The BBC has finally decided to remake Poldark, which is not at all surprising considering it was one of their most popular shows ever. The original was before my time, and I haven’t seen it, so I won’t be doing comparisons here. I’m coming into this one completely unspoiled.
We open in Virginia in 1781, with our hero, Ross Poldark, a British soldier, playing cards with a few other men. One of them suggests he bet a small silver ring he wears, but Ross refuses. A superior officer comes over, notes that he’s gambling again, and asks why Ross enlisted. Ross jokes, I think, that it was to escape the gallows, to which he was sent for brawling. The officer calls the men all wastrels and thieves, which makes Ross laugh. The officer asks if Ross doubts the justice of their cause and Ross asks what that cause is, liberty or tyranny? Before the fight can escalate, Patriot soldiers open fire, killing the officer, and a tiny battle ensues. Ross gets a blow to the head and flashes back to a pretty young woman jokingly suggesting he’ll forget her, as he helps himself to one of her rings—the same silver one that he wears.
Two years later, Ross is in a carriage in Cornwall, pretending to be asleep while his fellow passengers gossip about how he was a scoundrel and libertine, just like his father. The male passenger lets drop that Ross’s father is no longer of this earth, at which point Ross looks up and asks for confirmation of that. The older female passenger, embarrassed, admits that his father died six months ago. Ross absorbs that. The younger female passenger hesitantly asks how the war was. ‘As any war, ma’am, a waste of good men,’ he replies. He knocks for the carriage to stop and explains he now needs to swing by his uncle’s place, since apparently his father won’t be expecting him. He disembarks and starts walking towards his uncle’s place, pausing to look out over the beautiful, rugged Cornish coastline.
At his uncle’s, a dinner party is underway. The pretty young woman from Ross’s memory, Elizabeth, is there, along with her mother. At Elizabeth’s side is Francis, Ross’s cousin and his uncle’s heir. Ross’s uncle and great aunt and his girl cousin, Verity, are also present. Ross is shown in and everyone is briefly shocked. Verity and Francis rush to him, exclaiming happily that he’s alive. Ross’s face lights up when he sees Elizabeth and he approaches her. She tells him they need to have a word and he promises they will. His uncle warns him that his home, Nampara, is not as he left it. Elizabeth’s mother sends her to fetch a shawl, and while she’s gone, the woman announces that Francis and Elizabeth are now engaged to be married. Elizabeth returns, walking right into a room heavy with awkward and realizes what’s just happened. Ross has lost all appetite and ignores the dinner placed before him, instead asking how things were with his father, at the end. Not great. His affairs were a mess and he’s left Ross little to inherit. Ross gets to his feet and tells them all he has to leave, asking only to borrow a horse so he can get home. Before he leaves, he raises a glass to Elizabeth and Francis. Francis swallows hard, like he’s expecting his cousin to smash the glass and force him to swallow the shards.
Ross gallops to Nampara, passing one of his derelict mines along the way. The place has, indeed, fallen to tatters. Like, there are actual barnyard animals wandering around inside the house. He calls out for Jud and Prudie, the caretakers, presumably, but nobody comes. He goes upstairs to the master bedroom and finds the pair asleep in his father’s bed. A cold bucket of water takes care of that, and once they’re up he announces he’s back from the grave and they’d better get up.
He puts them to work, sullenly cleaning the place up, scolding them for being so lazy. Jud wonders what they were supposed to do with no master to guide them. Poor people have no initiative or drive, you know. Ross goes out and sees what appears to be a pretty hopeless case. Farm machinery has broken down, nothing is planted, there are holes in the roof of the house.
He gets back on his horse and gallops along the coast for a little while before going to visit his father’s grave.
At his uncle’s house, Trenwith, his great aunt, Verity, and Francis talk about how good Ross looked before Great Aunt comments that they should really consider moving Francis’s and Elizabeth’s wedding up, because what are they waiting for? Francis likes the idea.
Ross goes to see some of his tenant farmers, who all greet him happily and affectionately. Like everyone else, they’re surprised to see him alive. Ross asks what happened, taking in the buildings falling into disrepair. One of the men explains that nobody’s been keeping the place up, since Ross’s father died. Ross says he’ll see to that now. One of the men warns him that the land really sucks, but Ross is determined to make a go of it. The tenants are willing to lend a hand.
Elizabeth sits in her garden, waiting for Ross to come see her. She hears a horse approach and gets all excited, but it’s Francis.
Ross rides into town to see his banker, who regretfully tells him he has almost nothing to his name. Though the banker is an old friend and is fond of Ross, he can’t give him a loan. He suggests Ross go out and seek his fortunes wherever he can.
In a very fancy house, a man named George weighs out money and announces to an older man who comes in that Ross Poldark is alive. The other man grumbles that Ross is a wastrel. George was at school with Ross and used to admire him, because he was popular, something George never was. He wonders if Ross might be useful to them somehow to help open social doors that are currently closed to them because they’re too new money.
Elizabeth’s mother catches up with her in the garden and finds out she plans to go talk to Ross. Mother discourages that, because Elizabeth is engaged to Francis and Ross can offer her nothing. Mother finishes with a trump card: if Ross still cared, wouldn’t he have visited by now?
[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]If Ross still cared, wouldn’t he have visited by now?[/cryout-pullquote]Ross is too damn busy for visits just now. He finds Prudie and Jud in a field, allegedly clearing it, and announces they’re going to have to tighten their belts and work hard. They don’t seem to like the sound of that.
Verity comes along and they talk a little bit about Elizabeth and Francis. Verity says that she barely noticed him for a while, and then all of a sudden, pouf! they were a couple. Ross snaps that Elizabeth is clearly marrying Francis for his money, but then backpedals and admits that was unkind. Verity tells him the wedding’s in two weeks.
Ross gets to work repairing fences and roofs, reestablishing relationships with his tenants and trying not to get depressed about Elizabeth.
Francis goes to visit Elizabeth and admits he knows he’s not as fascinating, bold, or reckless as some, but he can promise undying love and gratitude. He asks her to speak up, if there’s something that still troubles her, and steels himself. Aww, this guy seems like he needs a hug. She tells him she can’t wait to be his wife, and the astonished look he gives her is really adorable. Poor guy.
Francis later finds Ross moving rocks at one of his useless mines and hopefully suggests she may start producing again. Ross suggests examining her, and Francis looks dubiously at the crumbling structure and wonders if that’s wise. No, Francis, it’s not. But what does Ross really have to lose?
He and Francis go down, 30 fathoms deep. As they move through the cramped spaces, Francis says his father wants Ross to accept that his future may lie elsewhere. He brings up his impending wedding and asks if Ross plans to come. Ross turns him down but Francis insists, saying it’s their dearest wish that he be there. He tries to explain that he totally wasn’t trying to move onto Ross’s territory with Elizabeth, it just happened, you know? ‘Must you rub my nose in it?’ Ross bellows, startling poor Francis so badly he stumbles backwards and falls into a deep pool of water, where he immediately commences drowning. Ross creepily just stands there watching for a while, and then finally fishes his cousin out. Damn, Ross, that was kind of cold. Ross asks why the hell Francis doesn’t learn to swim and admits he almost just let him drown. Guess it’s good to be honest.
The following week, Ross gets dressed up and goes to the wedding. Afterwards, everyone heads to Trenwith for the reception. George and his kinsman, Cary Warleggan, arrive in a very fancy carriage and Verity tells Ross that the Warleggans are very much on the rise.
Inside, the newlyweds dance while Ross looks on stoically. Verity suggests he dance but he says his war wounds prevent it, thankfully. Cary comments to George that Elizabeth will be wasted here, since the Poldarks have nothing but their good name. Everything else is mortgaged to the hilt at the Warleggans’ bank. Ross overhears this and makes a show of stomping off into another room. He’s followed by George and they exchange sort of pleasantries and George shares condolences on the loss of Ross’s dad. He tells Ross that Cornwall is changing and these are difficult times, but he hopes Ross knows he can rely on his friends. Ross shortly replies that he can manage, thanks. Verity comes in to fetch Ross to have a chat with Elizabeth while, in the main room, a cockfight starts. Interesting wedding entertainment. Elizabeth says she’s glad he came and admits she thought Ross might come visit her to give her a chance to explain and apologise. He coolly says there’s nothing to apologise for, since it’s not like they were officially engaged or anything. She agrees, but says they had a certain understanding. However, three years away is kind of a long time. Also, everyone thought he was dead. If he couldn’t even be bothered to send a note home letting everyone know he was still amongst the living, what did he think was going to happen? Elizabeth’s mother approaches and tells Elizabeth that she needs to tend to her other guests. Elizabeth says she has no interest in fighting. Mother asks Ross if he can instruct Elizabeth on the finer points of the sport. ‘I doubt there are any subtleties of combat in which I can offer you advice, ma’am,’ he answers.
Elizabeth urges him not to blame her mother, because this was her choice. She asks if they’ll be neighbours and friends now. ‘If you wish,’ he says stiffly.
At the end of the party, Ross goes home and drinks miserably in his room, throwing away Elizabeth’s ring, while his great aunt reads tarot cards and says there’s a dark Poldark (Ross) and a fair one (Francis) and the stronger shall rise as the weaker falls, for all is fair in love and war.
Uncle Poldark (Charles) comes to visit Ross and suggests he unload Prudie and Jud, pointing out that if he does so he could afford to buy some livestock. Ross answers that they were his father’s friends, so they stay. Charles says he knows his father had the worst of the land and property, being a younger son, and takes him on a ride to his own mine, which doesn’t produce nearly as much as it used to. He tells Ross their family is sunk in debt. He points out that Ross has nothing to live on and there’s nothing for him in Cornwall. He suggests he try moving to London or Oxford to try a new profession, offering to fund it in full. Ross guesses that the family just wants him away from there and Charles says he thinks that would be best for everyone. Ross wants time to think about it. Charles pushes him, but Ross is stubborn and determined.
On market day, he takes his father’s pocket watch into town, pawns it, and uses the proceeds to buy livestock as the Warleggans look on. As he wanders through the town centre, he comes upon a dog-fighting ring that’s forming. There’s one large, pretty ferocious looking dog that’s going to be set against a much meeker animal, which looks like Sandy from the 1980s version of Annie. I think that fact makes me doubly sad to see this. Before the fight can start, a young girl dressed as a boy dashes forward, yelling that Sandy is her dog. The crowd holds her back, and then the men start tossing her back and forth for fun while she screams for her dog (named Garrick). Elizabeth and Francis, wandering by, see the ruckus. Ross steps in and orders everyone to leave the girl alone. He then tells the man running this horrorshow to get lost and when the guy doesn’t, Ross smacks him across the face with his cane. Ross Poldark don’t mess.
He helps the girl to her feet and takes her to the local pub for some food. While she tucks in, he asks the other patrons if they know her. One of them does, and says her father’ll beat the tar out of her if he knows she came into town in her brother’s clothes. Ross puts his cup down near her and she instinctively grabs her plate and holds it close. He tells her to take it easy. Elizabeth comes in to check on the child and tells Ross he was right to step in and she’s sure the child is grateful. ‘Doubt it,’ says Ross. Heh. Francis collects Elizabeth and Ross returns to the girl, noting some scars on her back. She explains that it was her father, who beats her most days. She’s got six brothers, for the record. Her name’s Demelza. She’s played by the same actress who portrayed poor Isabel Neville in The White Queen and Georgiana Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley. George wanders in and comments that, with Ross interfering with the lower orders, it’s hard to know he’s a gentleman. ‘Takes one to know one I believe, George,’ Ross burns. HA! George fetches a drink for Cary and pouts that Ross looks down on them. Cary guesses Ross still considers them tradesmen, though they’ve now come up a bit. He wonders if Ross might have something to his name, someday, and George sullenly says that, if he does, George will be happy to take it off of him.
Ross collects Demelza and leaves.
Elizabeth and Francis return home and Francis tells Verity and his father that the day was not without incident.
[cryout-pullquote align=”left” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]If he couldn’t even be bothered to send a note home letting everyone know he was still amongst the living, what did he think was going to happen? [/cryout-pullquote]Ross rides down the road with Demelza in the saddle in front of him, singing. He stops at the crossroads and points the way to her home. She dismounts and collects the dog, thanking Ross. As she starts down the road, Ross offers to take her on as a kitchen maid. She asks how far he lives and he says it’s too far for her to run home. Sounds great to her, as long as she can bring Garrick. Ross agrees, though not terribly enthusiastically. When they reach the house, Prudie and Jud warn him that picking up brats’ll just bring him trouble, and she must have crawlers. Ross takes Demelza to the outdoor pump and rather roughly washes her hair, telling her she’s not to have any lice if she works for him. ‘Yes sir,’ she gasps. Prudie keeps complaining about this extra mouth to feed but Ross tells her to let him worry about this.
Once he’s done washing Demelza’s hair, he searches the house for more things to sell. He spots Elizabeth’s ring on the floor and picks it up, looking it.
He heads downstairs and finds a letter from his uncle, containing several £10 notes. Not a bad haul in those days.
That night, he picks at some cake and calls Demelza into the room, noticing her lurking outside. He tells her to stand up to Jud and Prudie and let them know she has a mind of her own and won’t be dictated to. He tells her to clear the table and she goes to do so, but before she goes she asks if Garrick can come into the house. He turns her down flat, insisting he won’t have flea-ridden dogs in his house. She slinks away.
That night, the dog whines and whines. Demelza finally gets up and quietly lets him into the house. They curl up together in front of the fire. Awww.
The next day, she and Garrick play in a field nearby while Ross rides to his uncle’s house. He’s shown into the dining room, and while he waits, Elizabeth comes in, surprised to see him there.
Demelza looks out over the fields and sees three men approaching. She looks alarmed.
Elizabeth pours tea and tries to make small talk. Ross isn’t interested. She persists, talking about his intervention at the market and asking if the girl got home safely. He tells her he employs her as a kitchen maid now. She says he should send her home, as people are quick to judge. He goes to leave, saying he can see how his presence upsets her. She tells him that it hurts to think how much he must hate her. He says that from the moment he saw her, no one else existed, and he thought about her all the time while he was away. He asks if there really isn’t anything between them and she shouts that she thought he was dead, and why is he coming over and saying things like this to her, when he know she’s totally unavailable? She tells him she loves Francis and Ross needs to forget her and make his life elsewhere. He tells her he will and pouts out. She runs after him and asks if they can at least part as friends. He says they’ll never be friends, and she can tell his uncle that he has his wish.
He returns home and tells Prudie to fetch the girl, because she’s to be sent home, and Ross is moving to London. Prudie tells him that the girl’s father is waiting for him inside, so in he goes, where he finds the man and two of his friends loafing around. Dad asks where his daughter is and Ross says he has no idea and accuses the man of being a coward for bringing his two buddies with him. Dad says he’s brought a lot more men than that.
Indeed, outside, Jud notices a whole crew of men streaming down the road towards the house.
Inside, Ross accuses the father of being a child beater. Dad accuses Ross of stealing his daughter. Ross taunts him, saying he’s brought an army against one man, which is pretty cowardly. Dad strips off his jacket, and Ross is like, ‘bring it!’. Fisticuffs ensue. Prudie flees.
Outside, Jud intercepts the men coming to help Dad. But after taking a good look at the ten or so of them, he turns and runs. They race up the road after him, only to be faced with all the tenants, who have come along at just the right time.
Prudie runs all the way to Trenwith, where she hammers on the door, screaming for Francis. The family comes to the door and Prudie gasps that Ross is being murdered (there are a few cuts to the fight at Ross’s, and he really is getting his ass handed to him). Elizabeth urges Francis to go help him, and Francis seems ready, but Charles insists the woman’s exaggerating, orders his son to take Elizabeth inside, and slams the door in Prudie’s face. Damn, Charles.
Ross recovers and gets a second wind, which he uses to start beating the shit out of Dad. The tenants, meanwhile, take care of the other men. Ross tells Dad and his two buddies to get lost and close the door on their way out. They leave, the two buddies even shaking Ross’s hand on the way. Hey, fight well fought, Ross. They respect that. Once he’s alone, he helps himself to some wine from the sideboard. Prudie returns and is relieved to see he’s alive. He asks where the girl is and Prudie claims not to know, suggesting it’s for the best. He agrees, saying she’s more trouble than she’s worth. She’s hiding in the bottom of the sideboard, hearing all of this. Ross asks where Jud is and hears about the second battle. He races off, and once she’s alone, Prudie goes and fetches the wine, pouring herself a glass and telling the girl, who’s still hiding, that Ross clearly doesn’t want her there. Demelza emerges and Prudie tells her to get back where she belongs.
Ross catches up with the tenants, all bloodied and proud of themselves, and asks what happened.
At Trenwith, Charles tells Francis that the tenants won’t thank Ross for dragging them into his problems, giving him yet another reason to leave. Francis is surprised to hear that Ross is leaving and asks his father what he’s done. Elizabeth overhears all of this.
Ross reassures the tenants that this is his quarrel and he’ll tend to it. The men tell him that’s not how friendships work.
Charles brings Francis a glass of wine and Francis sighs that he doesn’t like any of this. Charles says he’ll like it less if he loses his wife.
Demelza and Garrick are on the road, she singing again. Ross intercepts her and asks what she has to sing about. He takes her back to his place, but at the crossroads, Elizabeth meets them and she tells Ross that his place is in Cornwall, where his lands and mines are. Apparently this girl doesn’t know how money works, nor that you can’t eat or pay your taxes with family pride and tradition. He asks if she’s asking him to stay. She won’t go that far but says that everything that matters to him is in Cornwall. He tells her he has no intention of going anywhere. He says he lost sight of something, and came in search of it, and having found it, he’s going home. He rides on, stopping by his mine. Demelza asks what it is and Ross says it’s his inheritance.