Poldark on PBS: What American Audiences Should Know

Deborah Gilbert | September 19, 2016

OK, Poldarkians, the wait is almost over. Poldark on MASTERPIECE, the popular romantic saga based on the novels by Winston Graham and starring Aidan Turner as Captain Ross Poldark, returns to public television Sunday, September 25 at 8pm with a special two-hour premiere. Much like with Downton Abbey, I’ll be recapping each episode of the new season.  Stop back every Sunday night and join in the discussion, here and on Twitter and Instagram. Till then, think of this as your Poldark orientation manual.

The Poldark 411

You do NOT want to miss the premiere of the new season of Poldark. I’ve already seen it and it is AMAZING! More on that below, but if you missed season 1 and want the back story, you can quickly pick it up in one of these three ways:

1. Binge Watch

If you’re a THIRTEEN member, you can watch  all of season 1 on Passport. (If you’re not a member yet, this might be a good time to join!)

2. Watch this Poldark Season 1 Brief Recap Video

Right at the beginning of the season 2 premiere episode there is a brief recap that will get you up to speed on everything you need to know, and you will have no trouble following it from there.

3. Read This Recap of Poldark Season 1

If you don’t have the time to binge watch season 1 before the season 2 premiere on September 25 at 8pm on THIRTEEN, here’s what happened before you joined the party:

After fighting for England in the American Revolution, Captain Ross Poldark returns home to Cornwall.
Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Red Coat Luv Ross Poldark returns from the dead, (i.e.: from being an ambivalent soldier on the losing side of the Revolutionary War), to the coastal mining county of Cornwall to find that, not only is his father dead, his estate is in ruin and he is virtually penniless, but that his sweetheart, Elizabeth, thinking (like everyone else) that he had been killed in battle, has become engaged to his wimpy cousin Francis Poldark.

Elizabeth still loves Ross and Ross still loves Elizabeth, but the pride and prejudice of interfering family members, who think the Francis/Elizabeth match is more advantageous, keep them apart. Much longing ensues.

Ross sets out to rebuild his life and fortunes, seeking to reopen his father’s tin mine, to employ the starving villagers, to whom Ross is the people’s nobleman. He is resented by Francis who knows that deep down, Elizabeth still loves Ross.

Ross Poldark meets his love Demelza in the unlikeliest of places.
One day in town, Ross comes across a boy being beaten by local toughs trying to steal his dog as a crowd watches. Ross steps in and takes them all on, then takes the boy to a pub for some grub, and discovers he isn’t a boy at all. He is a she: feral Demelza, dressed in men’s clothes because of neglect and abuse from her family. Her dog Garrick is her only friend. He takes her back to his home to be a kitchen maid. Slowly, Ross and Demelza grow closer. Despite still being in love with Elizabeth, Ross marries Demelza, causing a great scandal. When she tells him she is with child, he finally realizes he loves her. She gives birth to a daughter they name Julia.

More Poldark Characters

Verity Poldark, cousin to Ross and sister to Francis
Verity is Poldark’s answer to Lady Edith, who seems resigned to her spinster life until she meets Captain Blamey. But this is a love that cannot be because he has a past and she is a Lady. Thankfully, there is Demelza who plays her interfering family card for good, not evil. Verity is one of the few of her class to show Demelza kindness, befriending her and tutoring her in the ways of fine society, so Demelza returns the favor by supporting Verity and helping her to sneak off and elope with Captain Blamey. This creates an even bigger rift between Ross and Francis.

George Warleggan, conniving banker
Always lurking somewhere is evil George Warleggan, a cross between Donald Trump and Nellie Olsen, who continuously plots against Ross because he can’t be one of the cool kids. (He’s the grandson of a blacksmith who got rich but is bitter that all his money cannot buy him into society.) Ironically, Ross was born into society but doesn’t care for it; he sees it as phony. Ross is too smart to play into George’s hands, so George encourages dim bulb Francis down his self-destructive road of drinking, prostitutes, and gambling. In the end, he gambles away his fortune and his mine, his only source of income. We don’t understand why till the end of the season when he declares his love for Elizabeth and in his awkwardly creepy way, tries to lure her away from Francis. And now, as owner of Francis’ manor, George blackmails him into giving up Ross’ business secrets so he can destroy him.

Mixed in are shiftless servants, Jud and Prudie, (If Poldark was a musical, Jud and Prudie would launch into Master of the House whenever there were more than three people assembled.) Francis’ nutty Aunt Agatha, and Ross friend Dr. Dwight Enys who comes to town to study lung disease in the miners and stays.

The Disease That Spreads through Cornwall, Threatening Lives

Tragedy strikes when an epidemic of Putrid Throat (AKA diphtheria) hits the village. First, it gets Francis, Elizabeth, and their son. Demelza looks past old grievances and nurses them back to health, unknowingly bringing it back to her home and infecting both her and Julia (who succumbs to it). In one of the saddest scenes of the season, Ross carries Julia’s tiny coffin as the entire village turns out to supports him for her funeral, which Demelza was still too ill to attend.

Poldark is Arrested

Soon after the funeral, Ross is out clearing his head on the cliffs, and a ship the Warleggans have commissioned to carry goods to far off markets, runs aground on the rocks near Ross’ home. He plays Paul Revere and rouses the locals to collect the spoils of what washes ashore. By law this is fair game, but George bribes officials to press charges.

As Ross and Demelza stood on the cliffs, curls whipping in the wind, having their own little goodbye ceremony for Julia, the police approach and cart our hero off to jail on trumped up charges of wrecking and murder (murder because one of the things that washed up on shore was George’s cousin, who was already dead, and even though George knew that, he pushed for murder charges). That’s where we left off, and season 2 begins just a few minutes later. So there you have it. Except for the shirtless yard work:

Poldark Season 2 Teaser

People often worry that a second season won’t live up to the first, but I have been lucky enough to screen the Poldark season 2 premiere episode already, and I can attest to the fact there is no slump in the sophomore season. In fact, I’d say the show has stepped up its game, especially its’ visual game, in a very big way. It is absolutely beautiful, using the gorgeous Cornish landscape in new ways and creating scenes that are so stunning they beg to be seen on the big screen!

The folks at THIRTEEN must have read my mind because the first twenty people to RSVP can screen the first hour of the season 2 premiere:

Thursday, September 22, 2016
WNET’s Tisch Studio
130 W. 66th Street at Broadway
5:30 – 6:00 PM – Cocktails and light Hors D ’Oeuvres
Sneak Preview to begin promptly at 6:00 PM

Space is limited, so please RSVP early by emailing hornec@wnet.org or by calling 212.560.8521
Screening running time is approximately 60 minutes.
There will be a drawing for a 2-DVD set of Seasons 1 & 2 of Poldark.

And as for the story, without giving anything away (You can always rely on this to be a spoiler-free zone.) the Poldark season 2 premiere does what any great drama series premiere does: it resolves one cliff hanger while planting the seeds of the numerous stories that will fill this new season. Oh, and you need only wait 20 minutes and 25 seconds in to this first episode to see Ross Poldark (as the Brits say) get his kit off. Get out your popcorn. (Or should we call it popcornwall?)

If you are on Twitter you can follow THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette.  On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomato.