The re­turn of PBS’ ‘ Poldark’

Ai­dan Turner has the ti­tle role; the 1975 Poldark, Robin El­lis, ap­pears too.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Su­san King su­san.king@latimes.com

Fans of the “Mas­ter­piece” se­ries have re­sponded fa­vor­ably to new lead Ai­dan Turner.

When the epic ro­man­tic TV se­ries “Poldark” pre­miered this spring in Eng­land, its suc­cess took even the pro­duc­ers by sur­prise.

“The truth is you never know what’s go­ing to strike a chord with the view­ing public,” said ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Deb­bie Hors­field, who adapted Win­ston Graham’s pop­u­lar nov­els set in 18th cen­tury Cornwall about the com­plex Ross Poldark and the two women in his life. “We even sparked an in­ter­est in scyth­ing.”

The eight- part se­ries opened Sun­day in the United States on PBS’ “Mas­ter­piece” and was greeted with largely pos­i­tive re­views. Ir­ish ac­tor Ai­dan Turner has the ti­tle role.

“Ai­dan plays Ross so amaz­ingly,” said Hors­field. “And as a char­ac­ter, Ross is very charis­matic and very ap­peal­ing.”

Long­time “Mas­ter­piece” fans are fa­mil­iar with “Poldark.” The orig­i­nal 1975 se­ries, which starred the mag­netic Robin El­lis, cap­tured the hearts of U. S. au­di­ences when it aired decades ago on the PBS show­case.

“It’s a known ti­tle for those who have watched ‘ Mas­ter­piece,’ ” said “Mas­ter­piece” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Re­becca Ea­ton, adding it was a “no- brainer” to do the new ver­sion. “The na­ture of the story of a dash­ing hero and a love tri­an­gle is ap­peal­ing to younger view­ers too.”

Hors­field had never seen the orig­i­nal be­fore be­ing ap­proached to write a new adap­ta­tion. She took the f irst two “Poldark” nov­els with her on va­ca­tion to read ( Graham wrote 12).

“I think prob­a­bly it took about three pages to re­al­ize they were fan­tas­tic sto­ries and I wanted to do the adap­ta­tions.”

Hors­field de­lib­er­ately didn’t re­visit the se­ries while writ­ing the eight scripts. “The ’ 70s se­ries had a whole team of writ­ers. I didn’t want to be inf lu­enced by the choices they made. The only thing I was a lit­tle bit in­tim­i­dated about was do­ing jus­tice to the books be­cause the books are tremen­dous,” she said.

Turner, who played the dwarf Kili in Peter Jack­son’s “The Hob­bit” f ilm tril­ogy, was Hors­field’s only choice for the role. She had seen him play poet Dante Gabriel Ros­setti in the 2009 se­ries “Des­per­ate Ro­man­tics” and as a vam­pire in the 2009- 11 “Be­ing Hu­man.”

“In both of those he was play­ing an out­sider, rather dam­aged char­ac­ters who were on the out­skirts of so­ci­ety, a rebel,” said Hors­field.

Turner re­called the morn­ing when he re­ceived a knock at the door of his home in Eng­land.

“It was a FedEx guy with two Win­ston Graham nov­els and eight scripts with a lit­tle note that said we would like to of­fer you the part of Poldark,” he said. “I thought, ‘ Bril­liant, what was Poldark?’ I went straight to the lap­top and Googled ‘ Pol- dark.’ ”

Just as Hors­field, he de­cided not to watch the old se­ries. “By all ac­counts, I heard that Robin El­lis and the se­ries were re­ally good. I was just afraid, like ev­ery ac­tor, that I might sort of em­u­late him. It would be safer if I didn’t watch. The scripts are strong, and I just went for it.”

Turner loved play­ing Poldark’s mas­sive con­tra­dic­tions. “He’s a real char­ac­ter. He’s not this benev­o­lently saint char­ac­ter. He’s stub­born and doesn’t be­friend the peo­ple he should. He’s con­fused in love and he’s tem­per­a­men­tal. He has a healthy dis­re­spect for au­thor­ity.”

El­lis has been a strong sup­porter of the new se­ries since it was an­nounced; he even ap­pears in the third and sixth episodes of the show as a neme­sis of Poldark, the Rev. Halse. The ac­tor is also re­turn­ing for the sec­ond sea­son of “Poldark,” which be­gins pro­duc­tion in Septem­ber.

“It was quite an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment when we had the two Poldarks to­gether,” said Hors­field.

“Robin was amaz­ing,” said Turner. “He was to­tally sup­port­ive and lovely.”

El­lis, who lives in France and is a well- known cook­book au­thor, noted how dif­fer­ent it was to do the se­ries four decades ago.

“We re­hearsed for six days,” said El­lis. “And then we went into the stu­dio and did it vir­tu­ally from 7: 30 a. m to 10 p. m. with f ive [ video] cam­eras on set. Ev­ery so of­ten we would go to Cornwall for two weeks to shoot the ex­te­ri­ors.”

A lot was made in the Bri­tish press of Turner’s shirt­less se­quences in “Poldark,” which show­cased his mus­cu­lar physique.

Such was not the case for El­lis.

“When I was play­ing it, I did take my shirt off once,” said El­lis, laugh­ing. “I took it off to wash in a scene and the next day I took my wash­ing across the road to the laun­derette that I nor­mally used. The lady who did my wash­ing was Eastern Euro­pean. She looked at me, wagged her fin­ger and said, ‘ Big mis­take.’ I never took my shirt off again.”

PBS

ELEANOR TOM­LIN­SON and Ai­dan Turner in “Poldark,” which is set in 18th cen­tury Cornwall.

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