Intelligent acting, fine scripts, wonderful characters Winston Graham’s insightful exploration of the human condition in his novels, that tell the story of the Poldark family of Cornwall during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, has been skilfully brought back to television.
Set in the stunning Cornish landscape, in the first series Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returned from war in America to rescue Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), an impoverished miner’s daughter who becomes his wife.
Their lives and love are sorely tested with the loss of their first child and becoming estranged from his family on the nearby estate of Trenwith where his boyhood friend and cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) lives with Elisabeth (Heida Reed) his wife, Ross’s former fiancée.
Francis’s sister Verity (Ruby Bentall) and Demelza meet to work out how they can help to bring about reconciliation. Her seafaring husband has agreed to finally bring his children by his first wife now deceased to meet her and Verity is overwhelmed with joy.
At this time huge social change was a reality and the onset of revolutions in both France and America caused the British to question the state of their own economy and moral order. The extremes of poverty a condition of the majority, when weighed against the wealth and privilege of a minority aristocracy ensured times were tense.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want Spoilers.
In Series 2 Episodes 1 and 2, Ross Poldark, having been cleared of wrongdoing in his trial for wrecking at the Bodmin Assizes is back at home with Demelza. In Episode 3 they are found contemplating an uncertain future.
There are many challenges to face, including the output of Wheal Leisure their mine, the harvest and on top of that, interest of 40% on loans coming due for repayment. Times are tougher than usual, causing them to have to sell off everything of value they own just to keep ahead of creditors.
The deliciously dastardly powerful banker George Warleggan (Jack Farthing), whose rivalry with Ross keeps growing and becoming even more vitriolic, means they are facing disaster on all fronts.
George is taking boxing lessons so the next time he and Ross get into a physical altercation he can be sure to have a fighting chance.
Demelza is still unsure of her own worth and Ross’s devotion to her is also at sixes, sevens; not having told him she is expecting their second child. She is caught between a rock and a hard place, fishing for pilchards down in their sheltered cove where she can also be observed gathering driftwood.
Sir Hugh Bodrugan (Patrick Ryecart) has military Captain McNeil (Henry Garrett) summon Demelza to look to the health of his prized cow.
Bodrugan is about taking advantage of Demelza knowing her family is in trouble and he offers payment to take her into his bed. She decides however that no amount of money would be worth the experience, rejecting his advances.
At a quarterly meeting of Wheel Leisure shareholders, Mr Tankard (Sebastian Armesto) a proxy arrives, representing a new shareholder banker George Warleggan who is on a mission to take everything he can from Ross, whom he hates vehemently.
Ross’s servant Jud Paynter (Phil Davis) is as usual drunk and waxing lyrically at the pub, basking in the pleasure of his testimony releasing his master from the charge of wrecking.
Warleggan’s thugs are sent to seek revenge and he is seemingly kicked to death. No random attack…this was vengeance plain and simple.
Finding golden sovereigns in her pronounced dead husband’s pocket, Jud’s wife Prudie (Beatie Edney) who agrees he was the most useless servant under the sun, decides to spend the money on widow’s weeds and a feast for her friends.
When he disappears off the wake table where he’s been laid out Judd is later found to be missing, having miraculously come back to life although there isn’t a great deal of rejoicing.
Ross is forging ahead with a new tunnel in Wheal Leisure having persuaded his shareholders to further fund this endeavour and he is found working through the night. Over at Trenwith Francis, whose attempts to kill himself at Bodmin failed, has turned over a new leaf and found purpose in life.
Dr Dwight Ennis (Luke Norris) comes to tea and Elizabeth probes him about the remarkable change in Francis, who went to town for the trial a broken man, and returned a man reborn. She wants to understand why however the good Doctor is protected from saying anything by patient privilege.
Elizabeth wishes for Ross and Francis to be reconciled and asks Dr Ennis to carry an invitation to he and Demelza and invite them to Trenwith to help with the harvest, a family tradition.
Ross learns George has purchased shares in his mine and reluctant at first because of George and Francis’s previous friendship, Demelza and Ross decide to accept the invitation and see if they can mend the heartbreak between their families.
Ross urges Francis to succeed in his own right by going into partnership with him and that way they could both take revenge on George by just being successful. Ross has a reflective moment with Elizabeth and Demelza is distraught at overhearing them talk of their time together.
When he comes home she breaks down telling him of the coming child and how aware she is that he doesn’t want it. Ross comforts her saying that if a child is really coming that’s different… “a child is not a thought” he says, “it is flesh and blood and if you can risk your heart again then so can I”.
In Episode 4 at the Wheal Leisure stakeholder’s meeting Ross discovers George Warleggan has purchased yet more of his company’s shares and will soon have a controlling interest.
Heiress Caroline Penvenen (Gabrielle Wilde) and Dr Ennis have an encounter of the distasteful kind. His curiosity is peaked to know why she constantly disparages people, rather than seek their friendship.
Elizabeth rides past George’s country house, ensuring he sees her so he will chase her down the road where he tells her he wants to increase their ‘intimacy’ so he can safeguard the people she loves. Somehow she thinks it will be admirable to become a martyr to that cause.
An imminent crack down on smuggling and wrecking by the military means that Ross Poldark owns the only navigable private cove along the coast.
Approached by those seeking to make their living through smuggling, he strikes a deal of 200 pounds per cargo plus salt for his miners pilchards for they’re families all have scurvy.
Ross and Demelza quarrel over the outcome. Ross goes to re-examine Wheal Grace his father’s old mine to see if it has secrets to reveal that he has not yet discovered. He also goes to see Francis to discuss re-opening Wheal Grace together.
Unfortunately Elizabeth overhears what they are planning which means George will know soon enough, she’s so easily manipulated.
Warmly and engagingly portrayed by Kyle Soller, Francis has Ross agree that he can put his shares in his son’s name so that if George learns about the partnership he will be unable to get at them. Ross thinks his cousin is wise.
Ross meets with George who tells him he paid Francis the money in exchange for the names of the investors in his company…. 30 pieces of silver. However it makes no difference now, Ross already knows and he and Francis have reconciled and become inseparable.
Ross and Francis meet at Wheal Grace to discuss how they proceed. They both believe there is copper waiting to be revealed and don’t want to waste a minute of time in finding it. Two of Ross and Francis’s workers who are fellow free traders are unexpectedly arrested for smuggling
Francis in his role as magistrate of the court is able to cleverly persuade his fellow judge to give them a sentence of three months hard labour, rather than hanging and he and Ross are alert to the fact George Warleggan has an informer working among them.
Verity comes to Trenwith, to visit her aunt who is ill and Francis comes to welcome his sister home. An eminently sensible woman, Verity asks Dr Ennis to call who susses out the old lady is faking it in order to keep her niece selfishly by her side.
Rumours of an informer abound. Captain McNeil calls on Demelza to ask her has she heard who it may be, driven to visit by the bruising Ross has given one of the miners suspected.
Wealthy landowner Ray Penvenen (John Nettles), now a special friend of Demelza, throws a party hoping to announce the betrothal of his soon to inherit a fortune niece Caroline to Unwin Trevaunance (Hugh Skinner), who dreams of becoming an MP.
However Caroline sends Unwin packing during the party, much to her uncle’s mortification. Little does he know she has set her cap on Dr Ennis, who goes to meet her in a nearby forest while she’s out riding.
Dwight Ennis confesses he is socially awkward and unable to get her out of his thoughts. Caroline reciprocates, telling him she doesn’t understand men at all. Asking what would she like to know, she allows him to kiss her.
Circumspect, a woman whose head rules he heart, she bids him farewell leaving for London where she tells him she will stay until she comes of age and into her inheritance in a few months time. At that point she’s hopeful of following her heart – marrying for love, how reckless!
George Warleggan meantime is offered the promissory note for Ross’s debt and purchases it so that he can hope to gain the upper hand on Ross Poldark and seize his property in lieu.
He comes to Trenwith where he encounters Elizabeth’s Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) first, who challenges his motifs for being there. He threatens her, which all things considered is not a wise move, discounting someone of advanced age with little to lose.
Having called Francis’s aunt an old crone may be George’s big mistake.
He tells Elizabeth, who is easily manipulated, as he wants her to know he has the promissory note and she asks ‘what would you ask’ to do nothing.
When she tells Francis he is furious and calls to tell George that he is no longer his friend and tells him never to call at Trenwith again.
Francis and Ross are going to blast a new tunnel far underground looking for copper. Francis sets the charges himself so they can be sure that only what they want removed will be.
They are examining the exposed rocks when a message comes for Ross calling him to Truro and so they put off the search until the next day.
After dinner Francis tiptoes into his wife’s room where he kisses his son before heading back to the mine alone to search for the copper seam. He suffers under a fall of rocks, thrown into a well of water that has formed.
The next morning the alarm is raised when they all realize he is missing. Despite Ross racing to the mine to find him, he’s too late. Francis has drowned never having learned to swim, remembering a time as children that Ross had saved him from the sea.
Five episodes have rushed by and Season 2 of Poldark is now half way through, having thoroughly engaged our emotions on every level. The funeral scene is really too much for anyone to bear.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016