“POLDARK” Series Two (1977) Episodes One to Five

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“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (1977) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE

A very strange thing occurred some forty-four years ago. Twenty years following the publication of the fourth novel of his “POLDARK” series, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”, Winston Graham’s fifth novel in the series was published – namely “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” (1973). Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn had already adapted Graham’s first four novels in 1975. The pair waited another two years before they adapted the next three novels in the series, including “The Black Moon” 

Most of the cast managed to return for the second series of “POLDARK”. At least those who characters were still alive by the end of Series One. Barry and Coburn were lucky to keep at least four actors from the 1975 series – Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and Ralph Bates; along with several other cast members. Only two roles were replaced with different actors. Michael Cadman replaced Richard Morant as Dr. Dwight Enys, and Alan Tilvern (“WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?”) replaced Nicholas Selby as Nicholas Warleggan. The first five out of thirteen episodes for Series Two focused on the 1973 novel, “The Black Moon”. The following two novels – “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797″ (1976) and “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799” (1977) were adapted within four episodes each. I found this surprising, considering that “The Black Moon” is not the longest of the three novels published in the 1970s. Why Coburn and Barry had decided to give this particular novel five episodes? I do not have the foggiest idea.

Episodes One to Five of “POLDARK” Series Two aka “The Black Moon” picked up several months after Episode Fifteen of the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” (1953). The series protagonist, Ross Poldark, has returned home after serving a few months as a British Army officer during the War of the First Coalition. Ross’ close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, is serving as a surgeon for the Royal Navy and is secretly engaged to local heiress Caroline Penvenen. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers – Sam and Drake Carne arrive in the Truro neighborhood to make their living. And Ross’ first love and former cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan, recently married to wealthy banker George Warleggan, gives birth to her second son, Valentine Warleggan. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to George, Valentine was conceived when Ross had raped Elizabeth in the previous series.

Following Valentine’s difficult birth, Elizabeth summons her younger cousin Morwenna Chynoweth to serve as governess for her older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Upon Ross’ return, he discovers to his dismay that his great-aunt Agatha Poldark is now living with Elizabeth and George at a third Poldark estate where she and her brother Benjamin Poldark use to live. Agatha had lost the estate when the Warleggan Bank had foreclosed on it. Ross’ cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey informed him that Elizabeth had asked George to allow Agatha to live with them. Despite Elizabeth’s kind gesture, Agatha and George take an instant dislike to each other.

Episodes One to Five cover the following subplots:

*Ross Poldark’ efforts to find and rescue Dwight Enys, who ended up captured by the French
*The developing romance between Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth
*Sam Carne’s efforts to create a Methodist church and congregation in the Truro neighborhood
*Elizabeth Warleggan’s concerns over her newly born son’s health
*George Warleggan and Aunt Agatha Poldark’s feud

I like the Dr. Dwight Enys character very much. Thanks to Winston Graham’s pen and Richard Morant’s performance in the 1975 series, Dwight managed to be complex and ambiguous without losing any sympathy from my perspective. And actor Michael Cadman, who took over the role in the 1977 series, did a solid job . . . at least from what I could garner from his performance in Episode Five. But I have to be honest. I simply could not summon enough interest in Ross Poldark’s efforts to rescue Dwight from France. One, I found Ross’ initial trip to France in Episode Three rather foolish, especially since he did not speak French. And sure enough, Ross was captured and nearly executed during that first trip. And when Ross returned to France with his brother-in-law, Drake Carne, and other men to literally rescue Dwight in the second half of Episode Four . . . I was simply bored with the entire sequence. There was no one to blame. The actors did their parts. Philip Dudley did an excellent job in directing the sequence. I realized that I was simply not that interested in watching another sequence in which Ross Poldark played action hero. Especially not after the events of the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan”.

A more interesting story arc focused on the young star-crossed lovers, Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne. This particular romance in the “POLDARK” saga seemed forbidden three-fold. One, the two lovers came from different classes. Morwenna was born into the impoverished, but upper-class Chynoweth family. Drake was the son of a working-class miner. Worse, their romance found itself smacked dab in the middle of the ongoing feud between Ross Poldark and George Warleggan. Morwenna was the cousin of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan and cousin-in-law to George. Drake was one of Demelza Carne Poldark’s younger brothers and brother-in-law to Ross. The situation of their romance grew worse, due to George’s determination to marry off Morwenna to a widowed and slightly plump young vicar named Reverend Osborne Whitworth in order to secure patronage from the latter’s powerful and elite family.

Looking back on this story arc, it was almost the most interesting aspect of the adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Thanks to the performances of Kevin McNally and Jane Wymack, who portrayed the young lovers, I found myself highly vested in this story arc. I have only two complaints about this story arc. One, instead of showing the audience that moment when Morwenna had decided to marry Whitworth, the episode’s screenwriter decided to convey this revelation to television audiences . . . after the wedding had occurred. In fact, audiences learned about Morwenna’s marriage to Whitworth following Ross and Drake’s return from France. Graham had not only conveyed the details of the wedding to readers in his 1973 novel, he also conveyed that on their wedding night, Whitworth raped his young bride, giving a hint to the marital horrors that Morwenna would face. Considering what Ross had done to Elizabeth in Episode Fourteen of the 1975 series, I suspect that Coburn and Barry wanted to skirt controversy by avoiding this incident. Only, I found their gesture rather irrelevant, considering that sooner or later, their writers would be forced to convey that Morwenna became a victim of marital rape.

The arrival of Demelza’s brothers also kick started another story arc – namely Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the neighborhood. Look, I am a firm believer in religious freedom. And I thought the show runners did a mildly effective job of conveying the struggles that Sam, who had inherited his father’s conversion to Methodism, faced in dealing with local prejudices against a new religious sect. Mildly effective. There were times when I found it difficult to sympathize with Sam’s efforts . . . especially when he developed this habit of trying to enforce Methodist forms of worship upon a congregation inside the local Anglican church. I found it rather controlling. In fact, I was annoyed by this habit that there were times when I actually found myself sympathizing with the likes of George Warleggan, who felt outraged and threatened by Sam’s efforts. If Sam had wanted a congregation that badly, he could not conduct his own services in some outdoor location . . . at least until he could find a building to serve as the neighborhood’s first Methodist church?

Bad luck seemed overshadow the life of Elizabeth Warleggan’s second son, Valentine. One, he was born out of wedlock, thanks to Ross’ rape of Elizabeth near the end of the 1975 series. He was born on the evening when a black moon appeared in the sky, prompting Agatha Poldark to declare that he was cursed. In a way, the elderly Poldark was proven right for Valentine developed rickets in his legs either in Episode Three or Episode Four. Valentine’s illness produced some interesting reactions in his mother and stepfather.

George Warleggan became immediately upset over the idea that his “son” was not as perfect as he had hoped the latter would be. This led George to nearly go into panic mode summon the rigid thinking Dr. Behenna to help Valentine. The doctor’s treatment proved to be barbaric, when he insisted that Valentine be kept in a tight swaddling that proved to be painful for the infant. Valentine’s illness produced a different reaction in Elizabeth. In one of those rare moments, Elizabeth revealed how strong-willed and almost scary she could be when she took charge of Valentine’s “treatment”, allowing her son great comfort in a cleaner room. And when George protested, she knocked the socks off him by insisting on helping her son “her way”. Although Ralph Bates gave a first-rate performance in this scene, it was truly a great moment for actress Jill Townsend. And this scene proved to be the first among a few scenes that proved Elizabeth was a lot tougher than she had previously let on.

But aside from the Drake Carne/Morwenna Chynoweth romance, the real highlight of Episodes One to Five proved to be the feud between George Warleggan and his wife’s former great-aunt, Agatha Poldark. Ironically, this feud began with bad writing, thanks to Coburn and Barry’s 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan” that left Trenwith burned to the ground by a mob. Why did they include this scenario that was not in the novel? In order to divert the viewers’ attention from Ross’ rape of Elizabeth. Without Trenwith, Coburn and Barry had no way to get George and Aunt Agatha in the same house to carry out their feud. So what did they do? They created a third Poldark estate called Penrice. According to the new narrative, Agatha was living alone at Penrice, following the death of her brother Benjamin. The Warleggan Bank repossessed the estate and Elizabeth saved Agatha from a homeless state by convincing her husband to allow the old lady to live with them.

Did it work? To an extent. Despite the creation of a new estate, despite the fact that “The Black Moon” adaptation marked the first appearance of Agatha Poldark in the series . . . it worked. Somewhat. Thanks to Ralph Bates and Eileen Way’s intense and skillful performance, I nearly forgot about some of the questionable writing that surrounded this story arc. And that included the final confrontation between the pair.

The adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended with George and Agatha engrossed over a bitter quarrel. Agatha, who had been looking forward to a major birthday party to celebrate her 100th birthday, was informed by George that there would be no party due to his discovery that she was only 98 years old. Agatha retaliated by informing George that young Valentine’s birth father was her great-nephew Ross. Dramatically, this was a great moment that led to another outburst by George and Agatha’s eventual demise. However, I found myself wondering how Agatha knew that George was not Valentine’s father. She had never appeared in the 1975 series. Which meant she had not been at Trenwith on the night Ross had forced himself on Elizabeth. So how did she know? Throughout Episode One, Agatha contemplated on whether Elizabeth was eight or nine months pregnant. She based this upon the position of the younger woman’s baby bump. How would she have known? As a spinster and member of the upper-class, Agatha would have never been in a position to nurse a pregnant woman, let alone act as a midwife. This was simply more bullshit from Coburn and Barry in their attempt to rectify their mistakes from Series One. But I was willing to slightly overlook this, due to Bates and Way’s performances and dynamic manner in which the adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended.

Aside from Ross’ two trips to France, I really had nothing to say about him or his wife Demelza in these five episodes. They managed to conceive daughter named Clowance during the same month of Valentine Warleggan’s birth. Both Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees had one fantastic scene together in Episode Two (or Three) in which Demelza tried to convince idiot Ross not to travel to revolutionary France without the benefit of an interpreter. Before that, the pair and Caroline Penvenen attended a reception that included aristocratic refugees from France. Otherwise, they were not particularly interesting in these first five episodes. At least not to me.

What else can I say about Episodes One to Five of “POLDARK”? Not much. Both Ross and Demelza Poldark were not that particularly interesting in this adaptation of “The Black Moon”. If I must be honest, these five episodes really belonged to characters like George and Elizabeth Warleggan, Drake Carne, Morwenna Chynoweth and Agatha Poldark. Although Episodes Four and Five featured what many would regard as a rousing adventure in revolutionary France, I found myself more fascinated by the family dramas and romances that permeated. Overall, I was satisfied. I enjoyed this adaptation of “The Black Moon” a lot more than I did Coburn and Barry’s adaptation of “Warleggan” from two years earlier.

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