes the grim reply. "A waste of good men."

Thus does Ross establish his more modern, humanitarian sensibilities, that are clearly going to put him at odds with the community of land and mine owners where he ostensibly belongs. In as much as the original Poldark was an unashamedly romantic drama - tumultuous passions set against the crashing waves and breath-taking cliffs of Cornwall, where horses gallop across windswept moors and unforgiving rain pours from stormy skies - there is a strong political subtext too as Ross champions the cause of the miserable tenants and mine workers. He does this because he is a Man Who Has Seen Things, and the horror of those things is etched on his mind as much as on his sensitive but determined face.

He left for America a carefree young man, heir to a comfortable fortune and way of life. He returns to find his parents dead, the land turned barren and the tenants in a neglected, impoverished state. As he turns away from Elizabeth, his attention is caught by an unusual servant girl, Demelza, originally played by Angharad Rees, now Eleanor Tomlinson, who he marries on the rebound, and really, Poldark is their story. Except that, in the proper tradition of sweeping historical tales, it is also the story of a community, a dynasty, a changing way of life, and the type of passion that can survive decades on a look, a brush of hands, a moment of intense, unfulfilled lust on a stormy moor.

This time around, Poldark has been adapted by Debbie Horsfield, who wrote the Bafta-winning Cutting It and The Riff Raff Element, and All The Small Things, and directed by Edward Bazalgette (The Guilty, with Tamsin Greig) and Will McGregor (Misfits). Actor Robin Ellis, who played Ross Poldark in the original, is back with a cameo as a local reverend, along with Jack Farthing as George Warleggan, Warren Clarke as Charles Poldark and Robert Daws as Dr Choake.

Undoubtedly nothing can match the intense appeal of the original, but this new version looks likely to continue the BBC's current run of dramatic form. As demonstrated by Wolf Hall and The Casual Vacancy, BBC drama is having a moment right now. Will they score a hat trick with Poldark?

Poldark starts on BBC1 on March 8th.

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