“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES NINE TO TWELVE
It has been a while since I had last viewed “POLDARK”, the BBC’s 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series about the post-war life of a British Army officer American Revolutionary War veteran named Ross Poldark. Real life and several movies releases distracted my attention from the series. Eventually, I found the time to watch Series One’s adaptation of Graham’s 1950 novel, “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”.
Episode Eight had ended on a grim note. Ross’ new smelting company ended in failure after his cousin Francis Poldark revealed the shareholders’ names to the former’s rival, George Warleggan. Ross now finds himself in financial straights. Francis was stricken with Putrid’s Throat and Ross’ wife, Demelza Carne Poldark, helped Francis’ wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, nurse the stricken man back to health. Unfortunately, both Demelza and young daughter Julia were stricken with the same illness. Demelza recovered. Julia did not. Following Julia’s death, one of the Warleggans’ ships were wrecked off the coast of Poldark land. Despite Ross’ efforts to conduct a rescue of the survivors (in this version, at least), many of the locals salvaged the goods from the ship and caused a riot on the ship. The episode ended with Ross being arrested for instigating the riot.
Episode Nine began with Ross’ return to his estate, Nampara, after spending a short period in jail. While he prepares to find a barrister (attorney) to represent him in court, Demelza tries to recruit help from the local gentry to have the charges dropped against Ross or ensure a not guilty verdict. Much against Ross’ wishes, who stubbornly wants to guarantee his freedom on his own. Ross’ friend, Dr. Dwight Enrys, meets the spoiled heiress Caroline Peneven, when she mistakes him for a veterinarian for her pug. Francis, who continues to feels guilty over his betrayal of the Carnmore Copper Company, sinks to a new low before sets out to make amends with Ross. And George and Nicholas Warleggan, who had arranged Ross’ arrest in the first place, tries to guarantee a guilty verdict for Ross by bribing the latter’s former servant, Jud Paynter, to testify against him.
Following the trial in which Ross is exonerated, the Poldarks at both Nampara and Trenwith are forced to deal with their low financial straits. Ross and Francis reconcile and make plans to re-open Wheal Grace and dig for copper. To finance re-opening the mine, Ross allows local smugglers led by a man named Mr. Trencom to use the cove on Nampara land for a smuggling operation. Demelza is against the idea, but Ross refuses to listen to her. Meanwhile, Demelza discovers that she is pregnant with their second child. Due to their financial straits and the trauma of baby Julia’s death, she fears that Ross will be unhappy by the news of her pregnancy. Demelza also resorts to solo fishing trips behind her husband’s back to provide food for Nampara’s inhabitants, while Ross’ finances suffer. In fact, Episode Twelve ends with a very pregnant Demelza struggling to row back to the shore, while she goes into labor.
What can I say about the 1975 adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”? I have mixed feelings about it. Perhaps my feelings for this adaptation is due to the source material. “Jeremy Poldark” is probably the shortest novel in Graham’s twelve-book series. A novel’s lenghth should not determine one’s opinion of it. But if I must be brutally honest, I do not have a high regard for “Jeremy Poldark”. It seemed more like a filler episode of a television series with a long-term narrative structure. The most interesting aspects of the novel were the emotional estrangement between Ross and Demelza, following their daughter’s death and his deal with smugglers; Francis’ attempt to reconcile with Ross; and of course, Ross’ trial for the riot that had occurred near the end of “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”.
Episode Nine mainly focused on Ross’ preparations for the trial, Demelza’s attempts to seek help for him, and the Warleggans’ preparations to ensure that Ross will be convicted. That included recruiting Jud Paynter to testify against Ross. It was a pretty interesting episode. Somewhat. I thought the episode featured a colorful quality once the setting shifted to Bodmin for both the trial and upcoming local elections. It also featured a colorful assembly ball where Demelza, wearing the same gown she had worn at the Warleggans’ ball in Episode Six, tries to recruit support and help for Ross. The episode ended with a cliffhanger, as Francis Poldark, who was also at the ball and in Bodmin to support Ross, contemplates committing suicide with a pistol in his hand.
Episode Eleven mainly focused on Ross and Demelza’s separate efforts to maintain their survival and rejuvenate their fortunes. And for the first time, the series delved into the strains that their their problems and Julia’s death had placed upon their marriage. For Ross and Demelza, the honeymoon is finally over and I could not be any more happier. There is nothing that will bore me quicker than an idealized romance. Finally, the saga settles down to forcing the couple to work at making their marriage work. And I have to give credit to both Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees for their skillful portrayal of Ross and Demelza’s struggles to make their marriage work. This was especially apparent in one scene that featured a quarrel between the couple following a supper party they had attended at Trenwith. Sometime during the evening, Ross and his former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, had the opportunity for a private conversation that ended with Ross complimenting her appearance. Unfortunately, Demelza appeared and was able to overhear his compliment. Which would explained the Ross and Demelza’s quarrel.
Ever since the current adaptation of “POLDARK” had first aired, I have encountered complaints about how actor Kyle Soller had portrayed Francis Poldark as an ill-tempered loser during the show’s first season. To be honest, Clive Francis had did the same in the 1975 adaptations of “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” and “Demelza”. I noticed that once Francis had put his friendship with the manipulative George Warleggan behind him and reconciled with Ross, he finally became that wry and witty man that so many had commented about. And the actor gave a very charming and subtle performance.
I also enjoyed the portrayal of the burgeoning romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen, thanks to Richard Morant and Judy Geeson’s sparkling performances. The beginning of their relationship reminded me of the numerous Hollywood comedies between the late 1950s and mid 1960s. This was especially highlighted by Caroline’s mistaken assumption that Dwight was more of a veterinarian and the latter’s subtle contempt toward her privileged behavior. In a way, I find their relationship a bit more realistic than the one between Ross and Demelza. Dwight and Caroline’s relationship strike me as good example of how class differences can effect a potential romance between two people of such disparate backgrounds.
But the one episode that I truly enjoyed was Episode Ten. It featured the assizes in Bodmin and especially Ross’ trial. If I must be brutally honest, Episode Ten did not feature one of Robin Ellis’ best performances as Ross Poldark. He spent most of the episode looking rather stoic and occasionally, disapproving. It seemed as if the world of 18th century Cornwall had merely revolved around him. And a colorful world it turned out to be. The excitement actually began in the second half of Episode Nine, which featured the local elections, a local ball and the preparations for Ross’ trial. But it was the assizes itself, which included Ross’ trial that made Episode Ten fascinated for me. Not only did it feature Ross’ trial, filled with attempts by the corrupt prosecutor to circumvent the law; but also another in which a woman was convicted for a minor crime and punished with a public whipping.
At least three performances made Episode Ten very interesting. One of those performances came from Paul Curran, who portrayed Ross’ former servant (at the time), Jud Paynter. Curran’s Jud spent most of the episode getting drunk in order to shore up his courage to testify against Ross. It almost seemed as if Curran had to sustain the image of a drunken Jud throughout the entire episode. He also had to constantly irritate George Warleggan, portrayed by Ralph Bates. And the latter is the second performance that really caught my interest. I really enjoyed Bates in this episode. His George Warleggan was a man irritated not only by Jud’s drunkeness, but also by the tight-fisted Nicholas Warleggan. Bates did an excellent job in basically portraying a straight man to a pair of comic performances. That second comic performance belonged to Nicholas Selby, who gave a rather subtle, yet funny performance as the venal, yet penny-pinching Nicholas. Poor George. His father is vindictive enough to demand that Ross suffers for the looting of his shipwrecked ship, but cheap enough to demand that George pay a small amount to arrange for Ross’ conviction. Talk about a man between a rock and a hard place.
Despite these narrative and character virtues, I still remained somewhat unimpressed by Episodes Nine to Twelve. I was not impressed by how screenwriters Peter Draper and Paul Wheeler, along with director Kenneth Ives; structured the narrative for these episodes. One, their use of cliffhangers seemed a bit off kilter to me. In two episodes – Episodes Nine and Ten – the screenwriters and the director used cliffhangers to tell the audience what happened and not show. Episode Nine ended with a despondent Francis Poldark pressing a pistol to his head, as he prepared to commit suicide. Yet, there was no gunshot or anything to hint what happened. Audiences did not learn that the suicide attempt had failed due to the pistol’s misfire in a conversation between Francis and Dwight Enys. I found this handling of Francis’ suicide attempt extremely annoying. Apparently, it was easier for Draper and Ives to tell the audience what happened via Francis’ revelation than show it.
As for Episode Ten, it ended with the judge about to announce the verdict at the end of Ross’ trial. But audiences did not learn about the verdict, until George Warleggan had informed his father . . . at the beginning of Episode Eleven. It seemed ridiculously unnecessary to end Episode Ten in this manner. Worse, it was another example of the writer and director telling what happened, instead of showing. Speaking of “episodic interruptus”, Episode Twelve, which is the last one that served as an adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”, ended with a pregnant Demelza rowing back to shore as she goes into labor. One, this is not how the novel ended. It ended with a conciliation between Ross and Francis during the newborn Jeremy Poldark’s christening; along with Ross and Demelza at home, as they contemplated on keeping their family and household. I see now that the screenwriter had allowed Ross and Francis to reconcile before Jeremy’s birth, so that they could end the episode on this cliffhanger with Demelza struggling to reach the shore. I found this a waste of time. This was simply another example of telling the audience what happened, instead of showing. Episode Thirteen, which began the adaptation of “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”, began with Demelza reaching the shore and later, Ross announcing the presence of his newborn son. Frustrating! And unnecessary.
Although I had earlier complimented Paul Curran’s comic performance of the drunken Jud Paynter, I must admit there is so much of Jud that I can take. He almost became something of a fly on the ointment to me during my favorite episode, Episode Ten. But Episode Twelve truly became something of a chore for me, due to the whole “Jud is dead” story arc. After double-crossing the Warleggans by failing to testify against Ross and keeping the fifteen shillings they had given him, Jud is assaulted by some of George Warleggan’s men at the end of Episode Eleven. A great deal of Episode Twelve focused on Jud’s funeral and wake, while Ross and Demelza attended another supper party at Trenwith. A great deal. To make matters worse, it turned out that Jud was never dead . . . just unconscious. No one had bothered to verify whether he was dead or not. Instead, they had mistaken his unconscious body as a corpse. Not only was I irritated that Jud was not dead, I believe that Winston Graham had committed something of a cheat with this story line. Worse, I had to endure thirty to forty minutes of Jud’s wake, which seemed more than I was able to bear. I really wish he had remained dead.
I have one last quibble and it involved at least four missing characters. What happened to Jinny Carter? You know . . . Jinny? Ross and Demelza’s kitchen maid? The widow of one Jim Carter? What happened to her? Actress Gillian Bailey, who had portrayed Ginny in the adaptation of “Ross Poldark” and “Demelza”, seemed to be missing during these four episodes. Worse, no mention was made about her lack of presence. I find this ironic, considering that Jinny’s father, Zacky Martin, was not missing. Forbes Collins, who had portrayed Zacky, had a strong presence in these four episodes – including the sequence involving Jud’s funeral. So why was Jinny missing? And I also noticed that after twelve episodes and adaptations of three novels, Aunt Agatha Poldark also remained missing. I realize that she plays an important role in “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” and “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795”. But why has she been missing for so long in this adaptation of Winston Graham’s saga? How did producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn explain her appearance in future episodes, beginning with the adaptation of “Warleggan”? And what happened to Verity’s stepchildren? They were first introduced in “Jeremy Poldark” and I had assumed (for which I should have known better) they would make their appearances by at least Episode Eleven or Episode Twelve. Perhaps they will appear in the production’s adaptation of “Warleggan”. Who knows?
There were some highlights from Barry and Coburn’s adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”. These highlights include Ross Poldark’s trial in Episode Ten; the burgeoning romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen; and the performances of three cast members – Paul Curran, Nicholas Selby and especially Ralph Bates. But overall, I was not that impressed by Episodes Nine to Twelve. I found the narrative structure of these episodes rather troubling, especially with how cliffhangers were used. And the handling of the Jud Paynter character struck me as well, somewhat overbearing. Oh well. Onward to Episode Thirteen.