“POLDARK” Series Two (2016): Episodes Five to Ten

 

“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (2016): EPISODES FIVE TO TEN

Sometime ago, I had expressed my feelings about “POLDARK”, the 1975 adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. Needless to say, my opinions were not overall positive. Then I focused my attention of Debbie Horsfield’s recent adaptation of the novel. Considering the writer/television producer’s boast that this new adaptation would be more faithful to Graham’s literary saga, I found myself wondering how she would handle the writer’s most contoverisal entry in his series. 

Series Two of the new “POLDARK” stretched out in ten episodes. While the first four adapted the 1950 novel, “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel in Cornwall, 1790-1791” the last six episodes adapted “Warleggan”. Episode Five focused on the last months of the life of Francis Poldark, protagonist Ross Poldark’s cousin – his emotional reconciliation with his wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark; his duties as a local magistrate; and his excitement over his investment in the Poldark family’s revived Wheal Grace. In the end, it was Francis’ interest in Wheal Grace and a possible copper lode that led him down into the mine and to his death by drowning.

Despite its tragic ending, I must confess that Episode Five might possibly be my favorite one from Series Two. In a way, it represented the “calm before the storm” that eventually overwhelmed the lives of Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth and other characters. Unlike certain fans of the saga, I never had a problem with the “storm” that overwhelmed the main characters in this chapter of the saga. I never had a problem, as long as it was well-written. And I believe Episode Five was truly a fantastic one, thanks to Debbie Horsfield’s writing and Kyle Soller’s last and superb performance as Francis Poldark. Episode Five also featured an engagement party in which Ray Penvenen held for his niece Caroline and her foppish fiance, a politician named Unwin Trevaunance. During this party, Elizabeth had quietly confessed in a misguided moment that she still harbored feelings for Ross and sometimes regret marrying Francis in the first place. It was a moment that would rear its ugly head, later in the season. As for the episode itself, it seemed to be the only one featuring the adaptation of “Warleggan” that really impressed me. Because Horsfield’s adaptation of the “storm” proved to be very disappointing to me. And I truly missed Soller’s presence in the series after this.

Following Francis’ death, Episodes Six to Ten focused on a collection of story arcs:

*Ross’s continuing financial struggles
*Ross’ continuing attempts to wield riches from the Wheal Grace mine
*the courtship between Ross’ close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen
*Elizabeth’s financial struggles to manage the debt-ridden Trenwith estate
*Antagonist George Warleggan’s attempts to woo the widowed Elizabeth
*Ross and Elizabeth’s close relationship and its effect upon Demelza

Despite the six hundred pounds investment he had received from his cousin Francis for Wheal Grace, Ross continued to struggle with finding a cache of copper. And because of this failure, his financial problems continued to persist for the next several episodes. At one point, Ross found himself on the brink of financial disaster when his nemesis George Warleggan had purchased the promissory note he had signed after borrowing money from his banker, Harris Peascoe. Worse, Wheal Grace proved to be an unsafe working environment and collapsed, causing the deaths of two workers. And all because Ross was desperate to find the copper he believed would alleviate his financial woes.

Many fans and critics seemed to lack the patience to watch Ross struggle financially. They seemed more interested in his personal – especially his romantic – life. In a way, I could understand. But I thought Debbie Horsfield handled his financial struggles rather well. However, I was annoyed by two things. One, his mine workers seemed very reluctant to blame him for the Wheal Grace accident. I get the feeling that Horsfield seemed reluctant as well. I admire the fact that she allowed Ross to feel remorse for the accident. But I found it unrealistic that not one Poldark miner was willing to blame Ross, let alone resent him for failing to provide a safe working environment for them. This whole scenario smacked of some management-worker fantasy in order to make Ross look good in the eyes of the fans. As icing on the cake, Horsfield made sure – in a ham-fisted scene – that series villain George Warleggan criticized Ross over the Wheal Grace disaster. If it had been someone else, chances are the audience would be more inclined to criticize Ross.

Unsure over the value of Wheal Grace, Ross made a quick trip to the Isles of Scilly to seek out the fugitive Mark Daniels, the miner who had murdered his wife near the end of Series One. I wish I could say that I found this sequence rather interesting. But to be honest, it lacked the pathos of the 1975 adaptation. Frankly, I have to blame actor Matthew Wilson. For me, he simply failed to convey Mark’s guilt and grief over his wife’s murder with any real poignancy or effectiveness. The only interesting aspect of this story arc proved to be Ross’ return to Cornwall, where he found himself in the middle of a situation between the local smugglers using his cove as a landing spot and the militia. Frankly, I found it more than satisfying and rather exciting. The sequence ended on an exciting note with the death of informer Charlie Kempthorne. Ross managed to avoid the consequences of that night and his role in the smuggling by committing perjury in court and buying witnesses to do the same on his behalf. Unfortunately, poor Dwight Enys not only angered his blue-blooded fiancée by failing to rendezvous for their elopement, the local court fined him fifty pounds for starting a bonfire – which had alerted the smugglers to the presence of the militia.

In the end, a series of events helped Ross and Demelza rise above their poverty-stricken state. One, Caroline Penvenen secretly provided Ross with two thousand pounds, enabling him to pay off the promissory note that George had purchased from Harris Peascoe and prevent the former from eventually taking possession of the Nampara estate. Ross finally struck a lode withing the Wheal Grace . . . but it proved to be tin, not copper. And a neighbor to whom Ross had lent money years ago repaid his debt and allowed Ross to become an investor in his business. By Episode Ten, I came to the conclusion that Ross was not exactly an exceptional businessman and estate manager. It seemed pretty obvious that sheer blind luck was responsible his rising fortune by Episode Ten.

I realize that I had earlier stated that Episode Five was the last time I truly enjoyed Series Two. Well . . . perhaps not. I had no troubles watching the circumstances involving Ross, Elizabeth, Demelza and George unfold. And unlike the 1970s series, this current series did not rush through a good deal of the narrative in order to reach the sequence involving Ross’ return to Cornwall on the night of the smugglers’ conflict with the militia. I suspect that is due to the fact that the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan” had stretched through four episodes and the 2016 adaptation stretched through six.

Amidst the turmoil that seemed to engulf the Poldark family and George Warleggan, the romance between the lowly-born Dr. Dwight Enys and upper-class heiress Caroline Penvenen continued its rocky path. Although the pair finally managed to admit their love for one another and become engaged (behind the back of Caroline’s uncle, Ray Penvenen). They even managed to form a plan to elope on the night of Ross’ arrival from France. However, their plans went nowhere when Dwight ditched them in order to warn the smugglers that a local named Charlie Kempthorne had ratted them out to Captain McNeil and the militia. Do not get me wrong. I do believe that Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have some kind of chemistry together. The problem is that I found it difficult to really care about their relationship. The problem was . . . Wilde. She did not strike me as a charismatic actress. There were times when I found her performance rather stiff and rote-like. Even when her character had expressed disappointment and anger over Dwight’s failure to rendezvous for an elopement, Wilde did not seemed to be selling these emotions with any real conviction. Series Two ended on a happy note for Dwight and Caroline, when Ross arranged their reconciliation before Dwight was scheduled to set sail with the Royal Navy. Sometime earlier, the War of the First Coalition had started, the first of several conflicts between Great Britain and France for the next twenty years or so.

Ross and Demelza were not the only members of the Poldark family who struggled financially. With Francis dead, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith found themselves in a financial bind. The six hundred pounds that Francis had received from George Warleggan were invested in Wheal Grace. This left Elizabeth cash poor and unable to hire a bailiff to manage the Trenwith estate. She could not manage it, due being only trained to manage a household as mistress of the house. Thanks to Ross’ never ending infatuation with her, he seemed willing to help her manage the estate every now and again. He even provided her and Geoffrey Charles with six hundred pounds from the money he had acquired through the sale of his remaining shares of Wheal Leisure. I believe these acts were Ross’ way of attempting to rekindle the romance between himself and Elizabeth, now that Francis was gone. Ross became so focused upon Elizabeth that he failed to notice Demelza’s growing awareness and concerns over his visits to Trenwith. But Ross was not the only one interested in romance with Elizabeth. George Warleggan, who has harbored romantic feelings for her since the beginning of the series, finally decided to make his move with her. At first, he used tentative steps – the occasional friendly visit to Trenwith, offering her advice on handling the estate’s employees and tenants and presenting gifts to young Geoffrey Charles. The only fly in George’s ointment was Francis’ great-Aunt Agatha Poldark, who disliked him just as much as he disliked her.

As much as I had enjoyed parts of the adaptation of “Warleggan”, it was not perfect. And where did it all go wrong for me? Well, the first hint occurred when Demelza complained to her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey about Ross ignoring her in favor of visits to Elizabeth. And what did Verity do? Talk to Ross about Demelza, which would have been the sensible and direct thing to do? No. She visited Elizabeth at Trenwith and gently convinced her sister-in-law to spend less time with Ross. Sigh. How passive-aggressive. And sexist. Matters grew worse with Horsfield’s ridiculous portrayal of Elizabeth as some incompetent woman incapable of maintaining the Trenwith estate matters. This was utterly ridiculous. As a woman and a member of the upper-class, Elizabeth was probably trained by her mother to be the wife of a landowner – namely manage the household of an estate manor. She was never trained to manage an estate or a mine. The same could be said for Verity and Caroline. And although Demelza, who was born into the working-class, could manage a smaller house without servants; also knew nothing about managing an estate. But thanks to Horsfield, only Elizabeth’s lack of experience in this matter was emphasized.

It grew worse. Horsfield treated viewers to this ridiculous sequence involving George Warleggan hiring some local thugs to frighten Elizabeth by squatting on Trenwith land. He hoped that this would finally drive Elizabeth to being opened to the idea of becoming Mrs. George Warleggan. I found this incredibly heavy-handed and unnecessary. In the novel, Elizabeth had already begun considering George as a potential spouse, thanks to her financial situation. Apparently, Horsfield thought Elizabeth required a more direct (and heavy-handed) reason to depend more on George. And why did she not turn to Ross? Well . . . she did. She had sent a note to Ross explaining the situation. And here, matters became very silly and childish. The Poldarks’ housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, did not bother to hand over the note to Demelza. Ross was at the Isles of Scilly at the time. The entire scenario smacked of a scene from a teen romance novel. A desperate Elizabeth appeared at Nampara asked for Ross’ whereabouts. Prudie kept her mouth shut and said nothing about keeping the note. And a cold and obviously jealous Demelza merely informed Elizabeth that the note was never received and Ross was away on business. Both Demelza and Prudie were so busy regarding Elizabeth as “the enemy” that they were obviously too stupid to notice Elizabeth’s desperate air. In the end, the latter turned to George to deal with the squatters. From George hiring thugs to squat on Trenwith land to Elizabeth’s desperate visit to Nampara – this was one of the silliest and unnecessary sequences I have ever seen in this series.

Then came Episode Eight, which I now regard as the nadir of this “POLDARK” series . . . so far. Earlier in the episode, Demelza encountered Elizabeth in Truro, where the following exchange occurred:

Elizabeth: I’ve been meaning to call upon you to thank you for your kindness these past few months.

Demelza: In lending you my husband?

Elizabeth: . . . in a manner of speaking.

Demelza: Oh, you’re welcome to him, just so long as you remember where he belongs and send him back to me when you’re done with him.

While many viewers were hooting with laughter at Elizabeth’s expense or raising their fists in the air crying, “Demelza! You go girl!”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. One, this scene was never in “Warleggan”. Two, once again, Debbie Horsfield managed to slut shame Elizabeth in preparation for what happened later in the episode. And three, she managed to make Demelza look like a passive-aggressive bitch. Good going, Ms. Horsfield!

But what happened between Demelza and Elizabeth was nothing in compare to what was to come. Mrs. Chynoweth, Elizabeth’s mother, fell ill and the latter realized she would have to care for her mother. At long last, George proposed marriage, promising both his riches and to clear the Trenwith estate of any debts for Geoffrey Charles. A very desperate Elizabeth accepted and very reluctantly, wrote a letter to Ross, informing him of her engagement. For once, Prudie did not withhold this second letter from Elizabeth and handed it over to Ross. Well, we all know what happened. He lost his temper and ignoring Demelza’s pleas, rode over to Trenwith in the middle of the night to end Elizabeth’s engagement to George.

The one good thing I could say about this scene between Ross and Elizabeth is that it featured outstanding performances from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. I found it interesting that only a few people managed to notice. Otherwise, I loathed it. The novel’s version of this scene was ugly enough, considering what Ross did to Elizabeth. But Horsfield’s version of the scene was uglier. As in the novel, Ross broke into the house, ignored Elizabeth’s protests and confronted her inside her bedroom. He tried to slut shame hr Then he forced himself upon her with kisses and later, forced her on the bed with the intent to rape her. Before he could rape her, Elizabeth embraced Ross, signalling her consent to have sex with him. What made this scene so ugly to me? By having Elizabeth consent at the last moment, Debbie Horsfield seemed to be endorsing the concept of “Rape Fantasy”. I had never felt so disgusted in my life.

With the exception of one particular scene, Horsfield provided others following the Ross/Elizabeth scene that either annoyed or disgusted me. Upon Ross’ return to Nampara the following morning, Demelza greeted him with a punch to the face and a great deal of hostility. The only aspect of this scene that would have made me cheer was Eleanor Tomlinson’s first-rate performance. In the end, I could not because this scene was never in the novel. Worse, Horsfield used this scene to transform Demelza from a passive-aggressive bitch to an anachronistic character. Sigh! In the novel, Elizabeth was reluctant to proceed with her marriage to George, due to the trauma of being raped. At the same time, she wanted Ross to explain himself and apologize . . . which never happened. In Episode Nine, Horsfield attempted to solidify Elizabeth’s guilt by having her spend her days at Trenwith, waiting for Ross to leave Demelza for her, thanks to Agatha Poldark’s ludicrous suggestion that Ross might actually do this. Despite Caroline Blakiston’s very skillful performance, Agatha Poldark proved to be very annoying to me, throughout this entire season. In the end, Elizabeth married George.

Demelza, on the other hand, made the misguided decision to punish Ross by attending a house party given by that old lech, Sir Hugh Bodrugan and engage in revenge sex with Captain McNeil of the militia. Remember that one scene of which I had no problems? Well, it was not Sir Hugh’s party. Unlike the 1975 version, it seemed to lack any atmosphere whatsoever of a debauched late Georgian party. Instead, the party sequence seemed to consist of every man admiring Demelza’s beauty and desiring her, transforming her into television’s ultimate Mary Sue. In the end, Demelza and McNeil retired to a room, where she decided that she did not want to engage in revenge sex, after all. Unlike the 1975 version, which featured McNeil attempting to rape Demelza, this version closely followed Graham’s novel by having McNeil deciding not to force himself on her. For once, Horsfield did the right thing. Like Graham, she was willing to show that unlike Ross Poldark, here was a man capable of not forcing himself on a woman.

Unfortunately, Episode Ten returned to the revised crap that Horsfield had inflicted upon Graham’s saga. Like the producers of the 1975 series, Horsfield had Demelza contemplating leaving Ross for his infidelity and lack of remorse. Worse, she planned to return to her father’s home . . . with young Jeremy. Was this scene in Graham’s novel? I do not remember. I do know that she would have never gotten away with taking Jeremy with her to Tom Carne’s home. As a man and a member of the landed gentry in the late 18th century, Ross could have easily used the courts to stop her. And I doubt very much that he would have tolerated Jeremy being raised in his father-in-law’s household. He detested Tom Carne’s bullying and religious fanaticism too much. Once again, Horsfield transformed Demelza into an anachronistic character. And like the 1975 series, Horsfield allowed Trenwith to be threatened by a mob after George had the estate closed off from its tenant farmers. This sequence began with Demelza confronting the newly married Elizabeth in the woods and slut shaming the latter for what happened on the night of May 9, 1793. Again, this was not in Graham’s novel. I found it misogynistic and unnecessary. And I suspect that Horsfield added another ham-fisted scene to solidify Elizabeth guilty of adultery in the viewers’ eyes.

In the end, the mob led by Jud Paynter did not burn down Trenwith. Demelza arrived at the Warleggans’ home to warn them about the mob. Horsfield had Ross behave like romance novel hero and appear at Trenwith – on a white horse (ugh!) – to prevent Demelza from getting swept up by the mob and to prevent the latter from burning Trenwith and harming the Warleggan newlyweds. By the time Episode Ten ended with another scene straight from a romance novel. It featured Ross and Demelza reconciling near the edge of a cliff . . . again. Ugh.

Episodes Five to Ten, which featured the adaptation of Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”, had started on such a promising note. But since the novel was controversial, due to the saga’s protagonist becoming a rapist, producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC slowly transformed the adaptation of the novel into a pile of shit. Like their 1975 predecessors, Horsfield and the BBC lacked the balls to closely adhere to Winston Graham’s ambiguous portrayal of Ross Poldark. The worst they were willing to do was simply portray him as an adulterer. Because of this, Episodes Five to Ten of Series Two for “POLDARK”seemed to be filled with heavy-handed revisions of Graham’s novel and a rape fantasy scene that left me feeling completely disgusted.

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“POLDARK” Food Styles

Below are images of culinary dishes created by food stylist/chef, Genevieve Taylor, for the current BBC series, “POLDARK”

POLDARK” FOOD STYLES

“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.

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

I have a confession to make. I have never seen a movie or television adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel, “War and Peace”. Never. Well . . . I once made an attempt to watch the 1956 movie adaptation directed by King Vidor. Unfortunately, I could never go the distance. In fact, I have never read the novel. 

However, many years passed. When I heard about the BBC’s latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give “WAR AND PEACE” a chance. The six-part miniseries is simply about the experiences of five Russian families during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. Those families include the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins, and theDrubetskoys. The miniseries seemed to be divided into three segments during a period between 1805 and 1812-13. The first segment featured the introduction of the main characters and Russia’s preparation of a war against Napoleon’s France. This culminates into the Battle of Austerlitz in which two major characters – Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky and Count Nikolai Ilyich Rostov – participate.

The second segment featured the characters’ personal experiences at home. During this period, the miniseries explored Count Pyotr “Pierre” Kirillovich Bezukhov’s failed marriage with the beautiful, but vapid and unfaithful Princess Yelena “Hélène” Vasilyevna Kuragina; the Rostov family’s financial woes and how it affected Nikolai Rostov; the emotional strains within the Bolkonsky family; Prince Boris Drubetskoy’s efforts to advance his military career; and especially Countess Natalya “Natasha” Ilyinichna Rostova’s love life, which included both Andrei Bolkonsky and Prince Anatole Vasilyevich Kuragin. This segment also included news of Treaties of Tilsit of 1807, which ended hostilities between Imperial France and Imperial Russia and Prussia. The miniseries’ final segment focused on France’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and the characters’ efforts to survive it.

I could compare director Tom Harper and screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptation with Tolstoy’s novel, but it would be a useless effort. As I had earlier pointed out, I have never read the novel. But I do have at least two complaints about the productions. One of them revolved around the relationship between Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. I realize that the publicity machine on both sides of the Atlantic had undergone a great effort to build up the relationship between the pair. Frankly, I found the publicity campaign rather wasted. The Natasha/Andrei romance struck me as a disappointing and wasted effort. The majority of their story arc – which began with their meeting at a ball near the end of Episode Three, continued with Natasha’s brief romance with the slimy Anatole Kuragin, and ended with Natasha’s romances with both men crashing around her by the end of Episode Four; had moved . . . so damn fast that it left my head spinning. I cannot help but wonder if the entire arc could have been portrayed with more detail if the series had stretched a bit longer.

I also had a problem with Edward K. Gibbon’s costume designs. I found most of them very colorful, especially for the aristocratic characters. But I also found most of them rather troublesome. Well . . . to be honest, I found them either mediocre or historically questionable. One of them left me gritting my teeth:

But my jaw had literally dropped at the sight of a few costumes worn by actresses Tuppence Middleton and Gillian Anderson – including those shown in the images below:

 

WHAT IN THE HELL??? Their costumes looked more appropriate for present-day evening wear than the early 19th century. What was Mr. Gibbons thinking?

Despite the rushed Natasha Rostova/Andrei Bolkonsky romance and despite the rather questionable costumes, I managed to enjoy “WAR AND PEACE” very much. I am a sucker for family sagas, especially when they are seeped in a historical background. And “WAR AND PEACE” nearly pushed every one of my buttons when it comes to a well made saga. It had everything – romance, family struggles, historical events and personages. When I realized that Tolstoy had originally focused his tale on five families, I did not think Andrew Davies would be able to translate the author’s novel in a tight story without losing its epic quality.

There were certain sequences that really blew my mind, thanks to Davies’ writing and especially, Tom Harper’s direction. I thought Harper did an outstanding job of re-creating battles like Austerlitz and Borodino, along with the French Army’s retreat from Moscow. Harper also did a great job in directing large parties and ball scenes. My two favorites are the party held at St. Petersburg socialite Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s salon in Episode 1 and the ball where Natasha and Andrei met in Episode 3.

But it was not just the battle and crowd scenes that impressed me. “WAR AND PEACE” is – after all – a melodrama, even if many literary critics are inclined not to admit it. I never thought I would find myself getting caught up in the lives of the saga’s main characters. But I did. I must admit that I admire how Tolstoy . . . and Davies managed to allow the three main characters – Pierre, Natasha and Andrei – to interact with the five families, regardless of blood connection or marriage. I especially enjoyed the explorations into the lives of Pierre, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. At first glance, some might regard the miniseries’ ending that featured a picnic with the families of the three leads as a bit on the saccharine. It did have a “happily ever after” tinge about it. But I read in a newspaper article that complained about Tolstoy’s “realistic” ending – one that featured a less-than-happy view of the protagonists’ lives and a critique from Tolstoy on all forms of mainstream history. Thanks to Davies’ screenplay, audiences were spared of this.

“WAR AND PEACE” featured a good number of first-rate performances from a supporting cast that included Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson, Tuppence Middleton, Callum Turner, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jessie Buckley, Adrian Edmondson, Aisling Loftus, Rebecca Front and Aneurin Barnard. However, I was especially impressed by certain supporting performances. One came from Greta Scacchi, who portrayed the Rostov family’s practical and sometimes ruthless matriarch Countess Natalya Rostova. I also enjoyed Brian Cox’s portrayal of the world weary General Mikhail Kutuzov, who has to contend with not only Napolean’s army, but also the amateurish interference of the Czar. Tom Burke did a great job in portraying the wolfish and ambitious army officer, Fedor Dolokhov, who eventually becomes a better man following Napoleon’s invasion. Jack Lowden’s portrayal of the young Count Nikolai Rostov really impressed me, especially when his character found himself torn between following his heart and marrying a wealthy woman to restore his family’s fortunes. And Jim Broadbent gave a very colorful performance as Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky, the mercurial and controlling patriarch of the Bolkonsky family.

And what about the production’s three leads? Lily James gave a very charming performance as Countess Natasha Rostova. Well . . . I take that back. Describing James’ performance as simply “charming” seemed to hint that I found it rather shallow. Yes, James handled Natasha’s “light” moments with her usual competence. More importantly, she did an excellent job in conveying Natasha’s personal struggles – especially during the series’ second half. There were times when I did not know what to make of the Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. He struck me as a very unusual protagonist. Although I found him rather honorable and filled with valor, Andrei did not always struck me as likable – especially in his relationship with adoring, yet ignored wife Lise. And Norton superbly captured the many nuances of Andrei’s character. If Andrei Bolkonsky struck me as an unusual protagonist, Count Pierre Bezukhov struck me as one of a kind. Well . . . one of a kind for a literary piece written in the 19th century. Sometimes, I get the feeling that someone like Pierre could easily translate into a late 20th century or early 21st century geek. Or perhaps not. I think Pierre is too kind and open-minded to be considered a geek. But he is very unusual for a leading man. And thanks to Paul Dano’s superb portrayal, Pierre has become one of my favorite fictional characters. He did a stupendous job in conveying Pierre’s character from this insecure and rather naive man to a man who learned to find wisdom and inner peace through his struggles. Dano was so good that I had assumed that his performance would garner him a major acting nomination. It did not and I am still flabbergasted by this travesty.

My taste in period dramas usually focused on stories set in the United States or Great Britain . . . with the occasional foray into France. I was very reluctant to tackle this latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s most famous novel. But I was in the mood for something new and decided to watch the six-part miniseries. I am happy to say that despite some flaws, I ended up enjoying “WAR AND PEACE” very much, thanks to Andrew Davies’ screenplay, Tom Harper’s direction and an excellent cast led by Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James.

List of Historical Fiction Series

Below is a list of popular historical novels that are a part of a series:

LIST OF HISTORICAL FICTION SERIES

1. The Forsyte Saga (1906-1921) by John Galsworthy – Nobel Prize winning author John Galsworthy wrote and published a series of three novels and two interludes about members of an upper middle-class English family between the 1870s and 1920s.

2. Poldark Saga (1945-2002) by Winston Graham – Set between 1783 and 1820 is a series of twelve novels about a former British Army officer and Revolutionary War veteran, his struggles to make a new life and renew his fortunes following his return to Cornwall after the war.

3. The Asian Saga (1962-1993) by James Clavell – This series of six novels centered on Europeans – especially the Struans-Dunross family – in Asia and the impact of both Eastern and Western civilization between the the early 17th century and late 20th century.

4. The Raj Quartet (1966-1975) by Paul Scott – Paul Scott wrote this four novel series about a group of Europeans during the last five years of the British Raj in India.

5. Flashman Papers (1969-2005) by George MacDonald Fraser – Journalist George MacDonald Fraser wrote a series of novels about the exploits of a cowardly British Army officer during the Victorian Age, between 1839 and 1894. The Harry Flashman character was originally a minor character in Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel, “Tom Brown’s School Days”.

6. Beulah Land Trilogy (1973-1981) by Lonnie Coleman – This three-volume series told the saga of a Savannah belle named Sarah Pennington Kendrick and her years as mistress of a Georgia cotton plantation called Beulah Land, between the early Antebellum Era and the late Gilded Age.

7. The Kent Family Chronicles (1974-1979) by John Jakes – Also known as “the Bicentennial Series”, author John Jakes wrote a series of eight novels to commemorate the United States’ 200th Bicentennial that centered on the experiences of the Kent family from 1770 to 1890.

8. American Civil War Trilogy (1974; 1996-2000) by Michael and Jeff Shaara – Michael Shaara wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Killer Angels” in 1974, which was about the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. A few years after his death, his son Jeff wrote both a prequel (set during the first two years of the war) and a sequel (set during the war’s last year); creating a trilogy of the three novels.

9. The Australians Series (1979-1990) by William Stuart Long – Set between the late 18th century and the late 19th (or early 20th) century, this literary series followed the experiences of the Broome family in Australia and other parts of the British Empire.

10. North and South Trilogy (1982-1987) by John Jakes – John Jakes wrote this literary trilogy about the experiences of two families – the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina – between 1842 and 1876.

11. The Savannah Quartet (1983-1989) by Eugenia Price – The four novels that make up this series is centered around a Northerner named Mark Browning who moves to the birthplace of his Savannah-born mother and his relationships with his family, friends and neighbors between 1812 and 1864.

12. Wild Swan Trilogy (1984-1989) by Celeste De Blasis – Set between 1813 and 1894, this literary trilogy focused on a young English immigrant named Alexandria Thaine, her two husbands and her descendants in England and Maryland.

13. Outlander Series (1992-Present) by Diana Gabaldon – This current literary series focuses upon a World War II nurse named Claire Randall, who embarks upon a series of adventures after she travels back in time and fall in love with an 18th century Highland warrior named Jamie Fraser.

Least Favorite Movie Period Dramas

Below is a list of ten of my least favorite movie period dramas:

 

LEAST FAVORITE MOVIE PERIOD DRAMAS

1. “Legends of the Fall” (1992) – Edward Zwick directed this dull and overrated adaptaion of Jim Harrison’s 1979 novella about the lives of a Montana ranching family during the early 20th century. Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins starred.

2. “Barbary Coast” (1935) – Howard Hawks directed this turgid tale about an Eastern woman who arrives in San Francisco during the Gold Rush and comes between a corrupt gambler/saloon keeper and a miner. Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea starred.

3. “Mayerling” (1968) – Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve starred in this lavish, yet dull account of the tragic romance between Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his mistress, Baroness Maria Vetsera. Terence Young directed.

4. “Idlewild” (2006) – André 3000 and Big Boi starred in this confusing and badly written musical set during Depression Era Georgia. Bryan Barber directed.

5. “Becky Sharp” (1935) – Miriam Hopkins earned a surprising Best Actress nomination (surprising to me) in this unsatisfying adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1847-48 novel, “Vanity Fair”. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the movie is known as being the first full-length production in Technicolor.

6. “Gods and Generals” (2003) – Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall starred in this adaptation of Jeff Shaara’s 1996 Civil War novel and prequel to the much superior 1993 movie, “Gettysburg”. Ronald Maxwell directed.

7. “The Hindenburg” (1975) – Robert Wise directed this rather dull account of the Hindenburg air disaster. The movie starred George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft.

8. “Anna Karenna” (2012) – Joe Wright directed this stagey adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel. Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson starred.

9. “Glorious 39” (2009) – Stephen Poliakoff directed this slow and pretentious thriller about a young woman who discovers that her family are pro-appreasers who wish for Britain to seek peace with Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. Romola Garai starred.

10. “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) – Tim Burton directed this dull and overrated adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and 1871 novel, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”. Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp starred.

The 19th Century in Television

Recently, I noticed there have been a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 19th century. Below is a list of those productions I have seen during this past decade in alphabetical order:

THE 19TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

1. “Copper” (BBC America) – Tom Fontana and Will Rokos created this series about an Irish immigrant policeman who patrols Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the last year of the U.S. Civil War. Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh starred in this 2012-2013 series.

2. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (BBC) – Romola Garai starred in this 2011 miniseries, which was an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a Victorian prostitute, who becomes the mistress of a powerful businessman.

3. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (BBC) – Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell-Martin starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 novel, which is a murder mystery and continuation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”.

4. “Hell on Wheels” (AMC) – This 2012-2016 series is about a former Confederate Army officer who becomes involved with the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad during the years after the Civil War. Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott starred.

5. “Mercy Street” (PBS) – This series follows two volunteer nurses from opposing sides who work at the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor and Hannah James.

6. “The Paradise” (BBC-PBS) – This 2012-2013 series is an adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1883 novel, “Au Bonheur des Dames”, about the innovative creation of the department story – only with the story relocated to North East England. The series starred Joanna Vanderham and Peter Wight.

7. “Penny Dreadful” (Showtime/Sky) – Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Harnett star in this horror-drama series about a group of people who battle the forces of supernatural evil in Victorian England.

8. “Ripper Street” (BBC) – Matthew Macfadyen stars in this crime drama about a team of police officers that patrol London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s serial murders.

9. “Underground” (WGN) – Misha Green and Joe Pokaski created this series about runaway slaves who endure a long journey from Georgia to the Northern states in a bid for freedom in the late Antebellum period. Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge star.

10. “War and Peace” (BBC) – Andrew Davies adapted this six-part miniseries, which is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1865–1867 novel about the impact of the Napoleonic Era during Tsarist Russia. Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred.