**SPOILERS: This contains plot details from Poldark series 3 episode 7**
Poldark fans had to bid a sad farewell to Aunt Agatha on Sunday night – the fabulous Cornish grande dame played by the even more fabulous Caroline Blakiston.
“She was a Poldark, a most beloved Aunt…a great lady and a rare spirit” was the verdict of Aidan Turner’s Ross in the episode. And it is hard to disagree.
Her death was very movingly observed, following a nasty row with ghastly George Warleggan, and eerily plausible.
Plausible, because Blakiston has had medical guidance on the best way to expire, we can reveal. She tells RadioTimes.com that 15 years ago she contracted TB during a stage show and during the course of treatment her “nice doctor” told her how the grisly process of dying actually takes place.
“He said ‘it’s all about the breathing’,” says Blakiston. “The breathing gets shallower and shallower, your lungs sort of stop being strong at the bottom so you can’t take long breaths so you can’t say long sentences and then you sort of go ‘whiff’, it’s a sort of ‘whiff’ and that’s how I did it.”
Blakiston, a former Star Wars star (see below for more of that) is now 84 and says she found filming the scene moving – and a little poignant.
“I’m a lot older now and probably a lot closer to my own demise which doesn’t worry me particularly at all. I talk about it plenty.
“I come from a family where on the whole the women live long. My mother was 92 and I’ve got a sister who’s 87, and we sort of don’t think about it. I don’t feel so old yet I because I do a lot of exercise. I don’t want to groan when I sit down or stand up, that’s what my main feeling is, not to do that groan.”
Over the last three series, Aunt Agatha has been a delight for Poldark fans. Wit, sage, Tarot card player, Blakiston has made the role her own and delivered some humdinger put downs – especially to her arch enemy George Warleggan.
“When it started, I didn’t have much at all, I was the old lady in the background growling a bit, and I think they just felt there’s some mileage to be had from this old lady, the only link with the past. And Debbie Horsfield decided she was worth building up and writing up and it has come very much to my advantage.
“I feel very happy and it’s been great fun getting to know her and taking her on this journey and learning about Tarot cards, and one of the things I’m very thrilled with is that they haven’t made her an old drunk hag lady and I like that very much, that she’s somehow got her wits about her.”
One of Blakiston’s inspirations for her pitch-perfect, witty performance comes from two unlikely sources – Greek drama and, er, Channel 4’s Gogglebox.
“I see Agatha like the Ancient Greek chorus commenting on the drama but she’s also like a Gogglebox character in some ways because she is providing this guidance to the action,” she says.
“I was introduced to Gogglebox this year and it is one of the joys of my life. I think it’s marvellous and I love all the people in it. I think about Gogglebox when I am doing Aunt Agatha and I think ‘they are watching this and I must do it well for the Gogglebox people because they really, really watch it and you have got to live up to it’.”
You may have also noticed that Aunt Agatha always seems to be eating the same thing – a kind of gruel-like substance which she eats methodically during many of her scenes. That was Blakiston’s idea.
“I don’t want to chew chicken and lettuce meat and I said ‘you know what, her teeth aren’t brilliant, she’d probably be quite happy with slops’. And also when George gets to be in control of the house and all that stuff, he so hates her, he never allows her to have proper food really. I think she hopes she’ll die of starvation perhaps, I don’t know …so I got this wonderful porridge at every meal.”
Funnily enough, Blakiston absolutely adores Jack Farthing, the actor who plays George. Despite their on-screen sparring, when the cameras are switched off they are great pals.
“He’s marvelous and such a good actor, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and the best person to work with. It’s that thing of playing a really monstrous character like Iago or something and he has fun with it. But he’s a sweet, sweet, sweet person.”
Talking of nice people, you can’t meet Blakiston without talking about Star Wars. As well as many other stage and screen roles (remember her alongside Timothy West in 1980s comedy Brass?), she is also remembered for playing Mon Mothma, the leader of the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi – possibly the most virtuous character in the canon.
Blakiston still attends Star Wars conventions and she admits that fans are sometimes to surprised to see “an old lady” sitting underneath a poster of the character from more than 30 years ago. But she loves the fans even if if means that she has to be on her best behaviour.
“At the Star Wars conventions you never see any bad behavior of any sort because they’re there celebrating something about good and evil and evil doesn’t win. And you’re in a sort of sublime environment where with Mon Mothma it’s ‘Dark side Nil’. I have to be ‘Dark Side Nil’, talking to those people.”
To which she gives off a cackle of which Aunt Agatha would be proud.
What’s going to happen in Poldark episode 8? Listen to our weekly podcast to find out…
Poldark season three airs on Sundays, 9/8c, PBS Masterpiece