Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Poldark (1996)

I know, I know... I have said that I had no intention of watching this version of Poldark. After all, though it was planned to bring back Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark, the film makers ended up recasting the roles to different actors! How could they! This sparked outrage in the Poldark fan base so much that actual protests were staged with the protesters wearing Georgian fashions. But my mom bought a Victorian movie collection that this Poldark was in (and from what I understand, the other movies were decent), so after we finished re-watching Series 2 of the original Poldark series, we watched this movie, though I didn't have any great hopes for it.

British TV Victorian Collection Box Art
Based off the eighth book in the Poldark Series, The Stranger From the Sea, Poldark (1996) tries to continue the Poldark TV series started in the mid-70s. The year is 1810, ten years after the original Poldark series ended. Jeremy Poldark, the son of Captain Ross Poldark and his wife, Demelza, find a strange man at a ship wreckage and rescue him while Ross is working in Parliament in London. As the man, Stephen Cravenson, recovers, him and the Poldark's older daughter, Clowance, fall in love, though Demelza senses that there is more to Mr. Cravenson's story than he is telling them.

While none of the original cast members reprized their roles, there were still some familiar faces from other period dramas in this Poldark from other period dramas.
Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
John BoweCaptain Ross PoldarkCranford as Doctor Morgan
Mel MartinDemelza PoldarkThe Pallisers as Violet Effingham
Ioan GruffuddJeremy PoldarkAmazing Grace (2006) as William Wilberforce
Kelly ReillyClowance PoldarkPride and Prejudice (2005) as Caroline Bingley

Also, as a little bit of a warning, if you plan to watch this movie, some knowledge of the original series may come in handy.

John Bowe as Captain Ross Poldark
I didn't think too much of John Bowe's Ross. I knew he was no Robin Ellis, and while I didn't by any mean like him, I don't have too much to say about why I didn't like him. I guess the closest I can come to saying why I didn't like him was that he was too bland for my tastes. I don't know if it's because I felt like I didn't see him enough or if he just paled in comparison to Robin Ellis's Ross. I mean, Ross is supposed to be a little emotional and have some outbursts (unless he drastically changed between books), but John Bowe's Ross was pretty much calm the whole time. Unlike the original series, the focus was not on Ross, so that could be why I felt he was too bland because he wasn't the main focus anymore: let's face it, we see more of Demelza than Ross, which was not the case in the original series.

Mel Martin as Demelza
I didn't care for Mel Martin's Demelza. It was as if the film makers didn't even try to make her remotely resemble Angharad Ree's Demelza from the original series. Since it was supposed to be a continuation where the series left off, they could have made more of an attempt to make her resemble the original Demelza. Sure, Mel Martin's Demelza had the red hair to match Angharad Rees's Demelza, but what bothered me was her voice. Mel Martin's voice didn't sound anything like Angharad Rees's, and it sounded like she didn't even try. The original Demelza had a higher pitched voice, but here Demelza had a deep voice. What happened? I know as we age, our voices can change a little, but I wouldn't think they would change that drastically. She also didn't act anything like the original Demelza, whose strong will is supposed to come out in her behavior.

Michael Attwell as George Warleggan
Ross's long standing enemy, George Warleggan was an absolute bomb. At least with John Bowe and Mel Martin, you could guess who they were because of certain physical characteristics, but Michael Attwell as George looked only slightly like Ralph Bates's George and his acting wasn't even close to Ralph Bates. George is supposed to be a snobbish and smug. Though Michael Attwell may have been snobbish, he wasn't smug enough to be George Warleggan. I know they couldn't get Ralph Bates back since he died in 1991, but they could have gotten someone that was more like him: Michael Attwell was not George Warleggan.

The newer characters seemed like they could have been successful if the series progressed. Though Clowance was a little rebellious (and did not ride sidesaddle, which in a Regency dress didn't look right at all), I can't really complain too much about her (though I really didn't like Stephen Cravenson). Jeremy Poldark appeared to be an ambitious, likable character, and I would have been interested to see where his relationship with gentlewoman Cuby Trevanion was going. And though Benjamin Carter was in the original series as a baby, it would have been nice to know more about his background (especially since his mother, Jinny, who the Poldarks employed for awhile, practically disappeared in the middle of the first series). So, it's too bad that these character's story lines were cut short.

If the movie did something better than the original series, it was the picture quality. Though the original series had better quality film that other 70s period dramas I've seen, the movie certainly had better picture quality since the cameras were probably better by the mid-90s. There were a good deal of outdoor scenes to look at and plenty of pretty prospects. The houses that were used in the movie were also very grand.

There was a bit of an inaccuracy that I found in the houses that didn't comply with the original series. I may rant a little here, so you may just want to skip this paragraph. In the original series, the house Trenwith (which was where George Warleggan and his new wife, Elizabeth (who was Ross's ex-fiancee and the wife of Ross's cousin, Francis, before he died), were living) was burned down at the end of Series 1, and at the start of Series 2 they lived in the house of Penrice. But in this movie, Ross makes a remark that his nephew (more like first cousin once removed), Geoffrey-Charles, was to inherit Trenwith which has gone into ruin because George neglected it. But Trenwith was already burned down. I wasn't sure if they meant Penrice instead of Trenwith or if Geoffrey-Charles inherits the land that Trenwith is on and George's son inherits Penrice.

The Poldark Family
Left to Right: Clowance, Ross, Demelza, and Jeremy
The story takes place in 1810, which was very close to the start of the Regency Era (the historical era, not the fashion era). The fashions are, of course, Regency fashions, which I'm always glad to see. The Poldarks at their home of Nampara did not dress very fancy. Clowance was probably the best dressed out of all of them: my favorite of her clothes was the blue day dress with the front bib, but it was often covered with a brown spencer that I wasn't fond of. Her hair was also down most of the time; I understand she is supposed to be rebellious, but I found this distracting/inaccurate since most Regency women (rich or poor) wore their hair up. Jeremy Poldark was dressed very casually most of the time since he was working at the Poldark mines a lot. Ross was dressed nicely since he was a Member of Parliament and dressed in typical men's Regency fashions.

Overall: 2/5
I've seen worse period dramas, but this movie definitely didn't live up to the original series. It seemed like it was too different from the original series in the 70s to be classified as Poldark. The characters that were in the original series weren't really made to resemble the original characters: they were almost completely different. You could tell at the end of the movie that they were trying to start up a new series from the movie (or that the movie was the first episode of the new series) since the movie ended with everything unresolved. If it was turned into a series, I probably would have watched it, but probably wouldn't have been happy with it. My guess is that if they had brought back the original actors and actresses from the original series (with the exception of Ralph Bates as George Warleggan since Ralph Bates died before this movie was filmed), it might have done better. But in short, there aren't many people that would be satisfied with this film (and I'm not just talking about the cliffhanger ending): fans of the original series won't find much to connect with the original series while new comers may be lost with what was going on in the story (especially since the feud between the Poldarks and the Warleggans isn't explained very well in this movie). My recommendation would be just to watch the original series which was a lot better.

There is some content in this movie that would earn it a PG-13 rating, but there are only a few scenes here and there that could be skipped fairly easily. There is also some shots of Regency undergarments in a couple of scenes, but nothing too horrible. Other than that, I can't think of anything else.

Poldark is available in the British TV Victorian Collection with three other movies. It runs for 102 minutes.


  1. thank you for the great explanation: I had wondered why this version left the plot unresolved.

  2. Sure, Mel Martin's Demelza had the red hair to match Angharad Rees's Demelza, but what bothered me was her voice. Mel Martin's voice didn't sound anything like Angharad Rees's, and it sounded like she didn't even try.

    I hate to say this, but I don't see why Mel Martin's voice had to match Angharad Rees's voice. She is simply a different actress. After all, Rees did not physically resemble the Demelza character from the novel.

  3. This wasn't a bad production. I thought the writers did not do justice the Ross and Demelza characters in the movie's first half. I did not have a problem with Bowe, Martin and Atwell. Both Bowe and Martin gave solid performances as Ross and Demelza Poldark. But to be honest, the screenplay did not allow their characters to be showcased that much during the first two-thirds of the movie. By the time the pair's characters were finally reunited for the movie's last half hour, both John Bowe and Mel Martin were allowed to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. This was especially true for Bowe in one scene with Michael Atwell. I certainly had no problems with Atwell's portrayal of Ross Poldark's long-time rival, George Warleggan. I found it very intense and complex. Atwell did not portray his character was a one-dimensional villain.

    The real problem I had with this adaptation was the story itself. I have never considered "Stranger From the Sea" as one of Winston Graham's best works among his Poldark series. It's a pity that Graham's other novels from the 1980s and 1990s were not adapted.


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