I do, I do!
Have you seen this program yet? If you had, you’d remember. Based on exceptionally strong source material (really, this is not the first or last time I’m going to tell you, go READ THE BOOKS, yes, all twelve of them. You won’t be sorry), this program is set in 1780s Cornwall, and it is a total soap opera, in the best possible way.*
Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner), man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town of the 1780s, returns to his home in Cornish mining country after serving in the War in the States (also known as the Revolutionary War). He’s feeling like the war was a big waste of time and resources, and if he was hoping for his spirit to improve when he got home, he’s in for several unpleasant surprises: his childhood sweetheart is set to marry his much more affluent cousin; his father has died and his estate, Nampara, is in a complete mess; his father’s house servants are living in drunken disarray in his house. Slowly, slowly, he tries to coax life back into some aspect of his existence: he farms his estate (to great popular acclaim) and eventually finds investors and workers to help re-open his family’s copper mine, Wheal Leisure, while trying to also tidy up his house and keep his servants from drinking away their entire days. He is much helped in all of these tasks, much more and earlier than he will realize, when he saves a young girl (who he thought was a young boy) from a beating in town, and then takes her home to work for him as a kitchen maid.
Her family, rough and tough miners from the next town over, are not best pleased with this arrangement, but after some fisticuffs, they largely get over it, and the young girl, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), stays on to work for Ross. I’m not going to tell you what happens in their relationship, in case you haven’t seen this series, but it’s an interesting relationship and you won’t be bored watching it develop, trust me.
A strong cast of supporting characters, including the local miners and a new doctor who shows up to investigate miners’ diseases and becomes a friend of Ross’s, provide plenty of subplots involving work and love stories of their own. But there’s no doubt that Ross and Demelza are the stars of this show, especially as they interact with Francis (Ross’s cousin) and his wife Elizabeth (Ross’s former girlfriend and now Francis’s wife) who are the other “landed gentry” of the area.
But perhaps most notable in this adaptation of the series is the character of George Warleggan: a man descended from blacksmiths (read: not as pedigreed, classwise, as either Francis or Ross, with their “Poldark” name going back centuries). The Warleggan family has, for generations, been amassing wealth and moving into the banking field, at which they are excelling, and young George feels he finally has it in his power to both have money AND move among the landed classes (especially as most members of those landed classes have no money and are deep in hock to the Warleggans and their bank). George Warleggan, as played by Jack Farthing, is DELICIOUSLY evil. The best chemistry in this program is actually between him and Ross, who move from a subtle dislike of one another and the others’ way of life into out-and-out hatred-filled hostility. When I first read the books on which this series is based, every time George showed up in the text, I would derisively mutter “Warleggan!” to myself, and now I still do that when I watch that show. (Mr. BritTV just rolls his eyes and suggests I make it into a drinking game while I’m at it.) Farthing is doing a great job of playing him as a total bounder, and the bastard you love to hate.
It’s a good show, but please note: you should totally read Winston Graham’s twelve-novel series about Poldark and his family and friends either in addition to this series, or instead of. As great as this adaptation is, the books are even better. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.
*Plus, the scenery is gorgeous. (And here I specifically mean Cornwall, not just Aidan Turner.)
Years aired: 2015-
Episodes and seasons: 18 60-minute episodes over two seasons (with a third series expected to air sometime in 2017).
Primary Stars: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, Ruby Bentall as Verity Poldark, Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark, Kyle Soller as Francis Poldark, Jack Farthing as George Warleggan, Luke Norris as Dwight Enys, Phil Davis as Jud Paynter, Beatie Edney as Prudie Paynter, Gracee O’Brien as Jinny Carter, Tristan Sturrock as Zacky Martin.
Creator and primary writers: Created and written by Debbie Horsfield (adapted from the Winston Graham novels).
First aired on: BBC1
Streams on: A ton of services, including iTunes, Amazon, and Google.
Fun trivia: The actor who played Ross Poldark in the 1975 adaptation plays the very mean Reverend Halse in this version.
Each of the first two series adapted two books in the Graham series; Ross Poldark, a Novel of Cornwall and Demelza for the first series; Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan for the second.
Eight “mind-blowing Poldark facts.”
All out of Poldark Episodes? Watch these next, luv:
Poldark (1975): Okay, if you’ve read the series of books like I really think you should, and watched the 2015 Poldark, you might very well be Poldarked out, and not in the mood to watch the 1975 adaptation. But, let some time pass, and then think about it. It is not nearly as faithful to the books (Demelza offering Ross a look under her petticoats for a shilling? And getting pregnant before they get married? Yeah, we are not amused–and neither was Winston Graham.) But this series is kind of a fun watch in its own right. For one thing, this version of Ross, as played by Robin Ellis, is both manly and has a sense of humor, which is a nice addition to the role, as 2015 Ross is hot and all, but not really a lot of laughs. It also was a hugely popular series in its time, so it’s nice to see a little BBC history combined with your Cornish history. Just something to think about when you’re ready.
North and South: A miniseries consisting of four one-hour episodes, this program is going to provide you your most Poldarkesque bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time. An adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel of the same title, this awesome program tells the story of two very different people who are thrown together in the Northern England industrial town of Milton (based on Manchester): an affluent cotton mill owner named John Thornton (Richard Armitage) and a clergyman’s daughter with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, which gets heavier the more she gets involved with Milton’s working class and their economic and health problems (many exacerbated by the mills, like Thornton’s, in which they work), Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe). But Thornton is not all he seems, especially after he falls in love with Margaret. Also? Just like Poldark? A FABO soundtrack.
God, every time I write a program summary for North and South I feel like I have to drop everything and just go watch it. You should do that (a great article I’ve linked to, there, but beware: a few spoilers), right now.
Doc Martin: Viewers in love with Cornish villages and their inhabitants’, ahem, unique, senses of community, could do worse than to watch some Doc Martin. This series is set in the present and so does not share a historical setting, and its main character (Martin Clunes as Doc Martin) is not nearly the man’s man (or ladies’ man, or man about town) that Ross Poldark is, but he definitely has his own way of operating. A surgeon with a phobia of blood, he has been forced to practice general medicine in the small seaside town of Portwenn, and his road there is emphatically not smooth. And yet you have to kind of like him in his unbending stiffness, much the way Louisa, played by Caroline Catz, finds herself falling in love with him–and that road, also, is a bumpy one. And if it turns out that you like this series, you’re in luck: there’s currently seven seasons to watch, and they’re starting filming another two.
Downton Abbey. Yup. Pure soap opera. And very popular soap opera at that. If you’re one of the extremely few Brit TV addicts who haven’t yet seen this series, set in a great house in Edwardian England (early twentieth century), following the goings-on among both the gentry and their servants (or, in their parlance, upstairs and downstairs). For bonus points, consider watching a similar but much earlier series, Upstairs, Downstairs.
Outlander. Based on the historical/fantasy novels by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is the story of the eighteenth-century Highland lad Jamie (Sam Heughan) and the 1940s-era woman (Caitriona Balfe) who travels through time (thanks to some Druidic standing stones) to fall in love with him (even though she’s already married; inconvenient, that, and you’d better believe both love affairs impact the story). The show is known for its great action, charismatic stars, and plenty of sexy bits, but be warned: it makes Poldark look like happy unicorns and rainbows sometimes (the way the evil British soldier tortures Jamie near the end of Season 1? I don’t want to talk about it.) But this show also has a humdinger of a love triangle, as does Poldark (Elizabeth and Ross and Demelza, although we’re all on Demelza’s side, right? RIGHT?)
Monarch of the Glen. Although he lives in London and is opening a new restaurant, Archie MacDonald nonetheless is drawn back to his family’s estate in Glenbogle, Scotland, where his father, the aging laird, is rapidly running the entire place into the ground due to lack of income. Archie steps in to try and make the estate a paying concern, to help his father’s employees, his tenants, and the local village, but it’s an uphill slog. Particularly when one of the fiery locals keeps distracting him! Now, Archie is no romantic Ross Poldark, but he does try to do the right thing by his community. Another similarity between these programs can be found in the lead characters and their romantic entanglements–evidently writers have been relying upon the trope of men falling in love with their kitchen maids for some time now. This is also a literary adaptation, loosely based on Compton Mackenzie’s Highland Novels.
Robin Hood. And now for something completely different. This version of Robin Hood, staring Jonas Armstrong as Robin of Locksley, is total camp, but in the best possible way. Plus, it’s got a villain you love to hate (just like Warleggan. Warleggan!) in the person of the Sheriff of Nottingham, played for every bit of his juicy evilness by Keith Allen. Good love story plus good natural scenery plus a real bastard trying to keep everyone down = lots of fun viewing. And you might need that, because as great as Poldark is, sometimes it gets a little depressing, what with all the heartbreaking deaths and massive economic inequalities and all. Sure that sort of thing goes on in this show too, but somehow it doesn’t leave you piled up in a heap, crying.
None of these options do much for you? Consider some “Dramas that might fill the Outlander/Poldark hole.”