Tuesday, December 12, 2017
"POLDARK" Series Two (2016): Episodes Five to Ten
"POLDARK" SERIES TWO (2016): EPISODES FIVE TO TEN
Sometime ago, I had expressed my feelings about "POLDARK", the 1975 adaptation of Winston Graham's 1953 novel, "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793". Needless to say, my opinions were not overall positive. Then I focused my attention of Debbie Horsfield's recent adaptation of the novel. Considering the writer/television producer's boast that this new adaptation would be more faithful to Graham's literary saga, I found myself wondering how she would handle the writer's most controverisal entry in his series.
Series Two of the new "POLDARK" stretched out in ten episodes. While the first four adapted the 1950 novel, "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel in Cornwall, 1790-1791" the last six episodes adapted "Warleggan". Episode Five focused on the last months of the life of Francis Poldark, protagonist Ross Poldark's cousin - his emotional reconciliation with his wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark; his duties as a local magistrate; and his excitement over his investment in the Poldark family's revived Wheal Grace. In the end, it was Francis' interest in Wheal Grace and a possible copper lode that led him down into the mine and to his death by drowning.
Despite its tragic ending, I must confess that Episode Five might possibly be my favorite one from Series Two. In a way, it represented the "calm before the storm" that eventually overwhelmed the lives of Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth and other characters. Unlike certain fans of the saga, I never had a problem with the "storm" that overwhelmed the main characters in this chapter of the saga. I never had a problem, as long as it was well-written. And I believe Episode Five was truly a fantastic one, thanks to Debbie Horsfield's writing and Kyle Soller's last and superb performance as Francis Poldark. Episode Five also featured an engagement party in which Ray Penvenen held for his niece Caroline and her foppish fiance, a politician named Unwin Trevaunance. During this party, Elizabeth had quietly confessed in a misguided moment that she still harbored feelings for Ross and sometimes regret marrying Francis in the first place. It was a moment that would rear its ugly head, later in the season. As for the episode itself, it seemed to be the only one featuring the adaptation of "Warleggan" that really impressed me. Because Horsfield's adaptation of the "storm" proved to be very disappointing to me. And I truly missed Soller's presence in the series after this.
Following Francis' death, Episodes Six to Ten focused on a collection of story arcs:
*Ross's continuing financial struggles
*Ross' continuing attempts to wield riches from the Wheal Grace mine
*the courtship between Ross' close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen
*Elizabeth's financial struggles to manage the debt-ridden Trenwith estate
*Antagonist George Warleggan's attempts to woo the widowed Elizabeth
*Ross and Elizabeth's close relationship and its effect upon Demelza
Despite the six hundred pounds investment he had received from his cousin Francis for Wheal Grace, Ross continued to struggle with finding a cache of copper. And because of this failure, his financial problems continued to persist for the next several episodes. At one point, Ross found himself on the brink of financial disaster when his nemesis George Warleggan had purchased the promissory note he had signed after borrowing money from his banker, Harris Peascoe. Worse, Wheal Grace proved to be an unsafe working environment and collapsed, causing the deaths of two workers. And all because Ross was desperate to find the copper he believed would alleviate his financial woes.
Many fans and critics seemed to lack the patience to watch Ross struggle financially. They seemed more interested in his personal - especially his romantic - life. In a way, I could understand. But I thought Debbie Horsfield handled his financial struggles rather well. However, I was annoyed by two things. One, his mine workers seemed very reluctant to blame him for the Wheal Grace accident. I get the feeling that Horsfield seemed reluctant as well. I admire the fact that she allowed Ross to feel remorse for the accident. But I found it unrealistic that not one Poldark miner was willing to blame Ross, let alone resent him for failing to provide a safe working environment for them. This whole scenario smacked of some management-worker fantasy in order to make Ross look good in the eyes of the fans. As icing on the cake, Horsfield made sure - in a ham-fisted scene - that series villain George Warleggan criticized Ross over the Wheal Grace disaster. If it had been someone else, chances are the audience would be more inclined to criticize Ross.
Unsure over the value of Wheal Grace, Ross made a quick trip to the Isles of Scilly to seek out the fugitive Mark Daniels, the miner who had murdered his wife near the end of Series One. I wish I could say that I found this sequence rather interesting. But to be honest, it lacked the pathos of the 1975 adaptation. Frankly, I have to blame actor Matthew Wilson. For me, he simply failed to convey Mark's guilt and grief over his wife's murder with any real poignancy or effectiveness. The only interesting aspect of this story arc proved to be Ross' return to Cornwall, where he found himself in the middle of a situation between the local smugglers using his cove as a landing spot and the militia. Frankly, I found it more than satisfying and rather exciting. The sequence ended on an exciting note with the death of informer Charlie Kempthorne. Ross managed to avoid the consequences of that night and his role in the smuggling by committing perjury in court and buying witnesses to do the same on his behalf. Unfortunately, poor Dwight Enys not only angered his blue-blooded fiancée by failing to rendezvous for their elopement, the local court fined him fifty pounds for starting a bonfire - which had alerted the smugglers to the presence of the militia.
In the end, a series of events helped Ross and Demelza rise above their poverty-stricken state. One, Caroline Penvenen secretly provided Ross with two thousand pounds, enabling him to pay off the promissory note that George had purchased from Harris Peascoe and prevent the former from eventually taking possession of the Nampara estate. Ross finally struck a lode withing the Wheal Grace . . . but it proved to be tin, not copper. And a neighbor to whom Ross had lent money years ago repaid his debt and allowed Ross to become an investor in his business. By Episode Ten, I came to the conclusion that Ross was not exactly an exceptional businessman and estate manager. It seemed pretty obvious that sheer blind luck was responsible his rising fortune by Episode Ten.
I realize that I had earlier stated that Episode Five was the last time I truly enjoyed Series Two. Well . . . perhaps not. I had no troubles watching the circumstances involving Ross, Elizabeth, Demelza and George unfold. And unlike the 1970s series, this current series did not rush through a good deal of the narrative in order to reach the sequence involving Ross' return to Cornwall on the night of the smugglers' conflict with the militia. I suspect that is due to the fact that the 1975 adaptation of "Warleggan" had stretched through four episodes and the 2016 adaptation stretched through six.
Amidst the turmoil that seemed to engulf the Poldark family and George Warleggan, the romance between the lowly-born Dr. Dwight Enys and upper-class heiress Caroline Penvenen continued its rocky path. Although the pair finally managed to admit their love for one another and become engaged (behind the back of Caroline's uncle, Ray Penvenen). They even managed to form a plan to elope on the night of Ross' arrival from France. However, their plans went nowhere when Dwight ditched them in order to warn the smugglers that a local named Charlie Kempthorne had ratted them out to Captain McNeil and the militia. Do not get me wrong. I do believe that Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have some kind of chemistry together. The problem is that I found it difficult to really care about their relationship. The problem was . . . Wilde. She did not strike me as a charismatic actress. There were times when I found her performance rather stiff and rote-like. Even when her character had expressed disappointment and anger over Dwight's failure to rendezvous for an elopement, Wilde did not seemed to be selling these emotions with any real conviction. Series Two ended on a happy note for Dwight and Caroline, when Ross arranged their reconciliation before Dwight was scheduled to set sail with the Royal Navy. Sometime earlier, the War of the First Coalition had started, the first of several conflicts between Great Britain and France for the next twenty years or so.
Ross and Demelza were not the only members of the Poldark family who struggled financially. With Francis dead, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith found themselves in a financial bind. The six hundred pounds that Francis had received from George Warleggan were invested in Wheal Grace. This left Elizabeth cash poor and unable to hire a bailiff to manage the Trenwith estate. She could not manage it, due being only trained to manage a household as mistress of the house. Thanks to Ross' never ending infatuation with her, he seemed willing to help her manage the estate every now and again. He even provided her and Geoffrey Charles with six hundred pounds from the money he had acquired through the sale of his remaining shares of Wheal Leisure. I believe these acts were Ross' way of attempting to rekindle the romance between himself and Elizabeth, now that Francis was gone. Ross became so focused upon Elizabeth that he failed to notice Demelza's growing awareness and concerns over his visits to Trenwith. But Ross was not the only one interested in romance with Elizabeth. George Warleggan, who has harbored romantic feelings for her since the beginning of the series, finally decided to make his move with her. At first, he used tentative steps - the occasional friendly visit to Trenwith, offering her advice on handling the estate's employees and tenants and presenting gifts to young Geoffrey Charles. The only fly in George's ointment was Francis' great-Aunt Agatha Poldark, who disliked him just as much as he disliked her.
As much as I had enjoyed parts of the adaptation of "Warleggan", it was not perfect. And where did it all go wrong for me? Well, the first hint occurred when Demelza complained to her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey about Ross ignoring her in favor of visits to Elizabeth. And what did Verity do? Talk to Ross about Demelza, which would have been the sensible and direct thing to do? No. She visited Elizabeth at Trenwith and gently convinced her sister-in-law to spend less time with Ross. Sigh. How passive-aggressive. And sexist. Matters grew worse with Horsfield's ridiculous portrayal of Elizabeth as some incompetent woman incapable of maintaining the Trenwith estate matters. This was utterly ridiculous. As a woman and a member of the upper-class, Elizabeth was probably trained by her mother to be the wife of a landowner - namely manage the household of an estate manor. She was never trained to manage an estate or a mine. The same could be said for Verity and Caroline. And although Demelza, who was born into the working-class, could manage a smaller house without servants; also knew nothing about managing an estate. But thanks to Horsfield, only Elizabeth's lack of experience in this matter was emphasized.
It grew worse. Horsfield treated viewers to this ridiculous sequence involving George Warleggan hiring some local thugs to frighten Elizabeth by squatting on Trenwith land. He hoped that this would finally drive Elizabeth to being opened to the idea of becoming Mrs. George Warleggan. I found this incredibly heavy-handed and unnecessary. In the novel, Elizabeth had already begun considering George as a potential spouse, thanks to her financial situation. Apparently, Horsfield thought Elizabeth required a more direct (and heavy-handed) reason to depend more on George. And why did she not turn to Ross? Well . . . she did. She had sent a note to Ross explaining the situation. And here, matters became very silly and childish. The Poldarks' housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, did not bother to hand over the note to Demelza. Ross was at the Isles of Scilly at the time. The entire scenario smacked of a scene from a teen romance novel. A desperate Elizabeth appeared at Nampara asked for Ross' whereabouts. Prudie kept her mouth shut and said nothing about keeping the note. And a cold and obviously jealous Demelza merely informed Elizabeth that the note was never received and Ross was away on business. Both Demelza and Prudie were so busy regarding Elizabeth as "the enemy" that they were obviously too stupid to notice Elizabeth's desperate air. In the end, the latter turned to George to deal with the squatters. From George hiring thugs to squat on Trenwith land to Elizabeth's desperate visit to Nampara - this was one of the silliest and unnecessary sequences I have ever seen in this series.
Then came Episode Eight, which I now regard as the nadir of this "POLDARK" series . . . so far. Earlier in the episode, Demelza encountered Elizabeth in Truro, where the following exchange occurred:
Elizabeth: I’ve been meaning to call upon you to thank you for your kindness these past few months.
Demelza: In lending you my husband?
Elizabeth: . . . in a manner of speaking.
Demelza: Oh, you’re welcome to him, just so long as you remember where he belongs and send him back to me when you’re done with him.
While many viewers were hooting with laughter at Elizabeth's expense or raising their fists in the air crying, "Demelza! You go girl!", I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. One, this scene was never in "Warleggan". Two, once again, Debbie Horsfield managed to slut shame Elizabeth in preparation for what happened later in the episode. And three, she managed to make Demelza look like a passive-aggressive bitch. Good going, Ms. Horsfield!
But what happened between Demelza and Elizabeth was nothing in compare to what was to come. Mrs. Chynoweth, Elizabeth's mother, fell ill and the latter realized she would have to care for her mother. At long last, George proposed marriage, promising both his riches and to clear the Trenwith estate of any debts for Geoffrey Charles. A very desperate Elizabeth accepted and very reluctantly, wrote a letter to Ross, informing him of her engagement. For once, Prudie did not withhold this second letter from Elizabeth and handed it over to Ross. Well, we all know what happened. He lost his temper and ignoring Demelza's pleas, rode over to Trenwith in the middle of the night to end Elizabeth's engagement to George.
The one good thing I could say about this scene between Ross and Elizabeth is that it featured outstanding performances from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. I found it interesting that only a few people managed to notice. Otherwise, I loathed it. The novel's version of this scene was ugly enough, considering what Ross did to Elizabeth. But Horsfield's version of the scene was uglier. As in the novel, Ross broke into the house, ignored Elizabeth's protests and confronted her inside her bedroom. He tried to slut shame her Then he forced himself upon her with kisses and later, forced her on the bed with the intent to rape her. Before he could rape her, Elizabeth embraced Ross, signalling her consent to have sex with him. What made this scene so ugly to me? By having Elizabeth consent at the last moment, Debbie Horsfield seemed to be endorsing the concept of "Rape Fantasy". I had never felt so disgusted in my life.
With the exception of one particular scene, Horsfield provided others following the Ross/Elizabeth scene that either annoyed or disgusted me. Upon Ross' return to Nampara the following morning, Demelza greeted him with a punch to the face and a great deal of hostility. The only aspect of this scene that would have made me cheer was Eleanor Tomlinson's first-rate performance. In the end, I could not because this scene was never in the novel. Worse, Horsfield used this scene to transform Demelza from a passive-aggressive bitch to an anachronistic character. Sigh! In the novel, Elizabeth was reluctant to proceed with her marriage to George, due to the trauma of being raped. At the same time, she wanted Ross to explain himself and apologize . . . which never happened. In Episode Nine, Horsfield attempted to solidify Elizabeth's guilt by having her spend her days at Trenwith, waiting for Ross to leave Demelza for her, thanks to Agatha Poldark's ludicrous suggestion that Ross might actually do this. Despite Caroline Blakiston's very skillful performance, Agatha Poldark proved to be very annoying to me, throughout this entire season. In the end, Elizabeth married George.
Demelza, on the other hand, made the misguided decision to punish Ross by attending a house party given by that old lech, Sir Hugh Bodrugan and engage in revenge sex with Captain McNeil of the militia. Remember that one scene of which I had no problems? Well, it was not Sir Hugh's party. Unlike the 1975 version, it seemed to lack any atmosphere whatsoever of a debauched late Georgian party. Instead, the party sequence seemed to consist of every man admiring Demelza's beauty and desiring her, transforming her into television's ultimate Mary Sue. In the end, Demelza and McNeil retired to a room, where she decided that she did not want to engage in revenge sex, after all. Unlike the 1975 version, which featured McNeil attempting to rape Demelza, this version closely followed Graham's novel by having McNeil deciding not to force himself on her. For once, Horsfield did the right thing. Like Graham, she was willing to show that unlike Ross Poldark, here was a man capable of not forcing himself on a woman.
Unfortunately, Episode Ten returned to the revised crap that Horsfield had inflicted upon Graham's saga. Like the producers of the 1975 series, Horsfield had Demelza contemplating leaving Ross for his infidelity and lack of remorse. Worse, she planned to return to her father's home . . . with young Jeremy. Was this scene in Graham's novel? I do not remember. I do know that she would have never gotten away with taking Jeremy with her to Tom Carne's home. As a man and a member of the landed gentry in the late 18th century, Ross could have easily used the courts to stop her. And I doubt very much that he would have tolerated Jeremy being raised in his father-in-law's household. He detested Tom Carne's bullying and religious fanaticism too much. Once again, Horsfield transformed Demelza into an anachronistic character. And like the 1975 series, Horsfield allowed Trenwith to be threatened by a mob after George had the estate closed off from its tenant farmers. This sequence began with Demelza confronting the newly married Elizabeth in the woods and slut shaming the latter for what happened on the night of May 9, 1793. Again, this was not in Graham's novel. I found it misogynistic and unnecessary. And I suspect that Horsfield added another ham-fisted scene to solidify Elizabeth guilty of adultery in the viewers' eyes.
In the end, the mob led by Jud Paynter did not burn down Trenwith. Demelza arrived at the Warleggans' home to warn them about the mob. Horsfield had Ross behave like romance novel hero and appear at Trenwith - on a white horse (ugh!) - to prevent Demelza from getting swept up by the mob and to prevent the latter from burning Trenwith and harming the Warleggan newlyweds. By the time Episode Ten ended with another scene straight from a romance novel. It featured Ross and Demelza reconciling near the edge of a cliff . . . again. Ugh.
Episodes Five to Ten, which featured the adaptation of Graham's 1953 novel, "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793", had started on such a promising note. But since the novel was controversial, due to the saga's protagonist becoming a rapist, producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC slowly transformed the adaptation of the novel into a pile of shit. Like their 1975 predecessors, Horsfield and the BBC lacked the balls to closely adhere to Winston Graham's ambiguous portrayal of Ross Poldark. The worst they were willing to do was simply portray him as an adulterer. Because of this, Episodes Five to Ten of Series Two for "POLDARK"seemed to be filled with heavy-handed revisions of Graham's novel and a rape fantasy scene that left me feeling completely disgusted.