Adapting “WARLEGGAN”

 

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ADAPTING “WARLEGGAN”

Do many fans of the current adaptation of Winston Graham’s “POLDARK” saga have an unnatural hatred of the character known as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan?  Or do they merely dislike her?  Did this “dislike” lead producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC to sanction a major change in the relationship between Elizabeth and the saga’s protagonist, Ross Poldark during the series’ Season Two?  A change that I personally found disturbing?  Or was it something else?

Last summer, I encountered rumors that “POLDARK” producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC had decided to make a major change to the series’s adaptation of the 1953 novel, “Warleggan” – a change that eventually reflected in Episode Eight (Episode Seven in the U.S.) of the series’ second season.  Horsfield and the BBC decided to deliberately change the nature of an encounter between Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark in an effort to preserve Ross’ “heroic” image.  Nearly a month after learning this decision, I learned that both leading man Aidan Turner and co-star Heida Reed (who portrays Elizabeth Poldark) had met with Horsfield.  Turner claimed, along with Horsfield and Graham’s son, Andrew Graham that the May 9, 1793 encounter between Ross and Elizabeth had been consensual sex and not rape, when the protagonist appeared at his cousin-in-law’s home (the Trenwith estate) to convince her not to marry his on-going nemesis, banker George Warleggan. Judging from what I had read in the novel, I find this opinion hard to accept:

‘I can’t help this either.’ He kissed her. She turned her face away but could not get it far enough round to avoid him.

 When he lifted his head, her eyes were lit with anger. He’d never seen her like it before, and he found pleasure in it.

 ‘This is – contemptible! I shouldn’t have believed it of you! To force yourself … To insult me when – when I have no one …

 ‘I don’t like this marriage to George, Elizabeth. I don’t like it! I should be glad of your assurance that you’ll not go through with it.’

 ‘I’d be surprised if you believed me if I gave it you! You called me a liar! Well, at least I do not go back on my promises! I love George to distraction and shall marry him next week-‘

 He caught her again, and this time began to kiss her with intense passion to which anger had given an extra relish, before anger was lost. Her hair began to fall in plaited tangles. She got her hand up to his mouth, but he brushed it away. Then she smacked his face, so he pinioned her arm …

 She suddenly found herself for a brief second nearly free. ‘You treat me -like a slut-‘

 ‘It’s time you were so treated-‘

 ‘Let me go, Ross! You’re hateful — horrible! If George –‘

 ‘Shall you marry him?’

 ‘Don’t! I’ll scream! Oh, God, Ross … Please .. .’

 ‘Whatever you say, I don’t think I can believe you now. Isn’t that so?’

 ‘Tomorrow-‘

 ‘There’s no tomorrow,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t come. Life is an illusion. Didn’t you know? Let us make the most of the shadows.’

‘Ross, you can’t intend … Stop! Stop, I tell you.’

 But he took no further notice of the words she spoke. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed.

This is how Graham had ended both the chapter and the scene . . . with Ross forcing Elizabeth on her bed … against her will.  It did not end with any hint that they were about to embark upon consensual sex.

Many fans of the series, especially young female fans had reacted with joy over the news.  What they had failed to realize was that in making this change, Horsfield threatened to undermine the lesson of Ross and Elizabeth’s story arc and what it really meant.  Winston Graham – a male writer – had the balls to show that even the “heroic” Ross Poldark was capable of a monstrous act. He had the courage to reveal that Ross was not some romance novel hero, but a complex and ambiguous man, capable of not only decent acts, but monstrous ones as well.  Like any other human being on the face of this Earth.  More importantly, his assault of Elizabeth revealed the consequences that rape victims tend to pay in a patriarchal society – past or present – in the novels that followed.  It seemed Debbie Horsfield and the BBC were only willing to portray Ross as an adulterer.  Is it possible they believed it would be easier for viewers to accept Ross simply as an adulterer, instead of an adulterer/rapist?  Some individuals, including Turner, claimed that Ross was incapable of rape.  Bullshit! Although a fictional character, Ross Poldark is also a human being.  And humans are basically capable of anything.  Hell, Agatha Christie had the good sense to realize this.  Why is it that so many other humans are incapable of doing the same?

The moment I had learned that she had decided to turn Ross’ rape into an act of consensual sex between him and Elizabeth, I suspected that fans would end up slut shaming the latter.  I suspected that even though many fans would be “disappointed” in Ross, they would eventually forgive him.  However, I also suspected that these same fans would end up branding Elizabeth as a whore until the end of this series.  It is soooo typical of this sexist society.  The woman is always to blame.  Even in the eyes of other women.

So, what actually happened between Ross and Elizabeth in the BBC’s recent adaptation of “Warleggan”?  In Episode 8 (Episode 7 in the U.S.), Ross returned home to Nampara, his personal estate, and discovered a letter from Elizabeth in which she announced her engagement to George Warleggan.  Despite his wife Demelza’s protests, Ross decided to go to Trenwith and try to convince or perhaps coerce Elizabeth into breaking the engagement.  He showed up at Trenwith, barged into both the house and Elizabeth’s bedroom.  An argument commenced between the two in which Ross tried to shame Elizabeth into breaking the engagement.  She refused to comply, making it clear that her actions stemmed from saving her immediate family at Trenwith from further financial problems and ensuring her son (and Ross’ cousin) Geoffrey Charles’ future.

And … what happened next?  Ross began to force himself upon Elizabeth.  She tried to put up a fight, while insisting that he leave.  He eventually forced her on the bed.  And just as he was about to rape her, Elizabeth capitulated at the last minute. This last moment of consent was Horsfield and the BBC’s way of stating that the entire scene between Ross and Elizabeth was basically consensual sex.  Can you believe it?  Considering the manner in which Elizabeth tried and failed to fight off Ross before she “consented”, the entire scene might as well have been rape. After all, Elizabeth fought Ross until he had her pinned on the bed. If she had not “consented”, chances are he would have raped her anyway. Worse, the culmination of the entire scene projected the negative image of the “rape fantasy”.  I am sure that many of you know what I mean.  When a woman or a man says “no”, he or she really means “yes”.

You may be wondering why I would include a potential male victim in this scenario.  Simple … many people harbor the illusion that men do not mind being the victim of a woman’s rape.  Also, I saw this same scenario play out in the “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Six episode called (6.11) “Gone”.  In this episode, the series’ protagonist had been rendered invisible by some ray gun invented by a trio of geeky scientists.  Using her invisibility to indulge in her own desires, Buffy decided to pay a call to chipped vampire Spike (with whom she had begun an affair) at his crypt.  She barged into the latter, shoved a frightened Spike against the wall and started to rip off his clothes.  He consented to sex at the last minute when an uncontrolled giggle revealed Buffy’s identity.  What made this scene rather sickening to watch was that it was written as a comedic moment.  I have the oddest feeling that producer Debbie Horsfield may have seen this particular episode and decided to write her own version of the situation in order to spare Ross Poldark from being labeled a rapist.

Someone had pointed out that the 1975 adaptation produced by Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn had adapted this sequence with more honesty.  After a recent viewing of this series, I am afraid that I cannot agree.  What happened?  Well … one scene featured a conversation between Elizabeth and her sister-in-law, Verity Poldark Blamey, in which she made it clear that her reason for marrying George Warleggan was for money and more social clout.  To make matters worse, the scene had Verity instructing Elizabeth to explain to Ross that the latter was considering the family’s salvation from a future filled with poverty and Geoffrey Charles’ future. But Elizabeth made it clear – in a rather bitchy and unsympathetic manner conveyed by actress Jill Townsend – that her reasons for George was all about a new life for her – with a wealthy husband.  And she set out to include this in her letter to Ross.  Even worse, the screenwriter had drastically changed Elizabeth’s personality once the series had commenced upon adapting “Warleggan” in Episode Thirteen.  She suddenly began behaving as “The Bitch of the Century”.

When Ross had finally confronted her in Episode Fifteen, Elizabeth still insisted that a marriage to George was a way for her to have a new life.  What I found distasteful about the whole thing is that this was NOT Elizabeth’s true reason for marrying George Warleggan in the 1953 novel.  She truly made the decision to marry George in order to spare her family – especially Geoffrey Charles – a long future trapped in poverty, as was conveyed in the 2016 series.  But I ended up acquiring the ugly feeling that Barry, Coburn and screenwriter Jack Russell had decided to change Elizabeth’s reason for marrying George in order to justify Ross’ rape of her.

And yes … Ross did rape Elizabeth in the 1975 series.  Unlike the 2016 version, there was no last minute consent on Elizabeth’s part.  But I found the entire scene rather rushed. Once Ross and Elizabeth barely had time to discuss or argue over the matter, the former quickly tackled the latter to the bed and began to rape her, as the scene faded to black.  However, both versions set out to regain Ross’ reputation with the viewers by the end of their respective adaptations of “Warleggan”.  How did they achieve this?  Screenwriter Jack Russell included a scene in the last episode of the 1975 series in which George Warleggan had enclosed the Trenwith land from the tenants, forcing them to transform from small peasant proprietors and serfs into agricultural wage-laborers. This action led to a riot in which the former tenant farmers stormed the Trenwith manor house and burn it to the ground. During the riot, Ross and Demelza arrived to save the recently married Elizabeth and George from mob violence. This also gave the series’ producers and Russell to have Elizabeth ask Ross why he had decided to save George from the mob.  What the hell?  The enclosures happened in the novel.  But not the riot. What was the purpose of this?  To give Ross an opportunity to give Elizabeth a “you are beneath me” glare?

Debbie Horsfield decided to resort to a similar scenario in the 2016 version.  However, before she could subject television audiences to this idiocy, she included a scene in which an angry Demelza Poldark got a chance to slut shame Elizabeth during an encounter between the pair on a deserted road.  This scene, by the way, never happened in the novel. And quite frankly, I never understood Horsfield’s purpose by including this scene.  What did she expect from the audience?  Viewers pumping their fists in the air while crying, “Demelza, you go girl?”  Perhaps there were fans that actually did this or something similar. I did not.  In fact, I merely shook my head in disbelief. Pardon me, but I found it difficult to cheer on Demelza’s behalf, when I just recently watched her husband force himself on Elizabeth.  Unlike the 1975 version, the Trenwith riot sequence did not end with the house burned to the ground.  Instead, it ended with Nampara servant Jud Paynter, whipping up a mob to march on Trenwith and Ross preventing Demelza (who had gone to Trenwith to warn Elizabeth and George about the impending riot) from being shot by one of the rioters. The scene even included Ross riding through the crowd on a horse and sweeping Demelza up onto the saddle.  It seemed like a scene straight from a Harlequin Romance novel.  And I had to struggle to force down the bile that threatened to rise up my throat.

From the moment Elizabeth Poldark had decided to inform Ross of her upcoming marriage to George Warleggan to the latter’s confrontation with Ross over the Trenwith enclosures, the adaptations of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel for both the 1975 and 2016 series … well, for me they have been major disappointments.  Were producers Morris Barry, Anthony Coburn and Debbie Horsfield unwilling to allow television audiences to face Ross’ violent act against his soon-to-be former cousin-in-law?  Was that why all three had insisted upon changing the circumstances that surrounded Ross and Elizabeth’s encounter on that May 1793 night? Or were they pressured by the BBC to make these changes, who may have feared that television audiences could not openly face or accept Ross as a rapist?  Or perhaps the three producers, along with the BBC, knew that many viewers could accept Ross as an adulterer, but not as a rapist?  Who knows?  I know one thing.  I hope and pray that one day, some television producer would be able to adapt “Warleggan” without resorting to excessive changes.

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“FLASHFORWARD: A Potential Nipped in the Bud”

“FLASHFORWARD: A POTENTIAL NIPPED IN THE BUD”

Ever since ABC cancelled its 2009 science-fiction drama called “FLASHFORWARD” after one season, many television critics and fans have expressed the belief that the series failed to garner enough viewers due to its less than stellar writing. But there were a good number of viewers who believed that the network should have given the series a chance to grow over the years. I happen to be one of those who agree with the latter.

Based upon the 1999 novel written by Robert J. Sawyer, “FLASHFORWARD” revolved around the lives of several people after a mysterious event caused nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for two minutes and seventeen seconds on October 6, 2009. During this “blackout” people saw what appeared to be visions of their lives on April 29, 2010 – a global “flashforward”. Created by Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer, the series starred Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Courtney B. Vance, Christine Woods, Jack Davenport, Sonia Walger and Dominic Monaghan.

When the series first aired in late September 2009, it became an immediate ratings hit and stayed that way during its first ten (10) episodes. Then ABC made the decision to put the series on hiatus for three-and-a-half months. Why? I have no idea. But after the series resumed its run in mid-March 2010, its ratings tanked. In fact, the ratings remained low until it was finally cancelled by ABC some two-and-a-half months later. Does this story sound familiar? Why, yes it does. The very same fate nearly befell the CBS science-fiction/post-apocalypse series, ”JERICHO”. Thanks to a campaign by fans to save the series, “JERICHO” was given a second season – which amounted to seven episodes that aired in a new time slot. Namely Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. And yes . . . CBS finally got rid of it after those seven episodes aired. No amount of fan campaign could convince ABC to give “FLASHFORWARD” a second chance. But there are a good number of fans who are angry at how the network handled the series.

Yet, those critics and fans who did not criticize ABC’s handling of the series have claimed that“FLASHFORWARD” was a failure that was destined for cancellation. Many of these critics and viewers claimed that the series failed to live up to the same quality as another ABC series, namely the pop culture 2004-2010 hit, “LOST”. Personally, I have a problem with this assessment. One, “FLASHFORWARD” was only able to finish one season. Its story had barely began before it was cancelled. This expectation for a series to be perfect right off the bat struck me as ridiculous. Now, I realize that both “LOST” and the NBC series,“HEROES”, managed to immediately dazzle U.S. viewers and critics with highly regarded series premieres and well written first seasons. But a closer look would reveal that after their remarkable first seasons, the storytelling qualities of both shows ended up declining following their first seasons. The problem I had with both “LOST” and “HEROES” was that they tried to maintain the momentum of their dazzling debuts . . . and failed. Mind you, “LOST” managed to occasionally deliver some exceptional episodes and story arcs over its remaining five seasons. But it was never able to deliver a consistently top-notched season after its first one. As for “HEROES”, it simply went down the drain following its first season. How it managed to stay on the air for another three seasons is still a mystery to me.

Ever since the dazzling debuts of “LOST” and “HEROES”; television network executives have expected and demanded that other multi-seasonal series with a science-fiction/fantasy background repeat their initial success. I believe that this was a mistake. Some of the best science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen have started out with a less than dazzling or even mediocre season debut. Good examples of this are“BABYLON 5”, “JERICHO” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. Both “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” were given chances to fulfill their potential. By the middle of its first season, “JERICHO”had started to develop into a well-written series. But after a long, mid-season hiatus and an addition seven(?)episodes, CBS permanently pulled its plug . . . aborting its chances of fulfilling any further potential.

As I had stated earlier, “FLASH FORWARD” also started its season with a less than dazzling debut. I might as well be frank. It was not perfect. But I do believe that it had great potential to grow into a well written saga. If the series had aired in the previous decade, I suspect that might have been given the chance to develop into something remarkable. It certainly had potential. But, we are stuck in the “LOST” era of television broadcasting. Today’s television network executives do not seem to have the patience or willingness to give a series a chance to grow. They want and demand instant success. And unless they are willing to change theirmodis operandi, future science-fiction/fantasy television series with levels of qualities similar to “BABYLON 5”and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” threaten to become a thing of the past, never to be shown on television again. I certainly did not see that level of developing quality writing in shows like “LOST” or “HEROES”, despite their longevity on the air.

“Charles Gunn and His Role in Angel Investigations”

 

CHARLES GUNN AND HIS ROLE IN ANGEL INVESTIGATIONS

There is something about one of the episodes of “ANGEL” that has always bothered me. My unease centered around an incident between two of the series’ major characters that occurred in the early Season 3 episode, (3.03) “That Old Gang of Mine”. But to understand the nature of my unease, one has to return to two episodes from Season 2 – (2.10) “Reunion” and (2.12) “Blood Money”.

As many fans of ”ANGEL” are aware, Angel had decided to fire his three companions – Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndham-Price and Charles Gunn – as a despondent reaction over his failure to save a human Darla from the manipulations of Wolfram and Hart and the vampire he had sired, Drusilla; in the episode ”Reunion”. Although upset over Angel’s actions, Cordelia, Wesley and Charles had decided to revive Angel Investigations in the episode, ”Blood Money”:

Gunn takes the card and looks at it.
Gunn: “That’s a Angel? Looks like a – a lobster with a – growth or… We’ll make our own logo.”
Wesley: “Yes. Something sleek, but edgy.”
Gunn: “Something that says: you need help, we’re there.”
Wesley: “Exactly. Danger is our business. (Cordy put a hand to her forehead and begins to stagger) We’ll catch you when you fall.”

While celebrating the successful conclusion of a case that involved a demon, the trio had a discussion on their agency’s new name:

Gunn: “Our new agency.”
Wesley: “Wyndham-Price Agency.”
Cordy and Gunn: “The what?”
Wesley: “You don’t like it? – It’s classy.”
Cordy: “It’s stuffy. – The Chase Agency! *That* has the right ring.”
Wesley: “Why?”
Cordy: “Because it’s my name.”
Gunn: “Uh, Wes, Ms. Chase, alright, there is only one player here with a name that strikes dread in the demon heart.”
Points at himself.
Cordy: “Gunn?”
Gunn: “Uh-huh.”

Mind you, the above conversation that took place was nothing more than a spot of fun for the trio. They eventually decided to maintain the agency’s former name – Angel Investigations.

Now, according to many fans of the series, Cordy, Charles and Wesley had all decided that despite being equal partners in the updated version of the firm, Wesley would act as case leader. In other words, due to his past as a Watcher and extensive knowledge of the supernatural world, he would lead the other two when they were actually on a case. This did not make Wesley head of the firm altogether or the official boss of Angel Investigations. He would simply act as leader during a case. But after an early episode in the following season, a good number of people – including Joss Whedon and Tim Minear – had forgotten.

Then came the early Season Three episode, ”That Old Gang of Mine”. In this particular episode, Charles discovers his former comrades are murdering harmless demons for fun. When he tries to convince them to stop, he learns that – due to his association with Angel – he has lost their trust. One of his former associates gives Charles the opportunity to win their trust by killing Angel, who is unable to defend himself due to a spell. Near the end of the episode, Wesley had threatened to fire Charles if the latter ever goes against Angel Investigations again.

Here is the rub. Why in the hell would Wesley threaten to fire Charles? HE HAD NO RIGHT TO DO THIS. Charles was no longer an employee of Angel Investigations. He was one of three partners. I realize that he and Cordelia had voted to allow Wesley act as leader in their cases. But this gave Wesley NO RIGHT to treat Charles as an employee, instead of a partner. He should have told Charles that he and Cordelia would break their partnership with Charles if the latter ever pulled again what he did in “That Gang of Mine”. Instead, Wesley treated Charles like a minion. Even worse, no one has protested against Wesley’s behavior this to this day:

Gunn: “Don’t guess Rondell and his crew are gonna be crossing Venice boulevard again any time soon.”
Wesley: “It’s never easy – the pull of divided loyalties. – Whatever choice we do end up making we feel as though we’ve betrayed someone.”
Gunn: “Yeah.”
Wesley: “If you ever withhold information or attempt to subvert me again, I will fire you. – I can’t have any one member of the team compromising the safety of the group, no matter who it is. If you do it again you will be dismissed, bag and baggage, out of a job onto the streets.”

Just reading the above passage pisses me off. Did Wesley actually believe he had a right to treat Charles like an employee? Like some damn minion? Tim Minear – who wrote the transcript – and Joss Whedon obviously allowed Charles to accept the threat as genuine. And I do not understand this. What in the hell were they thinking? Both seemed to have forgotten that Angel Investigation 2.0 had been co-founded by Charles, Wesley and Cordelia. Because of this, Wesley had no right to treat Charles like some employee, instead of a colleague and co-owner of the agency. But since Minear and Whedon seemed to be stuck in their vision of Charles as some muscle-bound employee, they made a major blooper in regard to Charles’ character. And worst of all, the majority of the Jossverse fans see nothing wrong in Wesley’s treatment of Charles or the idea that the Englishman was the African-American’s employer and not fellow colleague.

I am sick to my stomach.