Anyone else out there loving the glory of Poldark on PBS?
I mean, how can you resist?
I haven’t seen the two-hour season finale yet (airing this coming Sunday), but as for the rest of the season so far, I’m loving it.
To back up a bit, Poldark is adapted from a series of books by the late author Winston Graham (which were also made into a PBS series in the mid-1970s). Book 1, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945, and the author went on to write a total of twelve book in the Poldark saga. The books are historical fiction set in Cornwall, with the first book opening in 1783 as Captain Ross Poldark returns to his family home after fighting in the American Revolutionary War — on the losing side.
Ross finds much changed upon his return: His home is tumbling down and in terrible shape, his family’s copper mines are failing, the workers are starving, and his beloved Elizabeth has become engaged to marry his cousin Frances, who belongs to the wealthier part of the Poldark family. Ross deals with disappointment and hurt by throwing himself into the restoration of his estate and his mine, and eventually falls for the lower class girl he rescued from abuse and brought into his home as a servant.
Demelza is a breath of fresh air, not hung up on manners, full of impetuous good spirits, laughter, and a good heart. With Demelza’s love, Ross begins to find happiness finally, and the two make an unconventional couple who incite the gossip of the upper class throughout the area.
After watching the first episode of the TV series, I just knew I had to read the books. The 8-hour first season covers the content of books 1 (Ross Poldark) and 2 (Demelza), and I ended up reading both. Normally, I dislike reading books after seeing the TV or movie versions of a story, but in this case, it only added to my enjoyment. I found that I enjoyed the TV episodes best without knowing what was going to happen, but knowing what would happen didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the books.
The TV show is very faithful to the major plotlines of the books, with only slight changes here and there to heighten the on-screen drama. (For example, a character’s mine in the books fails due to a crumbling economy, whereas on TV, the character loses the mine in a card game.) Likewise, the show plays up the love triangle aspect of the plot more than the book does, although to be honest, it’s really not as big a factor as the early promos might have led us to believe.
The books were simply terrific! Even reading them after viewing the events on TV, the level of detail and beautiful writing in the books adds to what I already knew, so I was never bored or feeling like I was going over familiar ground. The writing is lovely, and the descriptions of landscapes, interior scenes, even clothing and candlelight, are so masterfully worded that there’s a sharply visual element to the words on the page. (See my Thursday Quotables post from last week, here, for an example of what I mean.)
The TV production is stunning to look at (and no, I don’t just mean the curls blowing in the breeze or the sultry, brooding stare). The sea and the fields, the hills, the farms — they’re all gorgeous. Of course, there are some episodes that feature about three too many scenes of Ross dramatically dashing off on his horse as the waves crash beside him… but that’s easy to forgive. It’s not all eye candy. The plot is engrossing, and the supporting characters are, by turn, sadly valiant (cousin Verity), tragically doomed (poacher Jim), and buffoonishly weak (ugh, cousin Frances). And don’t get me started on Jud and Prudie, Ross’s household servants who spend most of their time drinking, fighting, or drinking and fighting.
While there are moments of light and joy, and swoonishly romantic love scenes, the tone seems to get darker and darker as the season draws to a close. As I said, I haven’t seen the finale yet, but I have finished reading Demelza… and boy, it’s a doozy. No spoilers from me, but if the show is anywhere near as tragic, I’ll be a big soppy, weepy mess by the end.
My understanding is that Poldark has been a big success for Masterpiece, so I think we can feel confident that it’ll return for season 2 next year. Meanwhile, I already have copies of the next two books… and while I really should read other things for a while, I’m super tempted to dive right into book #3 (Jeremy Poldark — and no, I have no idea who Jeremy Poldark is), if for no other reason than to find out (I hope!) that there’s some sunshine heading back into the story.
Sigh. Are you watching? Have you read the books? What do you think?
And yeah, I know I said it wasn’t all eye candy, but — seriously! How can they show this on TV and expect people not to paste it all over the internet?