“THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” (1976) Review

“THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” (1976) Review

There have been countless number of plays, movie and television productions based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” novels and short stories. Some of these productions have touched upon or portrayed Sherlock Holmes as a drug addict. Only two have actually explored this topic. And one of them was the 1976 film, “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION”

Film director and novelist Nicholas Meyer had written his first novel – a Sherlock Holmes tale – called “The Seven-Percent Solution” – and it was published in 1974. A year or two later, Meyer adapted the novel as a movie. Directed by Herbert Ross, the film starred Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, Robert Duvall as Dr. John Watson and Alan Arkin as Dr. Sigmund Freud. “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” began when Army veteran Dr. John Watson becomes convinced that his close friend and colleague, private detective Sherlock Holmes, has developed a drug-induced obsession with proving that a professor named James Moriarty is a criminal mastermind. After Moriarty complains to Watson that he is being harassed by Holmes, the good doctor enlists the aid of Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, to trick Holmes into traveling to Vienna, where he can be treated by a clinical neurologist named Dr. Sigmund Freud. While being treated by Freud for his cocaine addiction, Holmes becomes involved with a kidnapping case involving an actress, who happens to be another patient of Dr. Freud’s.

It is quite obvious that “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” is a mystery . . . like any other Sherlock Holmes tale. Only, Holmes is not the person who solves the film’s major mystery. It is Dr. Sigmund Freud. “Wait a minute . . . “ many of you might say. Holmes is the main character in this tale. And the film’s narrative includes the famous detective being forced to solve a kidnapping. But the kidnapping of Lola Devereaux seemed to be the movie’s B-plot. The real mystery seemed to be the reasons behind Holmes’ addiction . . . and his harassment of Professor Moriarty. And that mystery remained unsolved – by Dr. Freud – until the film’s final ten to fifteen minutes. Sherlock Holmes might be the film’s main character, but the main investigator in this tale is none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud. This is one of the reasons why I still find “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” so fascinating. For once, Sherlock Holmes is not the main investigator in one of his tales . . . he is the mystery. No wonder this film is so rare among the many works of fiction – on screen or off – about the famous detective. Not only did I find it rare, but also very interesting.

Since the real mystery behind “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” was about Sherlock Holmes’ personal demons and his drug use, I also have to give kudos to Nicholas Meyer in the manner in which he structured the narrative. He must have realized that he could not simply present a story about Holmes’ demons and his drug addiction and keep movie audiences interested. Especially since Holmes is the main character. Meyer had to include an adventure for the fictional detective, Dr. Watson and Dr. Freud. And I believe that Meyer was very smart to first center the story around Holmes’ addiction and his harassment of James Moriarty. Yet, at the same time, Meyer injected small clues that foreshadowed the trio’s adventures surrounding Lola Devereaux’s kidnapping. By the time Freud managed to “dry out” Holmes’ drug addiction, the story finally shifted full time to the kidnapping. I also thought Meyer was very clever to portray her as another one of Freud’s patients, in order to include the neurologist into the adventure. And yet, the rescue of Miss Devereaux was not the end of the story, for the real mystery had yet to be solved – namely what traumatic event led Holmes to his drug use and his harassment of Moriarty. Like I said . . . very clever. Meyer’s story was basically a character study of Sherlock Holmes, yet he included an exciting adventure into the narrative in order to maintain the audience’s interest.

Another aspect of “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” that I truly enjoyed was its production values. It is a very beautiful looking film. I believe the three people responsible for the movie’s visual style were cinematographer Oswald Morris, costume designer Alan Barrett and two veterans of the James Bond franchise – art director Peter Lamont and the legendary production designer Ken Adams. One of the aspects that I enjoyed about “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” was Morris’ beautiful and colorful photography of England and Austria, especially Vienna. I have only one complaint about Morris’ photography was the hazy sheen that seemed to indicate that the film is a period drama. I found that unnecessary. I was very impressed with Barrett’s costumes – for both the men and women characters. I thought he did an excellent job in creating exquisite costumes for a story set in the early 1890s. As much as I admire most of Morris’ photography for its sheer visual beauty, I also admire it for enhancing both Ken Adams’ production designs and Peter Lamont’s art designs. And I have to say . . . both did a great job in re-creating both late Victorian England and Vienna during the middle period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The performances featured in “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION” were pretty solid, with perhaps a few outstanding ones. Would I regard Nicol Williamson’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes outstanding? I am not sure. I have to admit that I was impressed by his performance in many scenes – especially those that featured Holmes’ investigation of Lola Devereaux’s kidnapping. However, there were a good number of moments when I found Williamson’s performance a bit theatrical – especially in those scenes when Holmes’ obsession of Moriarty seemed to be overwhelming or when the character was in the throes of cocaine withdrawal. Many filmgoers and critics have claimed that Robert Duvall was miscast as Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ closest friend and chronicler. Perhaps. I suspect that this belief is solely based upon the British accent that Duvall had utilized for the role. It was not impressive. In fact, I found it lumbering and somewhat wince-inducing. However . . . a bad accent does not exactly mean a bad performance. Despite his inability to get a handle on a decent British accent, I cannot deny that Duvall gave a classy and first-rate performance as the loyal and intelligent Watson.

Vanessa Redgrave gave an exquisite performance as Lola Devereaux, the sensuous, yet intelligent actress, who becomes the target of kidnappers. Jeremy Kemp was marvelous as the arrogant and bigoted Baron Karl von Leinsdorf, who also could be rather dashing . . . at least to women like Miss Deveareaux. Joel Grey gave an interesting performance as a mysterious figure named Lowenstein, who played a prominent role in Miss Devereaux’s kidnapping. The movie also benefited from solid performances from Samantha Eggar, Charles Gray, Anna Quayle, Georgia Brown, Régine and John Hill. Jill Townsend, who was married to Williamson at the time, made a very effective cameo as the Holmes brothers’ mother in a flashback.

But for me, the two best performances came from Alan Arkin as Dr. Sigmund Freud and Laurence Olivier as Professor James Moriarty. Arkin was superb as the brilliant neurologist, whose cool demeanor is constantly tested by Holmes’ abrasive personality, Baron von Leinsdorf’s bigotry and the adventure that he, Holmes and Watson are drawn into. I believe the other great performance came from Laurence Olivier, who gave a fascinating performance as the target of Holmes’ ire, Professor James Moriarty. What I found fascinating about Olivier’s performance is that he managed to not only convey Moriarty’s obsequious behavior, but also a hint that the character was hiding a pretty awful secret.

I realized that I only had a few quibbles about “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION”. I did not care for the hazy sheen that layered an otherwise excellent photography by Oswald Morris. There were times when lead actor Nicol Williamson seemed a bit hammy and if I must be honest, Robert Duvall’s English accent was rather ponderous and fake. But overall, both actors and the rest of the cast provided some pretty good performances, especially Alan Arkin and Laurence Olivier. But I was especially impressed by the narrative for “THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION”, a unique Sherlock Holmes tale in which the main mystery was focused on the detective’s own psyche.

Advertisements

“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.

Adapting “WARLEGGAN”

ADAPTING “WARLEGGAN”

Do many fans of the current adaptation of Winston Graham’s “POLDARK” saga have an unnatural hatred of the character known as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan? Or do they merely dislike her? Did this “dislike” lead producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC to sanction a major change in the relationship between Elizabeth and the saga’s protagonist, Ross Poldark during the current series’ Season Two? A change that I personally found disturbing? Or was it something else? 

Last summer, I encountered rumors that “POLDARK” producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC had decided to make a major change to the series’s adaptation of the 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” – a change that eventually reflected in Episode Eight (Episode Seven in the U.S.) of the series’ second season. Horsfield and the BBC decided to deliberately change the nature of an encounter between Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark in an effort to preserve Ross’ “heroic” image. Nearly a month after learning this decision, I learned that both leading man Aidan Turner and co-star Heida Reed (who portrays Elizabeth Poldark) had met with Horsfield. Turner claimed, along with Horsfield and Graham’s son, Andrew Graham, that the May 9, 1793 encounter between Ross and Elizabeth had been consensual sex and not rape, when the protagonist appeared at his cousin-in-law’s home (the Trenwith estate) to convince her not to marry his on-going nemesis, banker George Warleggan. Judging from what I had read in the 1953 novel, I find this opinion hard to accept:

“‘I can’t help this either.’ He kissed her. She turned her face away but could not get it far enough round to avoid him.

When he lifted his head, her eyes were lit with anger. He’d never seen her like it before, and he found pleasure in it.

‘This is – contemptible! I shouldn’t have believed it of you! To force yourself . . . To insult me when – when I have no one . . .

‘I don’t like this marriage to George, Elizabeth. I don’t like it! I should be glad of your assurance that you’ll not go through with it.’

‘I’d be surprised if you believed me if I gave it you! You called me a liar! Well, at least I do not go back on my promises! I love George to distraction and shall marry him next week-‘

He caught her again, and this time began to kiss her with intense passion to which anger had given an extra relish, before anger was lost. Her hair began to fall in plaited tangles. She got her hand up to his mouth, but he brushed it away. Then she smacked his face, so he pinioned her arm . . .

She suddenly found herself for a brief second nearly free. ‘You treat me -like a slut-‘

‘It’s time you were so treated-‘

‘Let me go, Ross! You’re hateful — horrible! If George –’

‘Shall you marry him?’

‘Don’t! I’ll scream! Oh, God, Ross … Please . . .’

‘Whatever you say, I don’t think I can believe you now. Isn’t that so?’

‘Tomorrow-‘

‘There’s no tomorrow,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t come. Life is an illusion. Didn’t you know? Let us make the most of the shadows.’

‘Ross, you can’t intend . . . Stop! Stop, I tell you.’

But he took no further notice of the words she spoke. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed.”

This is how Graham had ended both the chapter and the scene . . . with Ross forcing Elizabeth on her bed . . . against her will. It did not end with any hint that they were about to embark upon consensual sex.

Many fans of the series, especially young female fans had reacted with joy over the news. What they had failed to realize was that in making this change, Horsfield threatened to undermine the lesson of Ross and Elizabeth’s story arc and what it really meant. Winston Graham – a male writer – had the balls to show that even the “heroic” Ross Poldark was capable of a monstrous act. He had the courage to reveal that Ross was not some romance novel hero, but a complex and ambiguous man, capable of not only decent acts, but monstrous ones as well. Like any other human being on the face of this Earth. More importantly, his assault of Elizabeth revealed the consequences that rape victims tend to pay in a patriarchal society – past or present – in the novels that followed. It seemed Debbie Horsfield and the BBC were only willing to portray Ross as an adulterer. Is it possible they believed it would be easier for viewers to accept Ross simply as an adulterer, instead of an adulterer/rapist? Some individuals, including Turner, claimed that Ross was incapable of rape. Bullshit! Although a fictional character, Ross Poldark is also a human being. And humans are basically capable of anything. Hell, Agatha Christie had the good sense to realize this. Why is it that so many other humans are incapable of doing the same?

The moment I had learned that she had decided to turn Ross’ rape into an act of consensual sex between him and Elizabeth, I suspected that fans would end up slut shaming the latter. I suspected that even though many fans would be “disappointed” in Ross, they would eventually forgive him. However, I also suspected that these same fans would end up branding Elizabeth as a whore until the end of this series. It is soooo typical of this sexist society. The woman is always to blame. Even in the eyes of other women.

So, what actually happened between Ross and Elizabeth in the BBC’s recent adaptation of “Warleggan”? In Episode 8 (Episode 7 in the U.S.), Ross returned home to Nampara, his personal estate, and discovered a letter from Elizabeth in which she announced her engagement to George Warleggan. Despite his wife Demelza’s protests, Ross decided to go to Trenwith and try to convince or perhaps coerce Elizabeth into breaking the engagement. He showed up at Trenwith, barged into both the house and Elizabeth’s bedroom. An argument commenced between the two in which Ross tried to shame Elizabeth into breaking the engagement. She refused to comply, making it clear that her actions stemmed from saving her immediate family at Trenwith from further financial problems and ensuring her son (and Ross’ cousin) Geoffrey Charles’ future.

And . . . what happened next? Ross began to force himself upon Elizabeth. She tried to put up a fight, while insisting that he leave. He eventually forced her on the bed. And just as he was about to rape her, Elizabeth capitulated at the last minute. This last moment of consent was Horsfield and the BBC’s way of stating that the entire scene between Ross and Elizabeth was basically consensual sex. Can you believe it? Considering the manner in which Elizabeth tried and failed to fight off Ross before she “consented”, the entire scene might as well have been rape. After all, Elizabeth fought Ross until he had her pinned on the bed. If she had not “consented”, chances are he would have raped her anyway. Worse, the culmination of the entire scene projected the negative image of a “rape fantasy”. I am sure that many of you know what I mean. When a woman or a man says “no”, he or she really means “yes”.

You may be wondering why I would include a potential male victim in this scenario. Simple . . . many people harbor the illusion that men do not mind being the victim of a woman’s rape. Also, I saw this same scenario play out in a “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Six episode called (6.11) “Gone”. In this episode, the series’ protagonist had been rendered invisible by some ray gun (go with me here) invented by a trio of geeky scientists. Using her invisibility to indulge in her own desires, Buffy decided to pay a call to chipped vampire Spike (with whom she had begun an affair earlier in the season) at his crypt. She barged into the latter, shoved a frightened Spike against the wall and started to rip off his clothes. He only consented to have sex at the last minute when an uncontrolled giggle from Buffy revealed her identity. What made this scene rather sickening to watch was that it was written as comedy relief. I have the oddest feeling that producer Debbie Horsfield may have seen this particular episode and decided to write her own version of the situation in order to spare Ross Poldark from being labeled a rapist.

Someone had pointed out that the 1975 adaptation produced by Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn had adapted this sequence with more honesty. After a recent viewing of this series, I am afraid that I cannot agree. What happened? Well … one scene featured a conversation between Elizabeth and her sister-in-law, Verity Poldark Blamey, in which she made it clear that her reason for marrying George Warleggan was for money and more social clout. To make matters worse, the scene had Verity instructing Elizabeth to explain to Ross that the latter was considering the family’s salvation from a future filled with poverty and Geoffrey Charles’ future. But Elizabeth made it clear – in a rather bitchy and unsympathetic manner conveyed by actress Jill Townsend – that her reasons for George was all about a new life for her – with a wealthy husband. And she set out to include this in her letter to Ross. Even worse, the screenwriter had drastically changed Elizabeth’s personality once the series had commenced upon adapting “Warleggan” in Episode Thirteen. She suddenly began behaving as “The Bitch of the Century”.

When Ross had finally confronted her in Episode Fifteen, Elizabeth still insisted that a marriage to George was a way for her to have a new life. What I found distasteful about the whole thing is that this was NOT Elizabeth’s true reason for marrying George Warleggan in the 1953 novel. She truly made the decision to marry George in order to spare her family – especially Geoffrey Charles – a long future trapped in poverty, as was conveyed in the 2016 series. But I ended up acquiring the ugly feeling that Barry, Coburn and screenwriter Jack Russell had decided to change Elizabeth’s reason for marrying George in order to justify Ross’ rape of her.

And yes . . . Ross did rape Elizabeth in the 1975 series. Unlike the 2016 version, there was no last minute consent on Elizabeth’s part. But I found the entire scene rather rushed. Once Ross and Elizabeth barely had time to discuss or argue over the matter, the former quickly tackled the latter to the bed and began to rape her, as the scene faded to black. However, both versions set out to regain Ross’ reputation with the viewers by the end of their respective adaptations of “Warleggan”. How did they achieve this? Screenwriter Jack Russell included a scene in the last episode of the 1975 series in which George Warleggan had enclosed the Trenwith land from the tenants, forcing them to transform from small peasant proprietors and serfs into agricultural wage-laborers. This action led to a riot in which the former tenant farmers stormed the Trenwith manor house and burn it to the ground. During the riot, Ross and Demelza arrived to save the recently married Elizabeth and George from mob violence. This also gave the series’ producers and Russell to have Elizabeth ask Ross why he had decided to save George from the mob. What the hell? The enclosures happened in the novel. But not the riot. What was the purpose of this? To give Ross an opportunity to give Elizabeth a “you are beneath me” glare?

Debbie Horsfield decided to resort to a similar scenario in the 2016 version. However, before she could subject television audiences to this idiocy, she included a scene in which an angry Demelza Poldark got a chance to slut shame Elizabeth during an encounter between the pair on a deserted road. This scene, by the way, never happened in the novel. And quite frankly, I never understood Horsfield’s purpose by including this scene. What did she expect from the audience? Viewers pumping their fists in the air while crying, “Demelza, you go girl?” Perhaps there were fans that actually did this or something similar. I did not. In fact, I merely shook my head in disbelief. Pardon me, but I found it difficult to cheer on Demelza’s behalf, when I just recently watched her husband force himself on Elizabeth. Unlike the 1975 version, the Trenwith riot sequence did not end with the house burned to the ground. Instead, it ended with Nampara servant Jud Paynter, whipping up a mob to march on Trenwith and Ross preventing Demelza (who had gone to Trenwith to warn Elizabeth and George about the impending riot) from being shot by one of the rioters. The scene even included Ross riding through the crowd on a horse and sweeping Demelza up onto the saddle. It seemed like a scene straight from a Harlequin Romance novel. And I had to struggle to force down the bile that threatened to rise up my throat.

From the moment Elizabeth Poldark had decided to inform Ross of her upcoming marriage to George Warleggan to the latter’s confrontation with Ross over the Trenwith enclosures, the adaptations of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel for both the 1975 and 2016 series . . . well, for me they have been major disappointments. I am certain that many would continue to insist that Ross did not rape Elizabeth. Despite Debbie Horsfield and Andrew Graham, Winston Graham had verified what happened in this passage from his last “Poldark” novel, 2002’s Bella Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1818-1820″:

“They took Ross to Trenwith, the nearest of the big houses and about equidistant from the nearest cottage of St Ann’s. They made an improvised stretcher of an old door, and he lay on a blanket and covered by a blanket. Amadora, confronted by the emergency, in all ignorance put him in the very bedroom where he had taken Elizabeth against her will twenty-seven or more years ago, and so had started all this trouble, which had gone on so relentlessly and for so long. Dwight caught up with the procession just as it reached Trenwith, so followed the four men carrying the door upstairs.”

Were producers Morris Barry, Anthony Coburn and Debbie Horsfield unwilling to allow television audiences to face the truth about Ross’ violent act against his soon-to-be former cousin-in-law? Was that why all three television producers had insisted upon changing the circumstances that surrounded Ross and Elizabeth’s encounter on that May 1793 night? Or were they pressured by the BBC to make these changes, who may have feared that television audiences could not openly face or accept Ross as a rapist? Or perhaps the three producers, along with the BBC, knew that many viewers could accept Ross as an adulterer, but not as a rapist? Who knows? I know one thing. I hope and pray that one day, some television producer would be able to adapt “Warleggan” without resorting to excessive changes.

 

“POLDARK” (1975) and Misogyny

 

“POLDARK” (1975) AND MISOGYNY

I have just finished the first half of the 1970s adaptation of the “POLDARK” novels. The 1975 series covered the saga’s first four novels in sixteen episodes. And Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen adapted Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan”. And how did I feel about it?

Personally, I was disgusted. Those episodes, especially Episodes Fifteen and Sixteen, struck me as one of the most blatant displays of misogyny I have ever seen on television. Episode Fifteen featured the rape of the character, Elizabeth Poldark by her cousin-in-law and former beau, Ross Poldark, the series’ protagonist. He had raped her out of jealousy and some puerile attempt to stop her from marrying his rival, George Warleggan. And yet, the series went out of its way to demonize Elizabeth’s character in an effort to justify Ross’ rape of her. In Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen, the series transformed Elizabeth into some cold and money hungry bitch concerned only with a life of luxury and no concern for anyone else, including her son by her first marriage, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. This is ridiculous, considering Elizabeth was portrayed in the novel as a loving mother.

The producers and screenwriter Jack Russell clearly wanted to establish the belief that Elizabeth was being punished by Ross for not only rejecting him, but for also being some money-hungry bitch. It was disgusting to watch. What I found even more disgusting was that Russell added a scene in which she and Ross encountered each other a few weeks after the rape. In that scene, he merely regarded her with disgust for marrying George, despite the fact that he had RAPED HER only a few weeks earlier. I was so disgusted by this that I had to turn off the DVD to collect myself before finishing the episode.

Episode Sixteen finally ended with George enclosing the Trenwith estate from tenants. The latter retaliated with an attack on Trenwith, before burning it down. This never happened in the novel and it was quite clear to me that the producers and Russell created this whole scenario as a smoke screen to keep the viewers from remembering the fact that Ross Poldark is a rapist. By the time I finished viewing the 1975 adaptation, I felt ugly, dirty and disgusted.

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

poldarkcarolinetellingofenys

“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.

“POLDARK” Series One (1975): Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES THIRTEEN TO SIXTEEN

The fourth novel in Winston Graham’s “POLDARK” literary series, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” (1953)proved to be a big game changer in the saga. The novel featured the death of a major character, which in turn, led to some surprising schisms within the family of the saga’s protagonist, Revolutionary War veteran and Cornish landowner Ross Poldark. More importantly, “Warleggan” also featured a major controversy that proved to be quite a challenge for the BBC’s adaptation of the novel. 

Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn adapted “Warleggan” in Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen, the last four episodes of the series that aired in 1975. Ironically, this adaptation began where Episode Twelve left off – with Demelza Carne Poldark going into labor, as she reached the beach after interrupting a fishing trip. In the following scene, Ross, Demelza and their servants toasted the birth of the family’s newest member, Jeremy Poldark. At that point, the series’ adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791” ended and its adaptation of “Warleggan”. Confused? I was after viewing the first five minutes of Episode Thirteen.

Not much really occurred in Episode Thirteen . . . at first. The romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen continued, despite her engagement to aspiring politician Unwin Trevaunance. Francis Poldark, Ross’ younger cousin, seemed to have a new lease on life now that the two cousins have reconciled and invested in an old Poldark copper mine, Wheal Grace. The only black spot in Francis’ life was his failed marriage with Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. Despite his renewed relationship with Francis, a new son and the investment in Wheal Grace; Ross’ problems have not ended. He remained in debt. He continued to allow a local smuggling ring to use the cove on his land to hide goods. And his feelings toward Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark remained strong as ever. Elizabeth seemed to share his feelings. However, the episode ended on a tragic note when Francis fell and drowned, while investigating Wheal Grace for copper. Although grief-stricken over Francis’ death, Ross sold his Wheal Leisure shares and handed over 600 pounds (the same amount that Francis had invested in Wheal Grace) to financially help Elizabeth and her son, Geoffrey Charles. This act not only angered Demelza, but also increased her hostility toward her cousin-in-law.

The Poldark family drama took a back seat in Episode Fourteen. Instead, this episode focused on Wheal Grace and Ross’ involvement with the local smuggling ring. In the wake of Francis’ death, Ross traveled to France to question fugitive Mark Daniels about the copper ore that the latter had allegedly discovered while hiding from the law back in Episode Eight. However, Ross found it difficult to get any information, due to Mark’s bad health continuing obsession over his murder of his wife, Keren. During this time, Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen finally decided to elope. Unfortunately, Dwight discovers that a local man named Charlie Kempthorne had betrayed the smugglers to Captain McNeil and the militia. He sacrificed his marital plans with Caroline to warn the smugglers and Ross, who had just returned from France. The latter managed to evade being arrested by McNeil by hiding inside the Nampara manor.

While Ross dealt with his concerns over Wheal Grace and Trencomb’s smuggling operation, his nemesis George Warleggan courted the impoverished Elizabeth Poldark before finally proposing marriage to her. Elizabeth informed Ross about her upcoming nuptials in a letter. This drove Ross to ignore Demelza’s pleas to stay home and confront his widowed cousin-in-law at Trenwith about the engagement. Elizabeth made it clear that she intends to marry George. In retaliation, Ross took her by surprise by raping her. When he returned to Nampara the following morning, Demelza angrily guessed that Ross had sex with Elizabeth. Angry over his infidelity, Demelza accepted an invitation to a party hosted by Sir Hugh Bodugran. She planned to pay back Ross’ infidelity by having sex with Captain McNeil. However, at the last minute, Demelza could not go through with it and was forced to prevent herself from being raped by McNeil with a blow to his nether regions. And to avoid being sexually assaulted by Sir Hugh and another guest, she climbed out of the window and returned to Nampara.

The adaptation of “Warleggan” ended in Episode Sixteen. By this time, Elizabeth has married George, yet the couple continued to live at Trenwith. George closed off the Trenwith lands from its tenants against Elizabeth’s advice. Meanwhile, Demelza and Ross’ marriage deteriorated even further . . . to the point that she made plans to leave him and return to her father’s home. Discovering that Ross had went to Trenwith to castigate George for the enclosure of the estate, Demelza headed there as well. Not long after her arrival, both Demelza and Ross found themselves protecting George, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith from a mob bent upon expressing their displeasure at the enclosure. Although everyone got away – aside from a few servants, the mob burned Trenwith to the ground. By the end of the episode, the War of the First Coalition had started. Dwight Eyns joined the Royal Navy as a ship’s surgeon following his aborted elopement with Caroline. After fleeing the burnt out Trenwith manor together, Ross and Demelza finally reconciled on the beach before he could report to his regiment.

There were many aspects of Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen that I enjoyed or admired. I found the performances rather first-rate. Although there were moments that Robin Ellis’ portrayal of Ross Poldark struck me as cold and stiff, overall, I thought he gave a great performance – especially in Episodes Fifteen and Sixteen. Both he and Angharad Rees really stood out in one scene from Episode Sixteen in which they had a serious quarrel over his night with Elizabeth. The latter was also excellent in her scenes with actor Donald Douglas, who portrayed Captain McNeil. Episode Thirteen marked Clive Francis’ last performance as the doomed Francis Poldark. I realize that I have not always been that impressed by his performance in past episodes. That was due to the limited scenes given to him in the series’ first four episodes. But I thought Francis gave an excellent performance in his last episode – especially in his scenes with Rees and Jill Townsend. As always, the latter gave an excellent performance as Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan – especially in one scene with actress Norma Streader – in which Elizabeth expressed her disenchantment with the Poldark family to her sister-in-law, Verity Poldark Blamey. And Ralph Bates continued his smooth and cool performance as the ambitious George Warleggan, who seemed hellbent upon claiming Elizabeth as his wife and getting his hands on Poldark land.

The four episodes also marked memorable performances from Richard Morant and Judy Geeson, who continued to create sparks in their portrayal of the Dwight Enys-Caroline Penvenen romance. Donald Douglas gave a very lively and a times, rather intimidating performance as the Scottish-born militia officer, Captain McNeil. Pip Miller gave a very intense performance as Mark Daniels’ brother, Paul. And Martin Fisk returned to give a very poignant and effective performance as the dying fugitive, Mark Daniels. Other memorable performances also came from Patrick Holt (whose character’s name has been changed from Ray Penvenen to Benjamin Penvenen), Norma Streader as Verity Blamey, Mary Wimbush as Prudie Paynter, Peta Mason as Rosina Hoblyn and David Garfield as Jacka Hoblyn.

Episodes Thirteen to Fifteen also featured some memorable scenes and sequences. One interesting scene in Episode Thirteen featured Ross’ visit to Trenwith following Francis’ death and a rather poignant conversation between him and recently widowed Elizabeth, thanks to superb performances from Robin Ellis and Jill Townsend. I was rather surprised and impressed by how screenwriter Jack Russell and director Paul Annett utilized three separate story lines – Ross’ visit to Mark Daniels in France, Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen’s botched elopement, and the smugglers’ conflict with Captain McNeil and the militia – and managed to combine them into a suspenseful episode and strong story. I have already pointed out the scene in Episode Sixteen in which Ellis and Angharad Rees superbly conveyed a bitter quarrel between Ross and Demelza. I thought Annett did an excellent job in directing the mob attack upon Trenwith. I thought it was exciting and very detailed. But the most interesting sequence for me proved to be Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s house party. Thanks to Annett’s direction, I felt as if I was witnessing the upper-classes of 18th century Cornwall at its most decadent.

I had a good deal to praise about the 1975 series’ adaptation of “Warleggan”. But if I must be brutally honest, I did not like it in the end. I did not like it one bit. There were too many changes to Graham’s novel that I either did not like or rubbed me the wrong way. One problem I had with this adaptation was its use of the Verity Blamey character. When the series’ adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark” had failed to introduce Verity’s stepson and stepdaughter, I assumed they would appear in the “Warleggan” adaptation. Unfortunately, Coburn, Barry and Russell felt it unnecessary to provide audiences with a peak into Verity’s personal life with the Blameys. Instead, they used Verity in a scene with Elizabeth, involving a letter announcing the latter’s engagement to George Warleggan – a scene that I heartily disliked. I certainly did not like how the producers and Russell handled Francis Poldark’s death in Episode Thirteen. It seemed . . . rushed. Unnecessarily so. After a minute or two of exploring the depths of Wheal Grace, Francis slipped and felled. The camera then briefly focused on Francis’ dead body before the episode rushed to Ross paying the recently widowed Elizabeth a visit at Trenwith. The episode did not bother to focus on Francis’ struggles to stay alive before he drowned. Nor did it feature Francis’ funeral. I cannot help but feel that if Coburn and Barry had aired Jeremy Poldark’s birth in Episode Twelve – where it belonged – Episode Thirteen could have focused more time on Francis’ death.

I also disliked a scene from Episode Sixteen featured a scene that had Caroline Penvenen playing “Lady Bountiful” to abused and physically disabled Rosina Hoblyns by offering the latter a job as her personal maid. It never happened in the novel and the scene pointed a false portrait of Caroline, who was never that saintly in any of the novels. One other scene from Episode Sixteen had me rolling my eyes with contempt. In it, a still angry Demelza had decided she would leave Ross for good. She planned to leave their two year-old son Jeremy with Verity and Andrew Blamey . . . and return to her father’s home. I found this decision utterly laughable and anachronistic. Demelza was a character in a novel set in the early 1790s, not the mid 1970s. Since she was a woman, there is no way Ross would allow Demelza to dictate their son’s whereabouts without his consent. And since Demelza also had working-class origins, no judge throughout Great Britain would allow her to hand Jeremy over to the Blameys or keep him for herself without Ross’ consent. Chances are if Demelza had insisted upon leaving Ross for good, he would have assumed control over Jeremy and insure that Demelza never set eyes upon their son, while the latter remained a minor.

But what truly made me dislike the 1975 series’ adaptation of “Warleggan” was the manner in which it handled Ross Poldark’s rape of his cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Poldark in Episode Fifteen. I found it abominable. Producers Coburn and Barry, along with screenwriter Russell were willing to show Ross about to rape Elizabeth. The episode ended the scene in the same manner that Winston Graham did – with Ross about to force himself on Elizabeth, inside her bedroom at Trenwith. But Russell made so many changes – before and after the rape – to ensure that viewers would never castigate Ross for the rape.

One, the portrayal of Elizabeth underwent a drastic change in Episode Thirteen, when she was suddenly portrayed as this greedy and cold bitch. Many fans have accused the literary Elizabeth of being cold. Elizabeth was never really cold . . . just reserved. Introverted. Two, screenwriter Jack Russell drastically changed Elizabeth’s reason for marrying George Warleggan. Although she was satisfied with George’s promises of great wealth, more social clout and trips to London; Elizabeth’s true reason was to prevent her life and the lives of her immediate family from abject poverty and to prevent her son Geoffrey Charles from losing Trenwith in the future. This is what she had conveyed to Ross in her letter written to him. This did not happen in the 1975 series. Instead, Elizabeth literally boasted to her sister-in-law Verity that her only reason for accepting George’s proposal was for her to enjoy a life of great wealth. That is what she had conveyed to Ross in her letter. It seemed that Elizabeth was being “set up” to being punished by Ross for her “selfishness and greed”.

Ross read Elizabeth’s letter. He rushed over to Trenwith and tried to insist that she break her engagement to George. Then he raped her. The ironic thing is that the entire scene between Ross and Elizabeth was rushed. The pair barely exchanged three or four sentences before Ross threw her on the bed and proceeded to rape her. The attitude behind this entire rush job seemed to be one of “let’s hurry it up and get this scene over with”. But what happened in Episode Sixteen almost disgusted me as the actual rape did. Jack Russell created this entire scenario of Trenwith’s former tenants marching upon the estate’s manor house, attacking the inhabitants and burning it down. This was never in the novel. Yes, George did enclosed the Trenwith estate from its tenant farmers. But there was no mob scene created by Graham to give Ross the opportunity to play “hero” and save Elizabeth and George from being killed.

Worse, just before the outbreak of attack, Ross confronted the recently married couple about the enclosure. He had the nerve to confront Elizabeth and castigate her for her wedding to George. It . . . was . . . disgusting . . . to watch. I sat in front of my television set and watched a rapist slut shame his victim for marrying his rival. That moment was one of the most misogynist I have ever seen in my life. After Ross had saved Elizabeth and George from the mob, he slut shamed her again with a you are beneath me look, when she asked him why he had bothered to save George. He was disgusted? I was disgusted . . . with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn for sanctioning this piece of misogynist shit. And I was disgusted with Jack Russell for writing it. There was only one scene in the entire four episodes adaptation of “Warleggan” that painted Elizabeth in a positive or sympathetic light – when she criticized George for enclosing the Trenwith land from the tenants. I am glad that the producers and screenwriter were willing to portray Elizabeth being capable of sympathy toward others. But apparently, they were unwilling for television viewers to sympathize with her being raped. Why? Because she was a woman and thanks to the leading man’s obsession with her . . . a threat to his marriage with the leading lady.

And if that was not enough, I found myself wondering if the producers and Russell had found another way to slut shame Elizabeth. I am referring to the scene featuring Demelza’s confrontation with Captain McNeil at Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s party. Following her initial intent to sleep with McNeil, she changed her mind. In the novel, McNeil eventually backed off, realizing that he was not the kind of man to force his unwanted attentions on a woman. In the 1975 adaptation, McNeil came to no such conclusion and tried to rape Demelza. She fought him off by kneeing him in the balls. Then she made her escape. The message I got from this version of Demelza and McNeil’s encounter was a criticism of Elizabeth for failing to fight off Ross, earlier in the story. Russell’s screenplay seemed to hint that Elizabeth could have done the same if she truly wanted Ross out of her bedroom. Hmmm . . . considering that only one or two people have ever complained about this change, I cannot help but realize that our society has truly embraced a rape culture.

I plan to continue my viewing of the 1970s version of the “POLDARK” series. Why? Well, I bought the entire box set for the series. And many people, including myself, believe that the next three novels that follow “Warleggan” are among the best in the series. But I will never like the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan”. The producers and the screenwriters corrupted Winston Graham’s story and completely changed what he was trying to say about the consequences of rape through the Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan characters. For me, Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen were a damn travesty.

“Ross Poldark and Noblesse Oblige”

 

“ROSS POLDARK AND NOBLESSE OBLIGE”

“You are mistaken if you think greed and exploitation are the marks of a gentleman.” – Ross Poldark to George Warleggan, “P0LDARK” (2015) 

When I first heard Ross Poldark speak those words to his nemesis, George Warleggan in Episode Eight of the current “POLDARK”series, I found myself wondering if Ross might be full of shit. Or perhaps he was either illusional . . . or a class bigot. Regardless, I could not help but roll my eyes at his remark.

I realize that some might wonder how I could accuse Ross Poldark . . . Ross Poldark of class bigotry. This man has been a champion of the working-class in his little part of Cornwall. He has managed to befriend his workers. He has spoken out on behalf of them and other members of their class. And he has been willing to make any effort to come to their aid – especially those who work on his land, even if he sometimes come off as patronizing. He has certainly expressed anger when he believed any of them has needlessly suffered, due to the actions of the upper-class or other wealthy types. Ross had spent days in a state of drunken anger after one of his former employees, Jim Carter had died after spending over a year in prison for poaching. He had also married his kitchen-maid, Demelza Carne, despite the tongue-wagging of his elite neighbors and family members.

Also, one cannot deny that the Warleggans deserved Ross’ scorn. George Warleggan’s grandfather had been a blacksmith who eventually became a moderately wealthy man. His sons – George’s father and uncle Cary – acquired even more wealth, leading the family to become their parish’s wealthiest bankers. George was the first in his family to be and his family were a money hungry bunch that resort to grasping ways – legal or illegal – to not only acquire money, but also rise up the social ladder in order to become part of Cornwall’s upper-class. They are pretty much an ambitious and venal bunch who do not seemed to give a rat’s ass about the suffering of the lower classes. They also seemed willing to inflict suffering upon them for the sake of greater profits and social respectability. And yet . . . the interesting thing about the Warleggans is that they had managed to acquire great wealth on their own – meaning without the help of some aristocrat or member of the landed gentry.

So, why did I have a problem with Ross’ words? Were viewers really expected to believe that only noveau riche types like the Warleggans were capable of greed and exploitation? History tells us that the landed gentry and the aristocracy were just as guilty of greed and exploiting not only their workers, but their land, despite occasional moments of taking care of those beneath them when times were tough. And yet, I get the feeling that those moments of compassion stemmed from the idea of “noblesse oblige” – people of noble birth being duty bound to take responsibility for the well being of those under their patronage or employment. However, “noblesse oblige” had not prevented aristocrats and members of the landed gentry from engaging in years of exploiting their land, their tenants and their employees; living greedily from their profits, and doing a poor job of managing their money led to a decrease in their wealth. This was the case for Polarks, the Chynoweths and other upper class families – fictional or not – who found themselves cash poor by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. British landowners had been enclosing their lands – forcing tenant farmers to become agricultural laborers – since the late seventeeth century, at least a century before George Warleggan had enclosed the Trenwith estate, following his marriage to Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. And they continued to do so well into the nineteenth century.

If Ross regarded himself, his uncle Charles Poldark, his cousin Francis Poldark and other members of the landed gentry like Sir Hugh Bodrugan, the Treneglos, Ray Penvenen and Unwin Trevaunance as “gentlemen”, then his comments to George were spoken in error. Most, if not all, of these gentlemen were capable of greed and exploitation. Ross might occasionally criticize the behavior of his fellow members of the upper-class, just as he had did following the death of his former employee, Jim Carter. But he has never expressed antagonism toward them with the same level that he has toward the Warleggans. It is quite obvious that he regarded these men as “gentlemen”. He seemed to have no problems with socializing or forming a business enterprise with them. And if this is the case, I cannot help but wonder about the true reason behind Ross’ antipathy toward the Warleggans.

Had Ross’ antipathy originated with his exposure of the Warleggans’ cousin, Matthew Sanson, as a card cheat? I rather doubt it. Ross and some of his other acquaintances had been making snide comments about the Warleggans’ rise in wealth since the series began. No matter how many times George tried to befriend Ross throughout most of Series One, the latter would dismiss his effort with a sardonic or nasty comment. Yet, Ross seemed to have no problems with socializing with the likes of the snotty Ruth Teague Treneglos and her ineffectual husband; the money grasping blue-blooded politician Unwin Trevaunance, who sought heiress Caroline Penvenen’s hand for her money; or the self-absorbed Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who seemed to have no concern for anyone or anything, aside from his own pleasures – including Demelza Poldark, whom he pursued like some aged satyr. Even Ross is not the epitome of “gentlemanly” sainthood. He seemed so hellbent upon finding a wealthy source of copper or even tin from his mine, Wheal Grace that he failed to consider that he lacked the funds to ensure a safe environment for his workers. This determination to strike a lode without any safety measures led to an accident and the deaths of a few men. And his aggressive, yet adulterous actions against his widowed cousin-in-law (I might as well be frank – his rape of Elzabeth) in the eighth episode of Series Two made it perfectly clear that “gentleman” or not, Ross can be repulsive.

And yet, despite all of this, Ross seemed to regard the Warleggans as an unworthy lot. I am not saying that George and his uncle are a nice bunch. They can be just as repulsive and greedy as their upper-class neighbors. And on several occasions, the Warleggans have made derisive comments about Demelza, who happened to be a miner’s daughter. All this tells me is that contrary to Ross’ comment to George, the latter’s family is no better or worse than the other upper-class characters in the “POLDARK” saga. They are quite capable of being snobs. But what about Ross? Is he a snob? He may be friendly toward his workers and willing to help them out, but his friendly and compassionate regard for them seemed to have a patronizing taint. In fact, his love toward his working-class wife Demelza seemed to have the same taint.

Although his good friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, managed to rise from his working-class background to become a doctor, he did so with the help of upper-class patronage. And Ross provided his own patronage toward Dwight in helping the latter establish a medical practice in their part of Cornwall. Ross even helped Dwight in the latter’s romance with the blue-blooded Caroline Penvenen. I cannot help but wonder if the Warleggans had the benefit of “noblesse oblige” – namely an upper-class mentor to guide them in their rise to great wealth, would Ross have been less hostile toward them?

Perhaps it is one thing for Ross Poldark to help the lower classes have a better life – by offering them jobs or homes, providing patronage for someone with potential like Dwight Enys, or marrying his kitchen maid. It is another thing – at least for him – to tolerate people from the lower classes like the Warleggans to rise up in wealth through their own efforts and not via the benefit of the “noblesse oblige”. And my gut instinct tells me that the Warleggans’ rise via their own grit, ambition and brains was something that Ross could not stomach.