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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

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So I watched the new "Poldark" on PBS, and I was not impressed

I was in my late 20s when the first series was broadcast in the 1970s.  After rewatching some episodes on youtube over the years (before they were removed for copyright reasons), I purchased the DVD set last year.  Even given the technological advances, the original held up well, I thought.


The production values may be much better in the new version, and I suspect the viewing experience may be improved on a larger screen than my poor old TV, but there were details that bothered me from the very start and contributed to an overwhelming disappointment.


The new Poldark opens with Ross still in the British army in America.  He's gambling with some of his fellow soldiers and needs to up his ante.  One of the other gamblers wants him to bet the ring he's wearing.  Ross refuses.  Another officer rides up, apparently a senior officer, and makes some disparaging remarks about Ross's gambling and his background.  In the midst of this exchange, the British force is attacked, presumably by colonials.  The Redcoats fight back.  Wounded, unconscious, Ross has visions of Elizabeth.


None of this happened in the books.


Book One of Winston Graham's series, originally titled The Renegade: A Novel of Cornwall, opens with the deathbed conversation of Joshua Poldark, Ross's father, with his older and more prosperous brother Charles.  Like the rest of the novels, this Prologue is a character study.  This is the magnificent strength of the entire series:  The characters come to virtual life through Graham's masterful portraits of their actions and reactions, emotions and thoughts, foibles and passions and desires and mistakes.


Writing in the 1940s, Graham did not have to rely on the "deep-immersion" point of view conventions that would be imposed on the historical (and other) novelists of thirty years on.  Though his style may be more telling than showing, the effect is just the opposite.


After Joshua's death, Ross returns from America, wounded in body and soul.  If he had been a renegade before the war, the experience of battle has made him even more so.  Still, he arrives back in Cornwall with a certain optimism and determination, perhaps thanks to a maturity gained in war.  He is not bitter, and he is not angry.  He is hopeful.


The original television series opened with that hopeful return, as Ross (played by Robin Ellis) rides in the coach to Truro.  After engaging in small talk with his fellow passengers, he responds to a question from one of them about whether or not the Indians are as savage as he's been led to believe.  "They are much like you and me, Reverend, give or take a few suits of clothes."


This is the opening scene!  From a single line of dialogue, the viewer learns this Ross Poldark has no fear of speaking his mind, regardless how controversial his opinion may be.  From a single line of dialogue, the viewer knows this Ross Poldark.


The new Poldark series may have been too hyped.  It may have been written and produced as a vehicle for Aidan Turner.  I felt, watching the opening scenes, that I was watching Aidan Turner, not Ross Poldark.  To be honest, I didn't really care for this Ross Poldark at all.


As the first episode progressed, that feeling intensified.  I didn't like Elizabeth.  I didn't like Francis.  We're not supposed to like Ellizabeth, because she's shallow and vain and not really worthy of Ross's devotion.  But Ross and Francis had been childhood friends, and it was that closeness that complicated the dynamic of jealousy when Francis and Elizabeth wed.  Francis in the new Poldark is whiny and weak, a caricature, a cartoon.  George Warleggan is even worse; my initial impression was of Snidely Whiplash.


To my great dismay, one of the dogs needed to go out during the scene where Ross rescues Demelza at the market, so I missed that.  I came back in the house about the time John Carne comes to fetch her back, and the melee ensues.  So now Ross has been shown to be a gambler and a brawler, and I'm not liking him any better.


What sealed my disappointment, however, was the single look at the new Demelza, riding back with Ross.  She's too coy, too pretty, too seductive already.  She may be wearing rags, but she's not an urchin.


Perhaps the difference in the two series is due to Winston Graham's direct involvement in the first.  I'm not sure.  I need to reread the books, need to watch the original series again, need to reread Robin' Ellis's account of Making Poldark.  All three of those activities are something to look forward to.  I don't have the same anticipation at all about another episode of the new Poldark.