“POLDARK” Series Three (2017) Episodes One to Five

 

“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE

Series Two of “POLDARK” ended on a dark note for me. The last six of its ten episodes featured the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. And if I must be brutally honest, I was not happy with it. Not one bit. Due to my low opinion of Series Two’s second half, I did not look forward to Series Three. 

The first five episodes of Series Three focused on showrunner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795”. That is correct. Following the publication of “Warleggan”, Graham waited twenty years to continue his “Poldark” series. Many fans of Graham’s novels consider “The Black Moon” and the two novels that followed as the best in the series. I certainly did. I still do.

Episode One of Series Three picked up after Series Two’s last episode. The episode opened with a very pregnant Elizabeth Warleggan and her husband George Warleggan galloping across the countryside. When it looked as if Elizabeth’s horse might be in danger of running away, up popped a concerned Ross Poldark, the series’ protagonist, to come to her rescue. Only Elizabeth was not in the mood to offer her gratitude. She remained angry over the events of late Series Two. Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth and the fact that she might be carrying his child, has not disappeared. While the War of the First Coalition raged on, Ross arranged for the secret wedding of his close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys to heiress Caroline Penvenen. Before the newlyweds could enjoy their honeymoon, Elizabeth went into labor, forcing Dwight to deliver the new Warleggan offspring, Valentine Warleggan . . . on the night of a “black moon”. And Caroline’s Uncle Ray Penvenen passed away on the same after giving his blessing to the newly married couple.

The first five episodes of Series Three also introduced several new characters. One of them happened to be Morwenna Chynoweth, Elizabeth Warleggan’s younger cousin. She was hired by the Warleggans to serve as governess to Elizabeth’s older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers, Sam and Drake Carne, were also introduced in Series Three. Following the death of the Carne family’s patriarch, Tom Carne, the pair decided to seek their fortunes in the parish where Ross and Demelza resided. Not long after their introductions, both Morwenna and Drake became acquainted with one another and fell in love . . . fully supported by the young Geoffrey Charles. Other newcomers included the Reverend Osborne Whitworth, a young vicar from an local elite family; Tholly Tregirls, an old roguish friend of Ross’ late father; Sir Francis Basset, a high-born landowner who wants to sponsor Ross as a political candidate; Lord Falmouth, a local aristocrat also interested in finding a political candidate to sponsor; and Hugh Armitage, Dwight Enys’ fellow prisoner of war, a Royal Navy officer and kinsman to Lord Falmouth. However, there seemed to be a missing character in Series Three – namely Ross’ old servant, Jud Paynter. Due to showrunner Debbie Horsfield and the BBC deciding that dear old Jud would be underused, they gave actor Phil Davis the boot.

I noticed that a few story arcs had emerged between Episodes One and Five:

*Dwight Enys’ capture by the French and Ross’ efforts to find and rescue him
*Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the parish
*The growing romance between Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne
*The effect upon Valentine Warleggan’s birth upon the Trenwith household
*George Warleggan’s efforts to acquire political office

I like Dwight Enys. A lot. One of the reasons why I like him so much is that he has been willing to accept responsibility for his actions – namely his affair with Keren Daniels back in Season One. But for some reason, I could not get excited over Ross’ efforts to both find and rescue him from a French military prison. One, I knew he would be eventually rescued. And two, it is possible that I was not that interested in watching Ross Poldark play “Action Jackson in France” – not in Episode Three or Episode Five. One major result from the rescue mission proved to be the death of Captain Henshawe, Ross’ right hand man. Episode Five made a big deal of his death. So did the media and a good number of fans. However, I just could not summon any sense of grief on my part. I barely remember the guy. I am sorry, but I did not. All I remember is Captain Henshawe’s funeral, which Horsfield had transformed into a major production scene, and gave Ross another opportunity to engage in more of his brooding man pain.

And unless I am mistaken, I do not recall Ross’ first trip to France (shown in Episode Two) being that eventful . . . or long. Nor did it help that during Episode Five, Horsfield’s transcript had shifted between scenes of the actual rescue mission in France, and a soirée hosted by Lord Falmouth that the Warleggans, Morwenna, Demelza and Caroline attended. Why Horsfield made this narrative decision, I have no idea. It merely increased my disinterest in the rescue mission. The only aspect of this story arc that I found interesting were Horsfield’s additional scenes featuring Dwight’s struggles as a prisoner of war. I thought these scenes effectively conveyed the urgency for his rescue. But as I had earlier stated, I found it difficult to experience any interest in the actual rescue sequence.

Horsfield made even more additions to this story arc by having both Caroline Penvenen (Dwight’s lady love) and Verity Blamey (Ross’ cousin) discover that their significant others were missing at sea in Episode Three. However, this failed to drum up my interest in this story arc. And why did Horsfield allow Caroline and Dwight to get married in Episode One? The pair did not become man and wife until one of the early chapters of “The Four Swan”. And their wedding was a large one that included George and Elizabeth Warleggan as guests. So . . . what was the point of this secret wedding ceremony? So that Ray Penvenen would have the opportunity to give his blessing to the union before he died? How maudlin.

Then there was Sam Carne’s religious fervor and his desire to establish a Methodist congregation in the local neighborhood. I sympathized with Sam, especially when he tried to find a building for his growing congregation. But I found his earlier efforts to enforce Methodist worshiping practices during an Anglican service struck me as slightly off putting. There were moments when I found myself supporting George Warleggan’s opposition to Sam’s efforts – for a different reason. On the other hand, I found it odd that Ross had originally expressed no interest in helping Sam. He seemed to regard his two brothers-in-law as nuisances and mere extended versions of his father-in-law, Tom Carne. I should not have been surprised by Demelza’s willingness to help one of her younger brothers. But I was. For in Graham’s 1973 novel, she barely made any effort to help Sam find a building for his new congregation. I can only assume this was one of Horsfield’s excuses to push Demelza’s character to the forefront of this adaptation.

As for the younger Carne brother, Drake, an interesting story emerged, featuring his romance with Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth. From a cold eye, Drake and Morwenna’s relationship seemed to be a remake of William Shakespeare’s play, “ROMEO AND JULIET”. None of the other major characters seemed to be interested in supporting this relationship, due to the ever lasting feud between Ross and George. Ross’ interest in Drake’s feelings for Morwenna seemed to be as non-existent as his interest in helping Sam. At least not until after Drake had accompanied him on the rescue trip to France in Episode Five. Apparently, poor Drake had to prove his manhood in order to attract Ross’ sympathy. George simply wanted to use Morwenna to further his own ambitions. Eager to find an elite sponsor to help him kick start a political career, George pushed Morwenna forward as a possible bride to a widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. As his wife, Elizabeth naturally was willing to help him in his efforts.

Morwenna and Drake also received no support from Aunt Agatha Poldark and Demelza. Both had pointed out that marriage would difficult or near impossible between two people from different classes. I had expected this from an old snob like Aunt Agatha. Demelza’s opposition to the romance – at least according to Horsfield – proved to be mind-boggling and a little false to me. Especially since she had married a man outside of her class and supported another mixed marriage involving class – Dwight and Caroline. Drake and Morwenna’s only support came from Elizabeth and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles. However, the latter seemed more focused on Morwenna’s feelings, instead of Drake’s. Considering that Geoffrey Charles was only nine to ten years old at the time, the young couple’s desire to be together struck me as doomed. It did not surprise me that Morwenna eventually caved in and decided to end her romance with Drake. Her decision to end the romance led him to join Ross’ rescue expedition to France.

One of the aspects of Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of “Warleggan” that I had despised so much was her handling of the night Ross and Elizabeth conceived their only son, Valentine Warleggan. I still despise it because Horsfield had transformed an act of rape on Ross’ part to barely disguised consented sex in order to save his reputation with the series’ viewers. In doing so, Horsfield managed to rob some of the tragic aspects of Elizabeth’s story – aspects filled with a gender theme. Thanks to Ross’ male ego and rage, Elizabeth found herself trapped in a situation in which she was forced to pass off his son as George’s. At least in the novel. In Horsfield’s version, Elizabeth is not really a victim of Ross’ ego, but merely of her own lust. In other words, Elizabeth brought upon this situation regarding Valentine upon herself. Horsfield managed to literally rob the gender aspect of Graham’s story arc for Elizabeth . . . for the sake of the leading man’s reputation. That a woman would write such a thing struck me as rather disgusting. But what Horsfield did to Elizabeth in regard to the latter’s relationship with Valentine lowered my opinion of the show runner even further. For reasons I cannot explain, Horsfield thought it would be more dramatic if Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan was portrayed as a cold parent, who resented her newly born son for forcing her to constantly lie to her husband George about his paternity. Elizabeth Warleggan . . . a cold parent? What a joke! I certainly do not recall her being a cold parent to either of her sons – not in the novels or in the 1975-77 series. More on this character arc later.

Horsfield also changed Ross’ reaction to Valentine’s birth. Following his rape of Elizabeth and Valentine’s birth in the novel, Ross went out of his way to ignore his second son. He wanted nothing to do with Valentine. Yet, Horsfield had Ross galloping after a pregnant Elizabeth in some effort to save her and make up for ignoring her following the night of Valentine’s conception. What on earth? On the night of Valentine’s birth – the night of the “black moon” – Ross spent most of his time silently brooding not far from Trenwith like some emotionally immature schoolboy. Aunt Agatha’s gloom-filled declaration that young Valentine was cursed, due to being born on the night of a “black moon” added what I believe was one ridiculous element to this story arc. There was another aspect of Ross’ character arc that I disliked and it had a lot to do with his relationship with Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles. In “The Black Moon”, young Geoffrey Charles had developed a hero worship of Drake Carne, while Morwenna Chynoweth was serving as his governess. This led him to be the sole supporter of the pair’s romance. However, Horsfield seemed to believe it was necessary to have Geoffrey Charles develop a hero worship of Ross . . . to the point that his attitude toward his stepfather reeked with as much snobbery as Ross and Aunt Agatha’s. And Geoffrey Charles’ relationship with Drake, which remained relevant even in the series’ later novels, seemed to have diminished a bit. Why? Why did Horsfield do this? To make Ross’ role in this adaptation of “The Black Moon” more relevant? To further ease the taint of rapist that clouds his character? Who knows.

Following the birth of his “son”, George Warleggan took the opportunity to kick start his political ambitions. I never understood why Graham had George follow this path. The character was an extremely wealthy man and the owner (or part-owner) of one of the most powerful banks in Cornwall. If anything, George has always struck me as the type who would financially sponsor a politician to serve his needs in Parliament. Instead, George attempted to court the attention of the likes of Lord Falmouth and Sir Francis Basset to finance his candidacy in Parliament. He had already managed to become a magistrate after Ross had rejected the position. George’s new role as a magistrate featured him handing down judgments – including one in which he dismissed rape charges against a scion of a high-born family. When I viewed this scene, I could only shake my head in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. One, I believe this . . . rape trial was never in “The Black Moon”. And two, it struck me as nothing more than a hypocritical attempt by Horsfield to erase the rape or rape-fantasy taint of Ross’ actions against Elizabeth in Series Two. George’s role as a magistrate also struck me as odd, considering that he seemed to be the lead magistrate during the Truro assize. Despite being the youngest . . . and least experienced man on the bench.

After becoming a magistrate, George eventually set his sights upon becoming a Member of Parliament (M.P.). His efforts to do so led to his attempt to push his cousin-in-law into a marriage with the Reverend Whitworth, who has blood connections to the Godolphin family. However, his and Elizabeth’s efforts at matchmaking hit a roadblock, thanks to Morwenna’s romance with Drake Carne and her refusal to regard the widowed vicar as a future husband. Instead, George turns to Lord Falmouth as a possible sponsor and manages to secure invitations for himself, Elizabeth and Morwenna at the peer’s soirée in Episode Five. Needless to say, between George’s clumsy attempts at character assassination of Ross and the news of the latter’s rescue of Dwight and other prisoners of war, his efforts to impress Lord Falmouth failed. Especially since one of those prisoners happened to be one Hugh Armitage, a relative of the peer. Horsfield’s portrayal of George’s embarrassment at Lord Falmouth’s soirée seemed rather heavy-handed to me. And I found it odd that Falmouth was introduced in the story by this point. He was first introduced in “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1796-1797” . . . and Horsfield has yet to finish her adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Very confusing.

Episode Four also featured a ridiculous sequence in which Caroline Penvenen tried to raise money to purchase food for locals starving from a drought and failed crops. In the novel, George and other local landowners donated money and the food was purchased. In this version, George did donate money to the fund. And then . . . oh God, I cannot believe I am writing this. Ross used the money to purchase goods that had to be smuggled on shore. This led to a contrived scenario in which George organized a troop of militia to catch and arrest Ross and the smugglers for free trading. Needless to say, George’s plans failed and he ended up looking like a fool. And I ended up shaking my head in disbelief in this heavy-handed and puerile attempt by Horsfield to villify George even further. Ever since Series Three began, Horsfield seemed hellbent upon transforming George into a one-note moustache-twirling villain. The complex man from Series One and Two seemed seemed to have disappeared. And poor Jack Farthing sometimes looks as if he is drowning in Horsfield’s gradual one-note portrayal of his character.

Some of the characters in the series seemed to have change for the worst in Series Three. Well, in Ross’ case, he had regressed to the Gary Stu hero from Series One and early Series Two. Well . . . not completely. His refusal to serve as a local magistrate (giving George the opportunity to fulfill the position) and unwillingness to help his brothers-in-law may have saved him from being a complete Gary Stu. And yet, I thought that Horsfield had focused a bit too much on Ross’ French adventures – especially in Episode Three. Most people would wonder why I found this unsatisfying. One, I found the portrayal of his first trip to France rather laughable. I do not know. Perhaps I see this regression as some effort by Horsfield to make him heroic and ideal in the viewers’ eyes, following his transgression against Elizabeth in Series Two.

Ross may not have completely regressed into a Gary Stu. But I thought Demelza Poldark had become the epitome of a Mary Sue during these first five episodes of Series Three. Before Series Three had aired in Britain, Horsfield had complained about the limited number of scenes featuring the leading lady in Graham’s 1973 novel. However, I suspect that Horsfield may have overdone it a bit . . . to the point of Demelza emerging as a world-class Mary Sue. The show runner had allowed Demelza become more involved in helping her brother Sam establish a Methodist church than she was in the novel. Instead of Caroline collecting funds to purchase food for the starving locals, Horsfield had Demelza joining her in this endeavor. Demelza also recruited the help of Caroline, her brothers and Sam’s Methodist congregation to divert George and the militia from Ross’ smuggling operation for the starving locals. I also noticed that Demelza seemed rather controlling in these episodes – especially toward Ross. I suppose this was Horsfield’s idea of Demelza paying back Ross for that night with Elizabeth. In fact, Demelza’s whole demeanor in these first five episodes seemed to be that of an early 21st century female, instead of a late 18th century wife and mother. Not only has Demelza become a Mary Sue, but also an anachronism.

For reasons that still astound me, Horsfield had added scenes of Demelza trying to convince Morwenna to end her romance with Drake. I found this mind boggling for two reasons. One, Demelza and Morwenna did not interact with each other until the second half of the 1977 novel, “The Angry Tide”. And two, Horsfield’s efforts to paint Demelza with as much sympathy as possible in these scenes did not work for me. Considering that Morwenna was Elizabeth’s cousin and Demelza remained hostile toward her former cousin-in-law, the series’ leading lady came off as hypocritical to me. Apparently, she believed there was nothing wrong with her, a former miner’s daughter and kitchen maid, to marry a landowner. It was okay for an heiress like Caroline Penvenen to marry an impoverished doctor from a working-class family. But apparently, her working-class brother marrying a young woman from an impoverished, yet upper-class family was a bad idea. If Demelza had simply used the current feud between Ross and George as a reason, I could understand. But she never did. According to Horsfield, Demelza believed Morwenna was too fragile to withstand a marriage to someone from Drake’s class. Many viewers bought this argument. I did not. Demelza did not know Morwenna well enough to make this assumption.

One of the aspects of Horsfield’s adaptation of “The Black Moon” that I found puzzling was her decision to switch back and forth between scenes of the rescue mission in France and Lord Falmouth’s soirée. What was suppose to be the connection between the two scenes? The only connection I could summon was that one of the prisoners rescued by Ross was Lord Falmouth’s kinsman, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage. And George learned about this piece of bad news (for him) from Elizabeth during the soirée. But George, Elizabeth and Morwenna were not the only guests at the soirée. Demelza and Caroline also attended. And from the moment when Demelza first laid eyes upon Elizabeth and George, she made a snide comment, criticizing the couple for attending a party during wartime. I do not believe Demelza could ever be more hypocritical than she was at that moment. Especially since she was also attending the soirée . . . during wartime. But Horsfield needed another moment to make George look bad and Demelza to seem more ideal. What is even worse is that many fans lapped up this shit.

WHAT IN THE HELL DID DEBBIE HORSFIELD DO TO THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH WARLEGGAN? Why did Horsfield inflict these extreme changes upon the character? Why? What was the point of portraying Elizabeth in this ugly manner? It was bad enough that Horsfield refused to allow Elizabeth to remain angry at Ross for the rape. Oh I forgot. We are supposed to believe that he did not rape her, despite the fact that he had literally forced himself on her,until the last moment. Instead, Elizabeth is angry at Ross for abandoning her, following that night on May 9, 1793. And here is where I shake my head in disbelief at Horsfield’s failure to remember that this story is set in the late 18th century and not the 20th or 21st centuries. I have already complained about Horsfield portraying Elizabeth as an indifferent and cold parent to her second son. Why did the show runner do this? Someone had tried to explain that Elizabeth was suffering from postnatal depression. For how long? She had remained indifferent to Valentine months after his birth – even when he was diagnosed with rickets. Are we supposed to believe that this negative portrayal of Elizabeth was supposed to make her interesting? I did not find it interesting. I found this portrayal heavy-handed and infantile. Right now, I find myself doubting Debbie Horsfield’s talent as a writer.

I am not stating that Elizabeth was an ideal or perfect person. She was not. Elizabeth was definitely guilty of supporting George’s efforts to convince Morwenna to marry the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In the novel, Elizabeth genuinely thought Whitworth would be a fine match for Morwenna – being unaware of the man’s true nature. She also believed that an arranged marriage for Morwenna would work as well as her marriage of convenience to George had worked for her. And to be honest, I believe that Elizabeth did not want to get into a conflict with George, especially since they had only been married for two years. But this production seemed to hint that Elizabeth’s efforts to play matchmaker for Morwenna and Whitworth stemmed from her resentment and jealousy toward Geoffrey Charles’ regard for her young cousin. Which was never the case in the novel.

But there was one change to Elizabeth’s character that truly irritated me. Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into an addict who relied upon laudanum and wine to help her endure her marriage to George. Despite her occasional bouts of insecurity, Elizabeth never had to resort to using drugs and alcohol to endure marriage to George or her life in general. Two, Elizabeth may have been insecure at times, but I have always regarded her as a strong-willed person, despite her “fragile” appearance. Three, she never had to “endure” being married to George. Elizabeth realized that George was no picnic and had his flaws in the novel. But she found her second marriage more satisfying than she did being married to Francis. Unfortunately, Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of understanding this. And apparently, so did many fans. Perhaps Horsfield and the fans could not endure any character preferring marriage to George over Francis . . . or any Poldark.

And I cannot help but wonder if was this addiction story line Horsfield’s way of kowtowing to those fans who wanted Elizabeth punished for marrying the wealthy George Warleggan in the first place? Was it really a crime to marry someone for money . . . especially when that person is aware that he or she has been chosen for their wealth? In the late 18th century, when such a marriage was common? Once more, Horsfield failed to understand that the “POLDARK” series was set in the Georgian Era and not in modern times? Ross did not marry Demelza for love. I believe he had married her as some middle-finger gesture to his upper-class neighbors, following Jim Carter’s conviction for poaching. And he would have never married her back in Series One if Demelza had not seduced him in the first place. Demelza’s reason for her act of seduction had more to do with giving Ross a reason to keep her at Nampara (as a kitchen maid and mistress) and not send her back to the home of her abusive father. Yet, neither Ross or Demelza has ever been condemned for their actions by Winston Graham, the producers from the 1970s series, Debbie Horsfield or the saga’s fans. Personally, I found Elizabeth’s reason to marry George a lot more practically and easier to understand than Ross’ reason for marrying Demelza.

Most of the performances in these first five episodes of Series Three seemed to be solid. I noticed that Robin Ellis made another appearance as the Reverend Doctor Halse in a scene in which he expressed regret at Ray Penvenen’s death. I like Ellis, but I find myself wondering over his continued appearances in this series, considering that Halse is no longer relevant in the saga, by this point. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson were competent as usual. But there were moments when I found Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza rather anachronistic. I do not know whether to blame the actress or Horsfield’s writing. I read somewhere that the BBC and Horsfield had fired Phil Davis, who had portrayed Jud Paynter, because they felt that his character was no longer relevant. I found this assumption rather odd, considering that Jud played a major role in a plot development in “The Four Swans”. Ellise Chappell, Harry Richardson, Harry Marcus, Josh Whitehouse, Tom York and especially veteran James Wilby all made solid debuts in the series. But I found Christian Brassington’s debut as the slimy Reverend Osborne Whitworth rather fascinating. I understood he gained a few pounds for the role. I hope he will be able to lose those pounds, once the series ends. However, I have to give special kudos to Jack Farthing and Heida Reed for their portrayals of George and Elizabeth Warleggan. It must have been difficult for both actors to rise above the shitty material dumped into their laps by Horsfield. They may have struggled at times, but in the end, I believe they may have risen above it.

You know, it is one thing to make occasional changes, while adapting a novel, play, etc. for a movie or television production. With her adaptation of “The Black Moon”, Debbie Horsfield no longer seemed to be making the occasional changes. She seemed to be rewriting Winston Graham’s 1973 novel into this barely recognizable tale reeking with ham-fisted melodrama. And I find myself wondering know how long I can put up with this crap.

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