Most of us at Leeds probably won’t have encountered the BBC’s original 1975 adaptation of Poldark. Based on a series of twelve novels by Winston Graham, the original show was a hit back in its day, as well as making small-screen stars out of its two leads, Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees. The story is that of Ross Poldark (Ellis in the original), heir to a Cornish mining fortune who comes home from the American Civil War to discover his father is dead, his family tin mines dried up and his sweetheart, Elizabeth, engaged to his drippy cousin Francis. Ross’ uncle makes it perfectly clear that everyone thinks he should slink off to London without making a fuss, but Ross isn’t that sort of guy. He’s the stubborn, brooding, heroic kind who isn’t about to give up on either his tenants or his tin business. He makes it clear to everyone that he’s not going anywhere when he impulsively rescues a rough young woman called Demelza Carne (Rees) from a street brawl, and installs her as his kitchen maid. Ross’ decision to stay ruffles feathers and sets tongues-a-wagging all the way to Truro and a lusty slice of period escapism unfolds, complete with almost as many love-triangles as there are tricorne hats.
The plot remains more or less the same in the BBC’s new adaptation, airing on BBC1 on Sunday nights, in which Being Human’s Aidan Turner and Death Comes to Pemberley’s Eleanor Tomlinson take on the roles made iconic by Ellis and Rees respectively. Turner is so well suited to the title role that one wonders whether the BBC decided to commission the remake solely on the strength of his dark, rugged good looks. While Robin Ellis’ slightly more stately and grown-up Poldark will be fondly remembered by all who loved him in the 1970’s, Turner makes a delectable leading man. It’s arguably Tomlinson who has the tougher job, trying to dispel images of Angharad Rees’ unusual beauty from memory as the streetwise Demelza. Tomlinson nevertheless does an admirable job, both as a low-life who can spit and curse with the best of them, and as a pure hearted young woman who scrubs up nicely enough to feasibly distract Ross from his old flame.
The real star here, however, is the Cornish coastline, which practically glows in every shot. Perhaps it was the allure of the scenery that distracted Poldark’s director Edward Bazalgette and screenwriter Debbie Horsfield from other more subtle delights such as nuanced dialogue and measured pacing. It isn’t that this adaptation is poorly crafted, just that it’s always so impatient to get to the next shot of some fisticuffs or cantering horses that we don’t quite have time to be seduced by the characters. Does Poldark still have time to develop into a fine drama in its own right?
Poldark: BBC1, Sunday, 9pm.