To say Poldark is totally my kind of show is an understatement. If I were to think of a series that checked all the boxes that would make it so something I’d love, the PBS Masterpiece drama Poldark is definitely one of those rarities. It has:
- Brooding, handsome and progressive hero in Aidan Turner’s Ross Poldark
- Lush and sweeping cinematography
- An unexpected yet swoon-worthy romance with Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza
- Strong, but distinct female leads as seen with the tenacious Demelza, Heida Reed’s Elizabeth and Ruby Bentall’s Verity
- Enough drama to make you leave each episode wondering if you just watched a feature-length film instead
For its first season, Poldark flew mostly under my radar, but during a boring lull in my Labor Day weekend a few weeks ago, I gave it a try, and well, kind of fell in love with the characters and their stories. Much like other PBS Masterpiece series, the structure of these British made period pieces are quite distinctive. Each episode of Poldark, only an hour-long, packs a lot of story in and moves through time at a breakneck pace, which is nicely juxtaposed by the filmmaking of the show. We get these long, sometimes languid, always beautiful, takes that bookend tense and quick dialogue-ridden standoffs between characters – as evident in tonight’s two-hour premiere.
At the first season finale’s tragic cliffhanger, we see the show’s core couple at a very low point. After losing their young daughter and business ventures gone sour, Ross and Demelza are heartbroken, and during an emotional moment, Ross is arrested for his part in a looting a shipwreck. Season two quickly picks up where we left off, with Ross refusing to admit that he did anything wrong, since the goods from the shipwreck were for the people of his community who are very poor and hungry. His unapologetic attitude surely doesn’t help his case, which will be tried in court in a few days. In the meantime, George (Jack Farthing), who had orchestrated the unorthodox arrest, uses the time to build a damning narrative of Ross Poldark amongst society, in hopes that it will lead to Ross being declared guilty and given an immediate death sentence.
George’s scheming seems to be working and the odds feel tremendously against Ross, even when Demelza, Elizabeth, and Dr. Enys (Luke Norris) try to intervene and help him. The build-up to the trial is well done, where the stakes are at the show’s highest, especially when we all know that there is no way that Ross’s sanctimonious attitude – to everyone else – would ever let his morals take a backseat in order to avoid what seems as an inevitable death sentence.
But how can season two begin with the death of a Poldark? We almost had that with Francis’s (Kyle Soller) suicide attempt the night before the trial. An uncanny stroke of luck with a misfire saves Francis from his own demise. In two hours, Francis evolves quite a bit as a character. For one, he finally sees the truth behind George’s insidious schemes and stands up to him. We all have been waiting for Francis to show a little backbone, and that was a big moment for him. Even though afterward he spirals down into his perpetual self-pity and tries to kill himself, I think – or I hope – it’s a wakeup call for him to realize that instead of dwelling on how much he is not like his cousin, Ross, but in how he can be a better man like him. Elizabeth even notices the change in Francis, a thinly veiled despair that is evident his posture and face, and she also realizes that as much as she admires Ross, Francis is the one that needs her most.
Back to the trial, after a ton of incriminating if really only speculative evidence is made against Ross, Demelza can’t seem to bear it, and in a moment of fresh air outside the court room, she confides in Elizabeth, who had followed her out, that she’s with child. It’s a secret she hadn’t told Ross, and now that he might be killed, she’s scared about what it would mean for her and the baby, also knowing that Ross’s estate is pretty much built on debt. Elizabeth promises to take care of her. I can’t help but appreciate this bond between Elizabeth and Demelza that formed despite such tragic circumstances. Both women are strong and entirely different, but they respect each other in a way that their own husbands can’t even do with each other. In a time where it was the men who took action, these women make their own and don’t always let the constructs of society limit their power.
All that’s left is for Ross Poldark to make his statement, he is counseled to sound remorseful and read a letter aloud. There is no doubt that Ross will not do what he’s told. He follows his heart and tells the truth of what happened the night of the shipwreck. It’s the impassioned speech you’ve come to expect from Ross, and while in the real world, that might not be enough to make your case, it does work for Ross, who is found not guilty. The verdict makes you feel silly for believing that he wouldn’t get out of this mess, especially within the time of its season opener.
I’m a true believer that every TV series ever needs its “Law & Order” episode – basically an episode (or technically two here) that takes a break from the usual ongoings and becomes a courtroom drama. Poldark delivers that with a riveting premiere that keeps you fully engrossed throughout, as well as setting up the over-arching narrative for the rest of season. Now, that George has shown his hand, Ross knows without doubt that George is after to sabotage him. It will be fun to see these two come head-to-head in upcoming episodes. Demelza has yet to tell Ross she’s pregnant, and I wonder how long she’ll wait and how Ross will react, seeing as he admitted that he isn’t quite ready for another child yet, after the very recent loss of Julia. Finally, it’s hard to predict what will happen in a single episode of Poldark, much less a season, but if this premiere episode is any case, we are in for something great.
Poldark airs Sundays at 9/8c on PBS Masterpiece.