Sweeping saga ‘Poldark’ returns to PBS
For many Americans, Cornwall is part of Duchess Camilla’s title or that town Will and Kate visited recently.
But the rocky, windswept peninsula on the southwestern coast of England is central to Masterpiece’s sweeping late 18th-century drama Poldark. The drama returns for a second season Sunday (8 p.m. ET/PT) on PBS, which told the story once before in a 1970s miniseries.
“What really sells the show is Cornwall itself,” says Aidan Turner, the 33-year-old Dubliner who plays the title character, Ross Poldark, and is now filming the show’s third season. “In many ways, it’s like the west of Ireland. It’s quite wild, and the landscape is quite rustic. The cliffs are beautiful.”
Those picturesque cliffs provide the backdrop for his character’s frequent horseback rides to and from his family’s crumbling estate and the copper mine he reopens after returning home from the American Revolutionary War in 1783, in an attempt to reverse his fading fortunes. In post-war Cornwall, family names are all that’s left for the aristocracy, which has mortgaged land and mines to new power brokers: the rising class of merchant bankers.
Ross, who feels a deep connection and responsibility to his tenant miners, prefers their company, to the landed gentry’s consternation. Last season, after his longtime sweetheart Elizabeth (Heida Reed) married his wealthier cousin Francis (Kyle Soller), he wed his kitchen maid Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) on a lark, but the two eventually found lasting love together.
“I think the important thing to remember is Demelza may grow throughout the series; however, she never becomes landed gentry like Elizabeth,” Tomlinson notes. “She is always mindful of her roots, and I think that’s why people love her. She’s relatable.”
Poldark executive producer Debbie Horsfield, who has written every episode, has echoed author Winston Graham’s goal in portraying their relationship in the books that inspired the series. “His aim in writing these books was to chart the journey of a good marriage,” she says. “And by that, he didn’t mean a perfect marriage, but the story of two people who stuck together through thick and thin, even in the face of very serious challenges,” including financial difficulties and the loss of their first child, Julia.
The challenges come quickly in Season 2, as Ross stands trial for spearheading the looting of a merchant ship that wrecked in waters just off his property, aware of the fact it was owned by his arch-enemy George Warleggan, an insecure, new-money banker played by Jack Farthing. “They want to do a lot of damage to each other, both to their reputations around town and physically,” Turner explains. “It’s quite a gruesome thing, actually. George actually wishes Ross dead.”
Another major point of contention between Ross and George is Elizabeth, the girl who broke Ross’ heart and is the object of George’s unrequited affection. Despite being one of the richest men in town, he’s still looked down upon as new money.
With her old family name, Elizabeth could be the key that finally unlocks Cornish society to him.
“She’s revered in society and very beautiful,” Turner says of Elizabeth. “She can offer him children. It seems like a natural progression for George.”