The fourth series of Poldark brings with it many questions. Can Ross and Demelza’s marriage survive her infidelity with Hugh? Will George Warleggan finally destroy his lifelong rival? And what gratuitous kit-off moment will the BBC contrive next?
Perhaps Ross will join the Truro fire brigade, but attend a conflagration so intense his outer garments must be divested? Or one of his female tenants may call on him to mend a blocked chimney, whereupon the atmosphere becomes so stuffy…
It would be no less ludicrous than Aidan Turner’s refreshing dip in the unusually warm Cornish surf (washing his breeches at the same time to preserve prime time modesty, of course) which provided a “Bond meets Mr Darcy” moment to kick off the opener – and generate the requisite column inches and social media storm of pre-series publicity.
It’s all getting somewhat ridiculous. And it distracts attention from the programme’s genuine achievement – adapter Debbie Horsfield has rebooted a creaky relic from the worthy but studio-bound BBC drama department of the Seventies (itself based on a series of novels whose opening volume was first published over 70 years ago) and turned it into a precision-tooled Sunday night crowd-pleaser with impressive production values and a bit of genuine emotional weight.
The opening episode set up a cliff-hanger, as turmoil in Westminster led to riots in Truro. Starving locals stormed ships sending grain abroad and Warleggan (Henry Farthing) used his new powers as an MP to engineer summary punishment for the offenders – and wreak dastardly revenge on Demelza’s unjustly accused brothers.
The mini-drama climaxed as Ross turned Perry Mason to plead for mercy in the shadow of the gallows. And began to reflect that the previous occasions when he had maintained a stubbornly principled refusal (who’d have thought?) to turn his hand to politics might have been misplaced…
The many sub-plots were kept ticking along nicely too. There was a real sense of the social upheaval of the time. And a scene where Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza opened up to Ross about her feelings for Hugh was a subtle, restrained piece of genuine acting.
More eventful than Downton, less reverently nostalgic than Victoria or The Crown, Poldark is establishing itself as one of the best period dramas of recent years, largely avoiding the danger of slipping into unconscious self-parody – though I do wish they’d let Mr Turner keep his shirt on against the cold a bit more.
It’s not Brideshead or Jewel in the Crown, of course. But it’s good, solid Sunday night fare. And Winston Graham’s saga still has plenty of books to go…