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Saturday 16 December 2017

Never mind the moaners, the new Plodark is just fine

Poldark star Aidan Turner getting the brush-off from a crew member
Poldark star Aidan Turner getting the brush-off from a crew member

EXPECT some people to complain about BBC1’s new version of Poldark, adapted by Debbie Horsefield from Winston Graham’s historical novels, because some people will always complain. It’s in their DNA.

Even now, the members of the Poldark Appreciation Society, if such a thing still exists, may well be mending the holes in their 18th century fancy dress outfits in readiness to march on BBC HQ. It’s not as if they haven’t done that sort of thing before.

Twenty years ago, when HTV started filming one of Graham’s later Poldark novels without the stars of the 1970s BBC series, Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, the Society picketed the broadcaster’s offices ... in full costume. And here were you thinking ludicrous fan overreaction started with Generation Twitter.

I was only 13 when Poldark started in 1975 and had other things to occupy my attention (football and hormones, mostly), but I was aware of its huge popularity at the time. It’s still hugely popular. The only other BBC period drama to sell more copies on DVD is 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, which featured Colin Firth’s famous wet-shirt moment. Poldark, though, was also very much of its time.

Modern viewers might find the pace of individual scenes on the slow side and some of the acting a bit fruity. Scenes set inside a moving coach, meanwhile, feature some ghastly back projection that looked risible even back in the day.

In truth, hardcore Poldark fans really have nothing to moan about with the new version. It might not be great art – neither, come to that, were Graham’s books; the man wrote popular historical fiction – but it’s great fun.

Modern film technology means the stunningly beautiful coast of Cornwall is seen in all its sweeping glory; although as in the old series, characters still have a habit of riding their horses dangerously close to the edges of cliffs. Gives better visuals, I guess.

Clondalkin man Aidan Turner (Being Human, Desperate Romantics) fills Robin Ellis’s boots, and has enough left over to fill an extra pair, as dark, brooding hero Ross Poldark, who returns from fighting in the American War of Independence (the budget allows for an opening action sequence that would have been beyond the reach of the old version) to find Cornwall much changed.

His father died six months before, the family tin-mining business is in tatters and the loyal tenant-workers are on the brink of starvation. The family home has been allowed to fall into disrepair by the lazy servant duo Jud and Prudie (good comic relief work from Phil Davis and Beatie Edney).

Worst of all, since everyone assumed Ross had copped it in battle, the love of his life, Elizabeth Chenoweth (Heida Reed), is engaged to be married to his cousin Frances (Kyle Soller), who’s a drip.

While the Poldark fortunes have fallen so far that Ross’s Uncle Charles (the late Warren Clarke in his final role) offers to pay for him to start a new life in London – a handy way of getting him out of Elizabeth’s life – those of his arch-enemy, the sly and smarmy George Warleggan (Jack Farthing, revelling in his sneering villainy), have soared.

Needless to say, Ross is not one to be pushed around, least of all by the rhubarbing villages who object to him taking in scruffy tomboy Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) as his servant girl. Devotees of the books or 70s series will know he’ll eventually take her as his wife.

Poldark manages to ring the changes on an old favourite (which, whatever the whingers say, was ripe for a remake) and yet, for all its widescreen flash and dash, stay true to the traditions of BBC period dramas the past. Only a curmudgeon would begrudge it success.

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