Poldark (PBS)

I was a little nervous to watch this series, since I had so enjoyed the original adaptation done in the late 1970s.  I needn’t have worried — this series is a worthy successor to, and in some cases better than, the original.

Ross Poldark, son of a (very) minor landowner in Cornwall in the late 18th C, joins the army and ends up on the wrong side of our Revolutionary War.  Worse yet, he is reported dead, and when he finally returns home, he discovers that his house, his tin mine, even his fiancee, have been appropriated by others.  Ross sets about rebuilding his life.  His impetuous decision-making gets him into trouble, but his winning smile (usually) gets him out of it.

The real interest of this story is in its depiction of ordinary life — a sort of rough-and-tumble version of a Jane Austen world.   Ross tries to restart his tin mine by raising money from equity investors; a young banker on the make, engaged in the relatively new practice of commercial lending, has other ideas.  Ross continues to pine after his lost fiancee, now married to someone else; his new wife has other ideas.  Ross’ friend Dwight, a forward-looking doctor, tries to help everyone, but ends up making a muck of things.

The show has its bodice-ripper aspects — Ross even takes off his shirt in one episode.  But unlike the other currently-running 18th C period drama, Outlander, there’s little explicit violence, and no rape.  (The amount of sexual violence in Outlander is actually a sore point with me, which is why I don’t recommend that program.)  Women aren’t equal in Poldark’s world — but they figure out how to get stuff done.

The story lines are straightforward (don’t think too hard), and the acting is generally good.  Robin Ellis, the original Poldark, appears in a couple of episodes as the hangin’ judge, which makes for some amusing Poldark v. Poldark confrontations.  And the scenery (particularly the coastline seen on horseback) is really stunning.

Although Poldark and Indian Summers ran sequentially in the US on PBS, they were head-to-head competitors when they were shown in Britain.  Poldark ate Indian Summers’ lunch, not surprisingly, and will be back again next year.

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