Poldark, Episode One: A guy with great problems and even greater hair

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Did you watch the Masterpiece series “Poldark” last night?  Based on Episode One , I can safely say I know what I’ll be doing every Sunday night at nine.  I’ll be in eighteenth-century Cornwall, watching Ross Poldark live and fight and love and learn.

This is good news indeed.  Ever since “Downton Abbey” finished for the year, I’ve been looking for another  period drama to take its place, preferably one in which people named Bates do not regularly end up accused of murder.  I believe I’ve found it.

If you missed last night’s episode, here is a quick intro: Ross Poldark is off fighting in the American War for Independence (on the wrong side, but we’ll let that pass) when he gets wounded in battle.   This has the effect of 1) giving him a rather dashing facial scar and 2) leading his family to think he is dead.  But he isn’t, and he returns home to a family dinner party at his uncle’s to a bunch of very surprised people.  No one is more surprised than Elizabeth, the girl with whom he exchanged vows of love the day before he left for war, but who is now engaged to marry his cousin Francis. Welcome home, soldier!

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Ross also finds out his father is dead, his servants have let the family home go to ruin, and he has no money.  And all this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the hour-long episode, which should let you know that this will be one roller-coaster ride of a series.

I have to admit that I knew the storyline already; the series is based on the books by Winston Graham, and so far it is adhering pretty closely to the first novel.  But the episode still had me enthralled.  The actors so far are very well-cast, in my humble opinion, and the rugged coastal scenery … oh, it’s making me put Visit Cornwall on my bucket list.  Every frame of the episode that takes place outside could be hung on a wall, it’s that gorgeous.

A few other thoughts:

*Aidan Turner (whom I had never seen before in anything) is a very good Ross.  He is the very picture of “brooding hero” (I refer you to the photos above) and he sure has a lot to brood about, seeing his girl marry his cousin.

There’s something very modern about the character of Ross.   He is a member of the landed (if impoverished) gentry, but he feels a close kinship with his poorer tenants and sees them as equal in human dignity.  I love the character because, for all his occasional outbursts of temper, he has a social conscience and is willing to risk his reputation to rescue a small dog from a fight and a teenage girl from her abusive father.  Aidan Turner thus far captures that mavericky, essentially good  side of him very well.   He is as convincing crying as he is brawling, and in the first episode Ross has ample occasion to do both.

He also has great hair. It is so great I had to put it in a paragraph of its own.  (If you don’t believe me, watch the show.)

*Elizabeth was in a bind, poor girl. What would you do if you were supposed to marry a perfectly nice if somewhat boring guy in a few weeks’ time, and then the guy you loved and were sure was dead suddenly materialized?  There is really no good way out of this.  She marries the boring guy, and we’ll see how that works out later on.

One nitpicky thing that bothered me: Elizabeth appears to be wearing a fetching purply shade of lipstick.  I’m no cosmetics historian, but I found it somewhat unrealistic to see something that looks like it should be called Maybelline Reckless Raisin in a period drama.  Then again, she also had flawless skin, which is also somewhat unrealistic in a period drama.  On the other hand, if they showed people as they really looked back then, we might all be so repulsed that there would be no audience.  (And props to them for making the teeth of Ross’s servant Jud appropriately disgusting.)

*Speaking of nitpicky: In a scene that is taken directly from the novel, Ross washes the lice of out his serving girl Demelza’s hair.  He does it simply by sticking her head under the pump, which got me wondering.    I have never yet had the pleasure of a lice outbreak myself (thank you GOD for my boys and their buzz cuts), but I know dear friends and family members who have, and by all accounts it is almost impossible to get rid of the little bastards.  Perhaps lice in the 18th century were less tenacious than their modern counterparts?  Now I am curious.

*My husband, who was watching with me (Happy Father’s Day, Honey!) remarked that he thinks the guy playing Jud is the same guy who was the murderous cabbie in Season One of “Sherlock.”  I am not convinced (perhaps I was distracted by the teeth), but it would not surprise me, because in every English period drama I watch I see at least one actor I recognize from another one.  It’s like Six Degrees of Separation, BBC-style.  I like it.  It makes it all one big family.

Did you watch Episode One?  Will you be watching Episode Two?  What did you think?

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