Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Poldark - Series 1 (1975)

And today we have another review brought to you by Netflix (I've been finding more and more period dramas on Netflix as of late. Yay!). I had seen this series around in multiple places: the BBC America catalog, IMDB, and more recently in previews on DVD of other period dramas. Finding out that it was from the 70s, I didn't think too much of it: yeah, maybe I would watch it, but I have other things I have to watch first. Plus, a lot of BBC period dramas from the 70s aren't all that great, right? Well, after finding it on Netflix Instant Streaming and adding it to the Instant Queue, I mentioned it to my mom and one evening we sat down to watch it: after all, we finished watching The Kent Chronicles (which the Part 3 review is coming soon, but I wanted to break up the reviews a little bit) and we wanted to watch something else.
Box Art

After escaping from a French prisoner of war camp during the American Revolution and his family believing him to be dead, Ross Poldark returns to his hometown in Cornwall in England to find that his father is dead, his home in shambles, the family copper mine nonoperational, and his fiancee, Elizabeth, engaged to his cousin Francis Poldark. Ross must work through his grief over losing Elizabeth while trying to restore his home and run the copper mine that his father left him.

Though this is an old series, there are still some recognizable actors/actresses in Poldark: Series 1. Mostly, the actors/actress you might recognize will be from older period dramas:

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Robin EllisRoss PoldarkSense and Sensibility (1971) as Edward Ferrars
Angharad ReesDemelza PoldarkDuchess of Duke Street as Lady Adam (One Episode)
Clive FrancisFrancis PoldarkSense and Sensibility (1971) as John Willoughby
Richard MorantDr. Dwight EnysThe Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) as Robespierre
Christopher BenjaminSir Hugh BodruganPride and Prejudice (1995) as Sir William Lucas
Norma StreaderVerity PoldarkPride and Prejudice (1995) as Lady Lucas
Donald DouglasCaptain Malcolm McNeilSense and Sensibility (1981) as Sir John Middleton

Ross Poldark, the main character of Poldark
Going through the characters, let's start off with Ross since he is the main character. For most of the first series, I actually liked him. Sure, he did start off as a bit of a jerk (especially after finding out that Elizabeth was going to marry Francis) and yes, he was even a rogue, but then once he married his wife, Demelza, he cleaned himself up and wasn't a bad guy. He really cared for the poorer families around him and genuinely wanted to help people. He genuinely loved Demelza. But by Episode 15, he changed (in fact, and this is what I'm saying before viewing Series 2, I think the show may have jumped the shark at this point...and in the first series). I won't give away what happens, but let's just say I was very mad at him towards the end of the series. There is still Series 2 to be viewed, but I'm uncertain as to how his character is going to be. Will he be redeemed and repent of his past actions? I hope so, but it certainly won't be easy and I'm not really going to count on it.

Francis and Elizabeth's wedding
Francis Poldark, the cousin of Ross and the husband of Ross's former fiancee, Elizabeth, started out as an okay character, went to a dislikable character, and then went back to being a likable character. Towards the end of the first series, he really cleaned himself up (before, he liked indulging in drink too much for his own good and neglected Elizabeth). Spoiler Unfortunately, he dies near the end of the first series. Too bad, I was starting to like him after he cleaned himself up. End of Spoiler Ironically enough, Ross started out likable and went to dislikable by the end of the first series while Francis went from dislikable to likable. Elizabeth... Personally I didn't care all that much for Elizabeth. Part of it, I think, is that the actress didn't do all that great of a job acting. But I just didn't like her as a character all that much.

Demelza Poldark in her riding habit.
Next: Demelza Poldark. A good part of the story is how Demelza is viewed by members of the Poldark family. Demelza comes from a very poor background: when Ross first met her, she was stealing a bit of food to eat; he ends up hiring her to be a maid at his home. The two eventually get married, much to the chagrin of many members of the Poldark family and the gentry. The only one in the Poldark family that is regularly nice to Demelza is Ross's cousin/Francis's sister, Verity. As the series goes on and the viewer gets to see more of Demelza, she becomes a very likable character. She sometimes sees things in situations that other members of the Poldark family do not see (she has a lot of street smarts). She does have a bit of a lower-class accent and she does have a fairly high voice, so you do have to really listen to her in order to understand what she is saying.

Verity Poldark
There are also a number of subplots in Poldark that either take place over a couple of episodes or in a single episode. Dr. Enys, a doctor seeking to help the poor, comes to stay in Cornwall; he becomes very good friends with Ross and Demelza and they help each other out of situations. There are also subplots that follow Caroline Penvenen, a rich heiress who uses her money to help the poor and Spoiler who ends up falling in love with Dr. Enys. End of Spoiler There is also a subplot that features Verity Poldark falling in love with Captain Blamey, who has some secrets in his past. The subplots did not detract from the original story and were a good addition; there were some subplots that weren't so great, but a good deal of them were good.

The story takes place sometime after the American Revolution, so sometime in the 1780s, but before the French Revolution, so definitely not in the 1790s. There are some references made to what was going on in history, but not as much as other series I have seen. Ross makes a remark about William Wilberforce (which, by the way, if you haven't seen Amazing Grace, it's worth a look!). There aren't too many remarks about the Revolutionary War made, which is a little unusual since Ross fought in it.
Caroline Penvenen on a swing. The scenery in this scene isn't
too bad.

The film quality is typical of 70s BBC series: the colors aren't all that great and the majority of the scenes appear to take place on sets. There are some outdoor scenes that I'm assuming are outdoor scenes since it would be hard to recreate the scenery to the extent that was shown, but the quality of the film for outdoor scenes was not as good.

But anyways, there are a number of scenes that take place in houses from different classes: upper, middle, and lower. There are also a number of scenes that take place in the Poldark family mine, which if very deep and some areas flooded.

For a 70s series, the costumes were very good and mostly accurate (or not horribly inaccurate). The costumes in Poldark are from the late Georgian era since the story takes place after the American Revolutionary War, but before the French Revolution. Demelza has the widest range of costumes since she started out with poor clothes, gets richer clothes after she gets married, and when the Poldarks have money troubles has less fancy dresses (but not as shabby as before).

This was the best picture I could find to illustrate Elizabeth's
clothes. You can tell that this particular outfit is baggy
(believe me, it did not flatter her.).
I must admit that Elizabeth was probably the worst dressed in the entire series. While she did have some nice dresses, there were a number of them that were very baggy on her and did not flatter her at all. Many of her outfits looked like they were Georgian maternity wear, but she only had one child and that was early in the series. Also, some of her dresses looked like they were Georgian sack dresses, which were popular during the 1760s, but not so much in the 1780s (at least to my knowledge). I also don't think that she was made to look all that pretty for some reason.

The men's costumes ranged from very poor to fancier jackets and outfits. What I found interesting about their costumes was that when they went into the mines, there was a special hat with a candlestick holder on top so they could see. I had never seen anything like that before! It was almost like the hard hats that we see today, but they were tricorn hats.

Overall: 3.5/5 (before Episode 15, 4.5/5)
I didn't want to give this a 3.5 rating. Before Episode 15 hit, I wanted to easily give it a 4.5 out of 5. It was a really good series! I really enjoyed watching it! My mom and I were watching multiple episodes in a day! I wanted to know what was going to happen next! ...And then came Episode 15, when the show jumped the shark (I know, I could be saying this prematurely, but that's the impression I got). After what they did to Ross's character, I was not happy! But I still enjoyed the first fourteen episodes! And the costuming was good! Sure, the film quality wasn't all that great and the sets looked like studio sets, but for a 70s series, it was really good! So, I gave this two ratings since I was heartily disappointed towards the end. Well, here's hoping that Series 2 will make amends...

Most of the content would be along what would be TV-PG today. Comparing the content to something else I reviewed, it was around the same level of Upstairs, Downstairs (The Original Series). But be warned of Episode 15; some of the content either reached or nearly reached TV-14, so be careful. There are some more mature scenes (which aren't graphic) accompanied by implications. Some of the language can be suggestive and there are some swear words sprinkled throughout. There is some violence (though it isn't all that well acted) and a couple of people do die. There are also some suggestive themes. My recommendation would be to watch the series first before showing it to anyone of the preteen to early teens range (and beware of Episode 15).

Poldark is available on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming. Series 1 is made up of sixteen 50 minutes episodes (which is actually longer than most British series I've seen).


  1. I'm very glad you reviewed this one, because I keep seeing it on Netflix and thinking it looks pretty good, but because of past disappointments by other older BBC dramas, I haven't watched it yet. Film quality and coloring is very important to me, for some reason! After your review, though, I may give it a try and see how I like it!


  2. I just awarded you on my blog!



  3. This series was voted one of the top 10 series of all time on Masterpiece Theater:

    If you enjoy Robin Ellis, please check out his blog: http://robin-ellis.net/.
    He also has a Facebook page.

  4. I've just finished watching the series' first four episodes, thanks to Netfix. I enjoyed them so much that I ordered the entire series from Amazon.

    As to Jill Townsend's portrayal of Elizabeth . . . I liked it very much. I especially enjoyed her performance in Episode 4 in which her character discovered something about Ross and Demelza. A very good performance by Townsend. And I thought she did a great job in making me truly understand Elizabeth.

  5. Jill Townsend also appeared in the 1972 television version of the Henry James novel, "THE GOLDEN BOWL". She portrayed Maggie Verver.


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