Poldark: Series 3 Episode 5 is the strongest episode in the new series to date. It is all about consequences, as Cornish miner and landowner Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) seeks to help and free his best friend Dr Dwight Enys (Luke Norris), who is a prisoner in France.
Little does Ross know while contemplating what is to be done, the military in France guarding the British prisoners are taking bets on who will be killed next, executing them one by one for sport, today based on the colour of a man’s eye – tomorrow, who knows.
There is a large gap between the world we say we want and the one that is real and exists because of the consequences of our actions. We may often feel the changes we want are unlikely to be achievable because of the way we think things work, favouring the rich.
Being poor makes us aware of an enforced restriction in choices, and of how much it determines one’s ‘life-planning’. A degree of persistence is required if we are to demonstrate our abilities to overcome the forces at work to seemingly keep us forever in conflict or, to help us to know how to keep hope alive so that we can become truly free.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want any spoilers.
At home at Nampara their farm on the coast of Cornwall Ross is discussing with his wife Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) a plan by royalists to overthrow the French republic and free aristocratic prisoners. But can it succeed when all they do is squabble with each other? Being rich doesn’t automatically mean contentment.
Ross Poldark, who in his lifetime has been both rich and poor, believes he and the small band of friends who have volunteered to go with him, can save Dr Dwight Enys by somehow operating in the background of their rich counterparts proposed dodgy operation while working to their own agenda.
At Trenwith the former Poldark home Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) is worrying herself sick over the state of affairs between the young lovers Geoffrey Charles Poldark’s governess Morwenna (Ellise Chappelle) and Drake Carne (Harry Richardson), Demelza’s younger brother.
She tells her young charge she must give up the man (who is below her station in life) lest her employer the dastardly George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) finds out. Agatha does her best to impress on Morwenna how cruel George really is and what the consequences of her actions in keeping their love alive may really mean for them both.
Meanwhile in Truro, George Warleggan and his wife Elizabeth (Heida Reed) have just found out their baby son Valentine has rickets. George is totally incensed his son would contract a ‘commoner’s ailment’, and demands it is rectified immediately.
He has also just found out Ross Poldark is being mentioned as an MP in certain high-born circles and is more than furious, considering himself far more deserving than the man he hates.
Ross goes to visit Aunt Agatha and finding out about Drake and Morwenna, warns Demelza to have a word with her brother.
When he visits next Morwenna does her bit and lets him know she cannot see any more by denying her love for him… she doesn’t want him to die and sacrifices her own happiness, hoping to protect him from George’s wrath.
Ross leaves for France via Falmouth, counselling Demelza to keep her council about his mission and asks her to talk to Drake about not going to Trenwith.
It’s far too late however, Drake is distraught and wanting to find a purpose to live, or either kill himself, when he hears about Ross’s rescue plan, he leaves secretly to join him if he can.
Demelza later meets Morwenna down on the seashore and tells her about Ross having gone to France little knowing her brother has gone after him.
In the meantime in Falmouth Ross has found out the Royalist plan has gone seriously awry and believing it will fail, gains a separate passage to France for he and his small band. Once at sea they discover young Drake is a stowaway, Ross reluctantly allowing him to join his rescue party.
Caroline persuades Demelza to go to a gathering of aristocrats at Tregothnen with her, where Lord Falmouth is entertaining the cream of Cornish society. She tries to beg off, claiming she has a fever, but Caroline is not convinced and urges her to come.
George, Elizabeth and Valentine arrive back in Trenwith, where he finds out about Ross’s adventure. Not alarmed at all, George feels triumphant because he is sure Ross’s recklessness will ensure he doesn’t become an MP, if he does make it back home at all.
George’s mission is plain, to take some sort of action at the social gathering he and Elizabeth are going to at Tregothnen, where he will seek to entirely discredit Ross Poldark with the local ‘worthies’ so he can take what he believes is his true place in parliament.
Ross and his friends are going ashore in France as the gathering is taking place. George, Elizabeth and Morwenna plus Caroline and Demelza all arrive but it soon becomes obvious that George is looking entirely out of his depth in this illustrious gathering.
He announces the news about Ross’s latest reckless folly aloud to the company, however his are not the actions of a true gentleman and so he fails to gain the reaction he hoped for, as many backs are turned.
He doesn’t know or understand the secret rules of the game devised by the aristocrats to keep upstarts like him out.
Meanwhile having landed on French soil Ross is worried about how exposed they all are and before the attempted rescue, gives his men a chance to back out… they all vote to go forward.
As Ross’s best friend of years and the companion forever at his side, Captain William Henshawe (John Hollingworth) points out to them all, mining is a risk, loving is a risk and indeed, living is a risk… tonight I take my chance.
It is time now for them all to live up to their actions and the consequences of what they believe in.
Tholley Tregirls (Sean Gilder) takes Ross to the gate pretending he‘s a prisoner to get them inside. They are making it up on the run.
Once inside they have to find Dwight, no easy task, especially as they are trying to keep their presence in the prison a secret for as long as possible as they search for the infirmary where Dwight is working.
Fortunately they find Hugh Armitage (Josh Whitehouse) the young man Dwight has befriended, who guides them to where he is. Looking confused, Dwight refuses to go with them at first until he realises Ross is not a vision and this is a real rescue, although it’s almost to late.
The French guards have discovered their presence and are on their way. Young Drake seizes the moment and finds them a way out, but during the chase into the woods surrounding the prison Ross loses his best man, William Henshawe.
It’s a bitter blow. Leaving his friend reluctantly on Dwight’s insistence he is dead, Ross realises his loyalty is to the living, including Demelza’s brother Drake who has also been wounded in the fight.
He gains another along the way. The young Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, whom they meet again on the way back to the boat, having helped other prisoners to escape in the confusion, has become separated from them and joins Ross and his ‘band of brothers’.
They make it back to the boat but with Drake wounded and Dwight urging him he must attend to him soon, Ross knows he should stop but presses on, despite imagining Demelza’s fury if anything happens to her brother.
Miraculously they find the ship has waited for them and they row like hell so they can get on board and she can still make the tide – home is in sight.
When they are on board and Drake is made comfortable, Dwight finally thanks Ross and confesses he had expected to die, surrounded by men he was unable to save including Henshawe. Now already I see I must keep myself occupied or otherwise ask the impossible question he observes, “Why am I here and they are not?” he asks.
Demelza greets them as they arrive at Nampara Cove, discovering the loss of Henshawe a bitter blow for the mining community. She goes to fetch Caroline to come to Nampara, where she and Dwight are re-united at last.
George Warleggan hears the news from his Constable of the rescue, which is the talk of Truro. He is dismayed when he finds out that while Ross lost one man he saved another man of ‘great importance’, which should count for something, the Constable relates – a man named Armitage.
“Lieutenant Hugh Armitage” questions Elizabeth. “You know him asks George”… “Yes” she says, “… he’s Lord Falmouth’s nephew”… and now George knows what the consequences might mean for him too
Later Ross declares Drake a brave and fearless pest to Demelza while they sit around the fire with their children – tomorrow he and his friends will be heroes for the local community, but that must wait.
There is a simple memorial for Captain Henshaw at the Mine where the company gather to sing the most beautiful hymn, with Demelza’s voice ringing out clear and true.
The words echo the sentiment of Ross blaming himself for losing his best friend, by chastising the actions which brought about such dire consequences.
As he voices his opinion to his wife Lieutenant Hugh Armitage steps forward and interrupts them both. He seeks to remind them how he could not have foreseen a month ago that today he would be a free man; “how could your husband know”, he says to Demelza “…that in freeing his friend he would also liberate a man he had never met”.
He and his promise of life ahead is the consequence of action.
Demelza says that she hopes Hugh will take full advantage of his liberty, not knowing yet how just powerful their new friend is, or may yet become.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017