Friday, June 22, 2018
"POLDARK" Series Two (1977) Episodes Six to Nine
"POLDARK" SERIES TWO (1977) EPISODES SIX TO NINE
I had earlier pointed out, twenty years after the fourth "POLDARK" novel was published, author Winston Graham continued with eight more novels for the series. In 1977, producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn adapted the fifth novel, "The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795" with Episodes One to Five. The two producers continued with Episodes Six to Nine, which featured the adaptation of the sixth "POLDARK" novel, "The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797".
Episodes Six to Nine picked up the saga by conveying the consequences of what had occurred in the previous five episodes. The adaptation of "The Black Moon" ended with protagonist Ross Poldark, his brother-in-law Drake Carne and several other men rescuing Ross' friend Dr. Dwight Enys and other British military types from a prisoner-of-war camp in France. Drake's love of his life and Elizabeth Warleggan's cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, married a young widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. Also, Ross' nemesis, George Warleggan, learned from the former's great-aunt, Agatha Poldark that the father of his infant son Valentine might be Ross and not him.
Due to his rescue of Dwight Enys and a few other military prisoners in France, Ross has become something of a hero in the eyes of many locals. Due to his popularity and his position as a member of the upper-class, Ross is being considered as a political candidate for Parliament by a very prominent landowner named Sir Francis Basset. However, the Warleggans and other business/political colleagues are at odds with Sir Francis' rival, a political patron and aristocrat named Viscount Falmouth, who seemed to have taken their past support for granted. When Ross refuses to consider running for Member of Parliament (MP), Sir Francis turns to the Warleggans and supports George's run for the office.
Most fans of the "POLDARK" series have expressed little or no interest in the story arc revolving around the political happenings of late 18th century southeastern Cornwall. In a way, I could understand how they felt. Despite Ross' occasional rants against the members of his class and concern for the working-class, the saga has never struck me as overwhelmingly political. Graham's saga seemed to delve more into the saga's setting from a sociological viewpoint. And to be frank, the saga's melodramatic narrative has always been the most interesting thing about it. I will say about the 1977 series' adaptation of "The Four Swans", it tried to make the story's political narrative as interesting as possible.
This adaptation featured two scenes that I personally found interesting. One scene featured Nicholas Warleggan informing Viscount Falmouth that he and certain fellow businessmen resented waiting hours for an audience with the peer and the latter's lack of concern for their interests. I enjoyed how actor Alan Tilvern conveyed Warleggan's resentment and anger in this scene. The other scene - from Episode Nine - featured the actual election that pitted a victorious Ross against George. The ironic thing is that this particular scene featured the two men and their running mates waiting in a room for the election's results. And yet . . . the entire scene brimmed with excitement, tension and anticipation, thanks to Robin Ellis and Ralph Bates' performances. Before the election, Ross found himself designated by Sir Francis as head of the local militia to face the threat of a possible French invasion. The only "threat" Ross and his men ended up facing was local mob violence instigated by starving locals who broke into a miller's warehouse for much needed grain. This incident led to a disagreement between Ross, who was reluctant to punish those desperate for food and a determined Sir Francis, who wanted the ringleaders arrested. Both Robin Ellis and Mike Hall infused a great deal of energy into this scene. Also, I could not help but wonder if the sight of the hanged body of one of the ringleaders was a foreshadow of the consequences Ross might pay with his newly formed alliance with his two political sponsors - former adversaries Sir Francis and Viscount Falmouth.
Another story arc that materialized in these four episodes proved to be the potential romance between Demelza's other brother - Sam Carne - and one Emma Tregirls, the daughter of Trolly Tregirls, an old friend of Ross' father. I had no problems with the performances of David Delve and Trudie Styler. Ironically, both managed to produce a pretty solid screen team. But I could not get emotionally invested in a romance between the pious Sam and the free-spirited Emma, who gave the impression of being free-spirited and sexually independent. I could easily see that they were not that temperamentally not suited for one another. Emma also seemed interested in Drake, who obviously did not return her feelings. Drake remained constantly devoted to Morwenna Whitworth. On the other hand, Emma also seemed to harbor a penchant for the company of Sid Rowse, George Warleggan's right-hand thug. More importantly, I found myself questioning her taste in clothes:
Could someone explain why the show runners of this series allowed Emma to walk around half-dressed in this ridiculous costume? It is a miracle that she was never arrested for indecent exposure.
However, Episodes Six to Nine are supposed to be the adaptation of "The Four Swans". The title served as a metaphor for the four major female characters in this particular story:
*Caroline Penvenen Enys
*Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth
*Demelza Carne Poldark
*Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan
I have a confession to make. The story arc involving Caroline Enys and her husband, Dr. Dwight Enys, proved to be something of a disappointment. The arc began with a large, society wedding in which nearly all of the major characters attended. As much as I enjoyed this scene, which I tend to do for those that feature social gatherings, I came away with the feeling that the Penvenen-Enys wedding was more about the guests than the newly wedded couple. Once the series moved past their wedding, it barely explored the first two years of their marriage. While Episodes Six to Nine explored the lives of the other major characters, Dwight and Caroline seemed to be utilized as minor supporting characters who either appeared at social gatherings or used as ready made therapists for Ross and Demelza. At this point of the story, Caroline had replaced Verity Poldark Blamey as Demelza's best friend. The only time the narrative touched upon Dwight and Caroline's personal lives was when the topic of her ability to carry a child came up. In the end, I felt that Judy Geeson and Michael Cadman were truly wasted in these four episodes.
Otherwise, their presence in Episodes Six to Nine proved to be inconsequential. And I believe I know why. Coburn and Barry, along with the four episodes' screenwriter, deleted the narrative regarding the Caroline and Dwight's troubles during the early years of their marriage. In "The Four Swans", this story arc involved Caroline insisting that Dwight give up being a local doctor and behaving like a prosperous landowner. As Caroline's husband, Dwight assumed full control of the estate she had inherited from her uncle. This story arc revealed that despite her marriage to Dwight, Caroline's class bigotry and her low regard for his profession had not abated. It had a negative effect on Morwenna Whitworth, who had depended upon him to keep her over-amorous husband from her bed. More importantly, the story arc exposed Ross' slight infatuation for Caroline and his own class bigotry. For it was Ross who finally convinced Dwight to give up his medical practice and adhere to Caroline's wishes. Being a member of the elite himself, Ross genuinely believed Dwight's marriage to Caroline finally gave the latter the opportunity to move up the social ladder and solidify his standing among the upper-class. And while it did, the marriage eventually deprived the neighborhood of a very competent doctor - at least in this story. I personally found the deletion of this aspect in Caroline and Dwight's narrative very disappointing . . . and cowardly.
Episodes Six to Nine's handling of Morwenna Whitworth's story arc proved to be a different kettle of fish. May I be frank? I believe it was one of the two best narratives within the four episodes. There were certain aspects of the portrayal of the Morwenna-Osborne marriage that I found questionable. One, the showrunners of this series seemed a bit reluctant to convey that Morwenna had endured marital rape at the hands of her husband on a regular basis. It also failed to convey that Osborne had raped Morwenna on their honeymoon night during the series' adaptation of "The Black Moon". There was a scene of husband and wife having sex on the night following the Penvenen-Enys' nuptials. It revealed Morwenna quietly submitting to Osborne. And when he turned on his side to sleep, she tried to initiate a conversation with him. Huh? If being married to him was that horrible, why would the series convey this? In fact, there was no sign of marital rape until Episode Seven or Episode Eight, when Osborne assaulted his wife, while she was recovering from childbirth. Why did Corburn and Barry waited so long to portray Osborne as a rapist? And why . . . by this point in the series, merely portray Osborne as a one-time rapist?
Despite this, Morwenna's pregnancy advanced the story in a way that I found explosive. Enter Morwenna's younger sister, Rowella Chynoweth. Morwenna came up with the idea to recruit Rowella to help her raise Osborne's two daughters, while she dealt with her pregnancy. What followed . . . turned out to be rather mind blowing. In a nutshell, Osborne became attracted to his young sister-in-law, especially after Dr. Behenna instructed him to refrain from sexual relations with Morwenna, following the rape. Surprisingly, Rowella became attracted to Osborne and began an affair with him. By Episode Eight (or was it Episode Nine), Rowella revealed to Osborne that she pregnant. He tried to pretend that he was not responsible, but Rowella proved to be a tough, ruthless and persistent adversary. One, she provided Osborne with her plan to marry a local librarian named Arthur Solway, so that he could provide a name for her unborn child. Two, she managed to convince Osborne - via blackmail - to provice her and Arthur with a dowry of five hundred pounds. And three, not long after her wedding to Arthur, Rowella revealed that she had "miscarried" the baby. In other words, she was never pregnant . . . and she had scammed him. I found this scenario rather delicious to watch. And when Osborne attempted to enforce his "marital rights", Morwenna revealed her knowledge of the affair and threatened to kill their new born son if he touched her again. Osborne took her threat seriously. Like I said . . . despite a few quibbles, I was very impressed by the handling of this narrative. And if I must be honest, the first-rate performances of Jane Wymarck, Christopher Biggins and Julie Dawn Cole contributed to the story arc's dynamics.
I have mixed feelings about how Coburn and Barry handled Elizabeth Warleggan's narrative in its adaptation of "The Four Swans". Let me explain. Following Agatha Poldark's revelation to George Warleggan that he might not be the biological father of his young son Valentine, the wealthy banker went out of his way to find anyone who could verify his suspicions that his wife had an affair with his nemesis, Ross Poldark. Although George failed to verify his suspicions, he began emotionally distancing himself from both Elizabeth and young Valentine and concentrated on beginning his political career. Elizabeth was initially surprised by George's chilly attitude. Eventually, she began to suspect that the mystery of Valentine's paternity was responsible. This led to an effort on her part to save her marriage. However, George's jealousy toward Ross led him to mistreat the latter's younger brother-in-law, Drake Carne by ordering his henchman, Sid Rouse, to beat the young blacksmith and torch his place of business. Ironically, it was George's mistreatment of Drake and not his distant behavior that led to a serious quarrel between the couple.
Elizabeth's struggles with George led to what I believe were two magnificent scenes between the two characters. The first featured Elizabeth's attempt to coerce George into revealing the cause behind his chilly behavior. This scene featured a first-rate performance by Ralph Bates, as he conveyed George's struggle to keep his emotions in check and an excellent performance by Jill Townsend, as she conveyed Elizabeth's bewilderment and desperation to discover George's motive behind his reserve. But it was the second scene in Episode Nine that truly impress me. But following Drake's visit to Penrice, the confrontation between husband and wife proved to be an acting showcase for both Townsend and Bates, leading me to regard them as the most valuable players of this adaptation of "The Four Swans". It also revealed that Elizabeth could be an intimidating powerhouse, when she chooses to be.
Between these two scenes, Elizabeth had an encounter with Ross at the Sawle churchyard. It was their first scene alone since he had raped her in Episode Fifteen in the 1975 series. Despite the excellent performances from Townsend and Robin Ellis, it left me feeling disappointed. Quite frankly, the screenwriter (whose name evades me) failed to faithfully adapt the scene from the novel, when doing so would have been more interesting . . . and honest. Instead of berating Ross for the rape (which she did in the novel), Elizabeth tried to avoid Ross, due to her fear that George would learn the truth about Valentine's paternity. This made no sense to me, considering that the series had actually depicted the rape back in 1975. In fact, the 1977 series began with Elizabeth harboring anger at Ross. And yet . . . suddenly, the producers had decided to avoid the topic of the rape by pretending that it never happened? What the hell? They even had the screenwriter changed the scene's ending by allowing Elizabeth to kiss Ross after he offered her a rather ridiculous solution to abate George's suspicions. Guess what? In the novel, Ross took Elizabeth by surprise by ending the conversation with a few kisses on her face. Jesus Christ! Once again, Coburn and Barry inflicted another attempt to whitewash Ross' character for the sake of his reputation.
Ross and Elizabeth's meeting at the Sawle churchyard also played a role in Demelza Poldark's story arc. A major role. So did Ross' rescue of Dwight Enys in "The Black Moon". One of the prisoners-of-war who returned to France with Ross and Dwight was a young Royal Navy officer named Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, who also happened to be a kinsman of the aristocratic Viscount Falmouth. Television audiences finally got to meet young Hugh in Episode Six, during one of Sir Francis Bassett's dinner parties, attended by Ross and Demelza. Both the latter and Hugh were immediately attracted to one another and engaged in a friendship with strong romantic overtones. Ross became aware of the attraction between the pair and occasionally made caustic remarks about their friendship. Otherwise, he did nothing. But Demelza eventually learned about Ross' meeting with Elizabeth at Sawle Church from Jud Paynter in Episode Seven. When Hugh urged her to join him on a walk to a local beach to view sea lions in Episode Eight, the pair's friendship immediately transformed into a romance that was consummated on that beach, leading Demelza to commit adultery.
Overall, I thought this story arc was well handled by the series' producers, director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles. The story proved to be melodramatic, but in a positive way. More importantly, it was not unnecessarily sensationalized, despite the topic of adultery. And I also found this story arc was well paced - from the moment when Demelza and Hugh first met; to his death from a brain tumor. The story arc also benefited from the performances of three people - Robin Ellis, who conveyed Ross' jealousy with great subtlety; Angharad Rees, who portrayed Demelza as a woman experiencing a genuine romance for the first time in her life; and Brian Stirner, who gave a complex performance as a charming, young Royal Navy officer who had no qualms about romancing another man's wife. And yet . . . there was something about this story arc that seemed odd to me.
Most "POLDARK" fans claimed that it was against Demelza's character to be an adulteress. I found that claim hard to swallow. Unlike many fans, I have never regarded Demelza as some ideal woman who belonged on a pedestal. Like the other characters in the saga, she was a complex individual with both virtues and flaws. Am I giving her an excuse for her adultery? No. But there was a certain aspect to this story arc that struck me. One has to account for the fact that Hugh was the first man who had seriously courted Demelza. Ross had jumped up and married her for a reason other than love after a brief, sexual encounter. Worse, he was in love with another woman at the time. Demelza also had to deal with lustful types like Sir Hugh Bodrugan and Captain McNeil, who viewed her as easy sexual prey, due to her lower-class origins. My problem with this version of the Demelza-Hugh romance is that it failed to match how it was portrayed in "The Four Swans". Hugh was the first (and only) man of her age to romance Demelza, giving their relationship an aura of youthful aura. I found it difficult to view their relationship in a similar manner in this adaptation. The problem is that Rees looked her age at that time - 33 years old. And Brian Stirner looked younger, which I suspect he was. Because of this, their relationship seemed to have more of a borderline May-December vibe to me, instead of a romance between two young people in their twenties.
Aside from two occasions of whitewashing in order to salvage the Ross Poldark character and a few other quibbles, I must admit that I enjoyed Episodes Six to Nine. Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, along with director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles did a more than satisfactory job in adapting Winston Graham's 1976 novel, "The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797". Their work was well supported by an excellent cast led by Robin Ellis in the lead role. This particular adaptation reminded me "The Four Swans" became one of my favorite novels in Graham's literary series in the first place.