PBS Masterpiece

Sundays, June 21 – August 2, 2015

9pm ET on PBS



Soon Aidan Turner will join other Masterpiece hunks and heroes as the new heartthrob of the PBS set, as the star of the new romantic, rousing, atmospheric historical seven-part drama, “Poldark.”

Smoldering Aidan Turner (UK series “Being Human” and “The Hobbit” films) plays British Captain Ross Poldark, who returns to his ruined estate in Cornwall after bravely serving in the American Revolutionary War — on the losing side. Long thought dead, Poldark finds that, in his absence, his father has died and his beloved sweetheart, Elizabeth (Heida Reed, “DCI Banks”) is about to marry his rich, ineffectual cousin Francis (Kyle Soller, “The Hollow Crown”).

Although scarred on the outside as well as the inside, Poldark must try to restore his property, prosperity and place in polite Cornish society. Not that Poldark always fit comfortably into the refined classes. On the contrary, his rough prideful spirit and his enlightened equalitarian soul never made him popular. For example, his wealthy, wily Uncle Charles (Warren Clarke, “Bleak House”), who is Francis’s father, actually gives him cash with which to leave town. But, our Poldark persists in charting his own course and remaining in Cornwall, despite the fact that his beloved Elizabeth is a bit too close by, bringing up longings that both would rather forget.

Ross Poldark’s quest to restore his fortune and his family name is made more difficult because of the economic recession and political discontent prevalent in Britain in 1783. The reign of “mad” King George III is fraught with expensive wars and excessive taxes. With high unemployment, tenants, servants and workers loyal to Poldark will even try to unearth copper from the old abandoned mine on Poldark’s estate. Yet, the Warleggans, villainous precursors of unprincipled private equity lenders, hover in the background, ready to pounce should Poldark fail.

Much to the chagrin of the neighbors, both rich and poor, Poldark takes in the young runaway Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson, “Death Comes to Pemberley”) to be his kitchen maid. Although at first, she is an ignorant scrawny, asexual being, she blossoms into a gorgeous creature who yearns to be Poldark’s equal, although she knows that in their striated world, such can never be the case.

The saga of Captain Poldark is a bit slow to start. I watched and liked the first two episodes; by the third one, I was hooked. The more we get to know our hero, the more there is to admire. There is also a ton of well-shot atmospheric scenery, which, quite frankly, I thought was overdone. I like romantic settings and people riding horses along windswept moors as well as the next person, and I understand that horses were the mode of transport. But I would have cut those scenes shorter in order to delve more deeply into the inner lives of the characters, since some of the secondary characters seem a bit one-dimensional. And there is an ample amount of source material to use for that purpose.

This new Mammoth Screen production for Masterpiece and the BBC is based on the first two novels in author Winston Graham’s series of 12 volumes about the Poldark family. The first seven end at Christmas 1799; the last five take place in the early 19th century and are about the children of the main characters of the earlier novels. The first television adaptation of “Poldark” was a huge hit on Masterpiece in the 1970s. With 12 novels of romantic material, fine writing and direction, and a talented cast lead by Aidan Turner, we should be seeing many more seasons of “Poldark.”

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.