“Poldark” – Steamy British Soap Irritates U.S. Critics

July 18, 2015 6:19 pm

I was surprised to read a number of critical reviews of the latest episode of “Poldark” (Season 1, Episode 4).  The main criticism was directed towards Ross Poldark’s hasty marriage to his sexy country maid, Demelza. After a night of incredibly steamy pre-marital lovemaking, Demelza had quietly tiptoed out of Ross’ warm bed, however Ross’ engrossing eyes soon popped open – the moral conflict between what he had just done and what he knew he had to do – apparent in his firm gaze.

The critics’ hasty judgment is based on Ross’ somewhat naïve disregard for his station as an aristocrat and his lowly wife – who can never be accepted in high society, in keeping with the extremely rigid social standards of the day. But I have reason to celebrate right along with Demelza, who is still pinching herself over her good fortune.

Ross has no concern with society – never has, never will. His upright, indifferent regard for the hypocrisy of the “gentlemen”, who underpay their overworked, poor tenants and ostracize the righteous, proves this beyond all doubt. Ross pays his people a fair wage and treats them with dignity. He stands in stark opposition to his gently bred cousin, Francis, who is a gentleman, profligate gambler, and womanizer, with no connection to the poor who work his father’s mine, the very sustenance of his inheritance.  By the way, Francis’ wife, Elizabeth, really loves Poldark and can barely stand her whiny husband’s touch.

Aidan Turner Poldark

To Ross’ credit, he insists on a wedding between one of his poor tenants and his pregnant girlfriend, finds them an abandoned cottage to live in, and even stands up for the boy in court when he is caught poaching – a crime punishable by years of transportation (harsh servitude abroad). Ross also attempts to help his plain, spinsterly cousin, Verity, secretly meet the man of her dreams, a sea captain, who her family deems is beneath them because of his lowly social rank and only incidentally because he was an accused wife murderer (it was an accident).

Through these gallant deeds, Ross proves that he is a true gentleman. His worst indiscretion so far was an intense, one-time encounter with the town prostitute, due to stress. He even washes himself clean in the chilly sea afterward. His inevitable attraction to and relations with Demelza are not so hard to imagine. He loves hard and passionately, justice seeping from his loins. He seeks to dishonor no one, unlike his crude cousin, Francis, who insists that the prostitute call him “sir” even though he is sleeping with her.

Another sore point with the naysayers is the lack of romantic love between Ross and Demelza – which I totally disagree with. As I mentioned earlier, Ross initially marries her out of duty – since he took her virginity and because the whole town assumed they were already involved for months. But even before that, you could see the developing passion Ross had for her, for her physical qualities, but moreso because of her huge improvements as a great cook and housekeeper – putting his older, more experienced servants to shame.

The capstone of the episode is when Demelza sings an incredibly poignant love song to Ross at a posh Christmas dinner hosted by his uppity family. Her soft, clear voice gradually rises in passion and power as her eyes fix on Ross, leaving no doubt as to the yen of her emotions. Ross is obviously transfixed by the intensity of her feelings transmitted through the simple, yet sensual haunting Celtic ballad.

This episode of Poldark would leave any woman totally breathless and wishing she was a certain housemaid living in Cornwall. As a series, Poldark is all about hot and steamy hero worship. Ross is the clear, moral protagonist; “the good seed”, battling the evil oppressive forces of greed and power.  He can do no wrong, even if he did do wrong.

PBS has scored another winner with this hit from the Brits. It’s no Downton Abbey by a stretch. I could spend some time pointing out obvious plot holes and far too many expectations of the audience to blindly go along with everything this character does, with no regard for historical accuracy or even story continuity. The usual mix of snobbish, unhappy aristocrats appear combined with denied love and miserable marriages. The episodes move rapidly, but are easy to follow if you missed a few and need to catch up.

Poldark is not about history, it’s about everything wrong with it. Family names, so-called honor, money, and disregard for the poor blight all members of his social class, except Ross. He’s a good guy, trying to do right by everyone and being slighted by everyone. If marrying an ignorant servant -rather than just use her body- is his greatest crime then that tells you that Poldark is a man worth watching and warming up to.

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