When it came to casting the part of Ross Poldark in the new BBC1 period drama, the production team had a considerable checklist of attributes to meet.
Handsome, brooding, passionate, vulnerable, kind, decent – all those words went whizzing round the head of writer Debbie Horsfield and her team when picking the man to play the Cornishman who returns from the American War of Independence to find his inheritance in peril and his fiancée Elizabeth betrothed to another man.
But who could take the part of this gorgeous hero torn between two women, a crusader on behalf of the poor who is fighting to keep his family’s mine open and his reputation intact?
Because I was sadly unavailable for the part (ho-ho!) it had to be someone straight from the pages of romantic fiction – surely a fantasy dreamboat that only exists in the imagination…?
Actually, no. For Horsfield there was only one man for the part – Being Human and The Hobbit star Aidan Turner.
“Aidan was my choice,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “He is not unattractive! I am sure it will count in his favour. I loved him in [the BBC six-part drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood] Desperate Romantics and [BBC3’s] Being Human and what I loved about him is that he plays a rebel in both those parts. And Ross is like that.
“He is a rebel and he is not an outcast so much but he stands apart from the rest of society. Aidan was also able to play vulnerability and anger and he has incredible charisma and presence in the things I have seen him do. And for me he was the obvious choice. He is really good in this.”
Ross is a complicated hero – not straightforwardly good but certainly heroic, adds Horsfield, pictured below with Heida Reed who plays Elizabeth.
“What I loved about Ross Poldark is that he has got a bit of Tom Jones and a bit of Mr Darcy because he’s a gentleman and bit of Rochester and a bit of Rhett Butler and a bit of Robin Hood. He is actually all the good heroes rolled into one and yet he is his own unique personality. That’s what’s great about him. He does have a strong sense of justice but he’s not priggish about it. He’s a leader but he doesn’t seek leadership – but people will follow him. That’s a true leader.”
Of course, some viewers will still remember the first Poldark, Robin Ellis, who took the part in the 1975 series (and who enjoys a cameo in the modern remake as a hang ‘em and flog ‘em judge).
Horsfield has seen (and admires) the 70s version, but the writer appears much more in awe of the twelve Poldark books written by the late Winston Graham which she claims are unfairly dismissed by snooty academics.
“I think the books are so extraordinary. I feel more pressure doing justice to [them] in the way I would feel about doing justice to a Jane Austen or a Dickens,” she says.
The upcoming eight-part series covers just two of the novels and such is Horsfield’s dedication she is prepared to devote many more years to subsequent series.
That would mean five more series if the BBC gives her the go-ahead. But despite never tackling this period before, nothing seems likely to stand in the way of the writer who is best known for her contemporary “blue collar” dramas like Manchester set 1990s drama series Cutting It and the 1980s factory-based drama Making Out.
“I’d be doing [Poldark] for years and years but I love the stories so much,” she says. Although one thing that doesn’t seem likely to distract her is the lure of sitting down and watching the box herself.
“I never watch TV! I have a large family. We watch Match of the Day and Game of Thrones. I got sucked in with my kids and it’s the only thing I watch.
“I don’t think of myself as working in telly. I think of myself as telling stories. I don’t know how helpful it would be to watch other people tell stories. It’s not where I get my inspiration from.”
Poldark begins on BBC1 on Sunday 8th March at 9pm