“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT
Last winter, I began watching the BBC’s 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series about the life of a British Army officer and American Revolutionary War veteran, following his return to his home in Cornwall. The first four episodes proved to be adaptation of the first novel in Graham’s series, 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787”. Episodes Five to Eight focused on the series’ second novel, 1946’s “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”.
Episode Four ended with Ross Poldark, a Cornish landowner and mine owner, discovering that his young kitchen maid, the 17 year-old Demelza Carne, is pregnant with his child. Abandoning his plan to reunite with his former fiancée, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, who had married his cousin Francis Polark; Ross decides to marry Demelza and take responsibility for their unborn child. Episode Five opened up six to seven months later with the birth of their daughter, Julia Poldark. Ross and Demelza decide to hold two christenings – one for his upper-crust family and neighbors and one for her working-class family. Unfortunately, fate upsets their plans when Demelza’s family crash the first christening. Episode Five also featured the introduction of new characters – a young doctor named Dwight Enys, who quickly befriends Ross; Keren Daniels, a young traveling actress who married a local miner named Mark Daniels; and George Warleggan, the scion of the Warleggan family, who became Ross’ archenemy.
The four episodes that formed the adaptation of “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall” pretty much focused on the first two years of Ross’ marriage to Demelza. Their relationship seemed to thrive, despite the unromantic reasons why they got married in the first place. It was nice to see Ross and Demelza quickly settled into becoming an established couple. This was especially apparent in first christening for Ross and Demelza’s newborn, Julia, attended by Ross’ family and upper-class neighbors. However, this sequence also revealed that Ross and Demelza still had a long way to go, when Demelza’s religious and fanatical father and stepmother crashed the first christening. I enjoyed the sequence very much, even if it ended on an irritating note – namely Demelza and Mr. Carne’s shouting match that played merry hell on my ears. Although there were times when their relationship threatened to seem a bit too ideal, I have no other problems with it.
From a narrative point of view, the only hitch in Ross and Demelza’s relationship – so far – proved to be Demelza’s determination to help her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark’s renew the latter’s disastrous relationship with a Captain Andrew Blamey . . . behind Ross’ back. Following Blamey and Francis’ disastrous encounter in the second (or third) episode, Ross made it clear that he had no intention of helping Verity and Blamey’s romantic situation. Demelza, being young, romantic and naive; decided to intervene and help them continue their courtship. Her efforts were almost sidetracked when Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles, was stricken with Putrid Throat. Ross’ new friend, Dr. Enys, had recruited Verity to nurse Geoffrey Charles, believing that Elizabeth was incapable of serving as her son’s nurse. I must be honest . . . I found this plot line a bit contrived. One, it seemed like a theatrical way to inject tension into Verity’s romance with Captain Blamey and their plans to elope. And two, Elizabeth has never struck me as the type of woman incapable of nursing her own son, let alone anyone else. Nevertheless, Demelza’s efforts proved to be successful in the end when Verity and Captain Blamey finally eloped in Episode Seven.
Verity and Captain Blamey’s elopement also produced an ugly reaction from her brother Francis, who had been against their relationship from the beginning. That ugly reaction formed into an emotional rant against his sister that not only spoiled his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey Charles’ Christmas meal, but concluded with him succumbing to Putrid Throat. I will say this about Francis Poldark . . . his presence in Episodes Five to Eight proved to be a lot stronger than it was in the first four episodes. Viewers learned in the conclusion of Episode Six that he had betrayed the shareholder names of Ross’ new Carnmore Copper Company, an smelting organization formed to break the Warleggans’ monopoly on the mining industry in that part of Cornwall.
I am a little confused by why so many claim that Clive Francis had portrayed the character as less of a loser than Kyle Soller did in 2015. For example, in an article posted on the Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, the writer made this description of Francis in Episode Eight of the 1975 series – “I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.”.
That was not the Francis Poldark I saw in Episode Eight. Come to think of it, that was NOT the Francis I saw between Episodes Three and Eight. Well . . . I do recall Francis engaging in self-pitying behavior. I also recall Francis being half-hearted in his attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth, his occasionally self-defensive attitude and anger at Verity for eloping. The only sign of wit I can recall was Francis’ clumsy and slightly insulting reaction at the Warleggan ball to news of prostitute Margaret’s recent wedding. And although I enjoyed Clive Francis’ performance, there were moments when he was guilty of some really histrionic acting – especially in Episode Eight, when his character went into a rant against Verity’s elopement during his family’s Christmas dinner. Either these fans and critics had failed to notice how much of a loser Francis Poldark was in the 1975 series, they remembered the actor’s performance in the episodes that followed Episode Eight, or they were blinded by nostalgia for the 1975 series. Clive Francis’ portrayal of the character struck me as much of a loser as Soller’s portrayal.
The renewal of Verity and Captain Blamey’s romance was not the only relationship shrouded in secrecy. As I had earlier pointed a traveling actress named Keren had abandoned her tawdry profession life to remain in the area and marry local miner, Mark Daniels, after meeting him at the second christening for the newborn Julia Poldark. I admire how the production went out of its way to portray Keren’s growing disenchantment with life as a miner’s wife and her marriage to Mark. In doing so, screenwriter Mark Wheeler allowed audiences to sympathize with Keren’s emotions and understand what led her to pursue an extramarital affair with the neighborhood’s new physician, the quiet and charming Dr. Dwight Enys. Although this sequence featured solid performances from Richard Morant and Martin Fisk as Dwight Enys and Mark Daniels; the one performance that really impressed me came from Sheila White, who portrayed the unfortunate Keren Daniels. However, I was not particular thrilled by how the affair ended. Mark Daniels deliberately murdered Keren, when he discovered the affair. What really riled me was that both Ross and Demelza went out of their way to help Mark evade justice. Their actions seemed to justify and approve of Mark’s violent action against his wife. The entire scenario smacked of another example of misogyny in this saga.
Episode Six of “POLDARK” not only introduced the character of George Warleggan, it also featured one of my favorite segments in the series, so far – the Warleggan ball. I thought Wheeler and Paul Annett did a solid job in this particular sequence. It was not perfect, but it proved to be an elegant affair, capped by a tense situation when Ross engaged in a gambling showdown with the Warleggans’ cousin Matthew Sanson, before exposing the latter as a cheat. One aspect of the ball sequence that really impressed me were the costumes and the music provided by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts, which helped maintained the sequence’s atmosphere. I also enjoyed both Robin Ellis and Milton Johns’ performances as Ross Poldark and Matthew Sanson in the card game sequence. Both actors did a very good job of injecting more tension in what was already a high-wired situation. By the way, both actors, along with Clive Francis, had appeared in the 1971 adaptation of “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”.
There were other moments and sequences that I enjoyed. Aside from the Warleggan ball, I was very impressed by two other scenes. One featured Demelza’s attempt to play matchmaker for Verity and Captain Blamey in Truro. Well, the sequence began with Demelza playing matchmaker before all three became swept into a food riot that led to a violent brawl between some very hungry townsmen and local military troops trying to prevent the men from breaking into Matthew Sanson’s grain storehouse. I found the entire scene rather well shot by director Paul Annett. I was also impressed by Annett’s work in Episode Seven that featured Ross’ attempt to help Mark Daniels evade arrest for Keren’s murder. I may not approved of what happened, but I was impressed by Annett’s direction. But I feel that the director did his best work in Episode Eight, which featured the wreck of the Warleggans’ ship on Poldark land. It began on a high note when the Paynters and other locals began pillaging the ship’s cargo for much needed food, clothing and other materials. But it really got interesting when a riot broke out between the Poldark workers, miners from a nearby estate and the local troops who tried to stop them. Again, Annett really did a first-rate job in making the sequence very exciting, despite the fact that it was shot in the dark.
I noticed that Paul Wheeler, who wrote the transcripts for these four episodes and Episode Eleven, made several changes from Graham’s novel. To be honest, I can only recall one major change that did not bother me one whit. In Episode Seven, young Geoffrey Charles Poldark was stricken with Putrid’s Throat before Verity had the chance to elope with Captain Blamey. Once Verity and Elizabeth helped the boy recover, she finally took the opportunity to elope. Yes, I am aware that Verity had eloped before the Putrid fever outbreak, but I see that Wheeler was trying to create a little tension for her situation. When Francis was struck with Putrid’s Throat on Christmas, Demelza arrived at Trenwith to help Elizabeth nurse him. The two women engaged in a warm and honest conversation that showcased both Jill Townsend and Angharad Rees as talented actresses they were. However, this conversation never occurred in the novel. In fact, the literary Elizabeth Poldark also came down with Putrid’s Throat. But this change did not bother me, due to the excellent scene between Townsend and Rees.
Unfortunately, I had problems with some of Wheeler’s other changes. One change originated back in Episode Four with the “Demelza gets knocked up” storyline that led to hers and Ross’ shotgun wedding. I had assumed that the Trenwith Christmas party sequence, which followed Ross and Demelza’s wedding, would appear in Episode Five. After all, it was one of my favorite sequences from the 1945 novel. But the sequence never appeared – not in Episode Four or Episode Five. Instead, the latter opened with Julia Poldark’s birth and the christening. And I felt very disappointed.
Another change involved Ross’ former employee, Jim Carter. Back in Episode Three, Jim was tried and convicted for poaching on another landowner’s estate. In Episode Six, Ross received word that Jim was severely ill inside Bodmin Jail. With Dwight Enys’ help, the pair break the younger man out. But instead of dying during Dwight’s attempt to amputate an infected limb, Jim survived . . . until Episode Seven. This change allowed Ross to indulge in a speech on the inequities suffered by the poor and working-class in British. Personally, I had difficulty feeling sympathetic, considering that he had fired Jud and Prudie Paynter, earlier in the episode. Mind you, Jud had deserved to be fired for his drunken behavior and insults to Demelza. But Prudie did not. She tried to stop Jud and ended up fired by Ross (who found her guilty by matrimony to the perpetrator). And I ended up regarding Ross as nothing more than a first-rate hypocrite.
Because Jim Cater had survived Episode Six, Ross did not attend the Warleggan ball angry and in a drunken state. Instead, he remained a perfect and sober gentleman throughout the sequence. Which was a pity . . . at least for me. Perhaps Wheeler had decided that Prudie’s fate was sufficient enough to expose Ross’ less pleasant side of his personality, I did not. The card game between Ross and Sanson provided some tension during the ball sequence, thanks to the skillful performances of Robin Ellis, Milton Johns and Ralph Bates. But it was not enough for me. I thought a good deal of the sequence’s drama was deleted due to “our hero” not having an excuse to get drunk and surly. I suspect that Wheeler, along with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, wanted to – once again – maintain Ross’ heroic image.
The Warleggan ball also featured another change. At the end of Episode Six, George Warleggan revealed to his father, Nicholas, that he knew the names of Ross’ Carnmore Copper Company. The revelation left me feeling flabbergasted. In the novel, Francis had not exposed the shareholders’ names to George until after Verity and Blamey’s elopement. He had believed Ross was responsible for arranging it and betrayed the latter in retaliation. Since Francis had obviously betrayed Ross before Episode Six’s final scene in the 1975 series, I found myself wondering why he had betrayed his cousin’s company in the first place. Why did he do it? Someone had hinted that Francis felt jealous over Elizabeth’s feelings for Ross. Yet, the relationship between those two had been particularly frosty since the revelation of Demelza’s pregnancy back in Episode Four. If Francis had been experiencing jealousy, what happened before the end of Episode Six that led him to finally betray Ross and the Carnmore Copper Company shareholders? It could not have been for money. Although George Warleggan had paid back the money that his cousin had cheated from Francis and the other gamblers at the ball, he did not dismiss Francis’ debt to the Warleggan Bank. If only Wheeler had followed Graham’s novel and allowed Francis to betray Ross following Verity’s elopement. This would have made more sense. Instead, the screenwriter never really made clear the reason behind the betrayal. Rather sloppy, if you ask me.
Overall, Episodes Five to Eight of “POLDARK” struck me as an interesting and very entertaining set of episodes. This is not surprising, considering that they were basically an adaptation of “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Director Paul Annett and Paul Wheeler did a very solid job in adapting Graham’s novel. Yes, I had some quibbles with Wheeler’s screenplay – especially his handling of the Francis Polark character. But overall, I believe the two men, along with the cast led by Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees did an first-rate job. On to Episode Nine and the adaptation of the next novel in Graham’s series.