* Warning: spoilers. Do not read if you have not seen Poldark series 2, episode one *
Well, that was some cliffhanger.
The opening episode of series 2 saw the dark hand of fate point to Aidan Turner’s Ross Poldark as he prepared to face his reckoning at Bodmin Assizes, and then what? Kyle Soller’s Francis appeared to blow his brains out right at the end in a moment of suicidal despair.
It was a shocking way to end the first episode of the new series, but before you ask ‘can one survive being shot at point blank range with a cock and hammer pistol?’ in some ways we should have seen it coming.
The dastardly George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) had not let up on his designs for Francis’ wife Elizabeth (Heida Reed). She in turn had instituted what modern observers would call a sex strike against poor old Francis who turned up at their bedchamber only to be told it was ‘not tonight old boy, see you later’. Clearly Elizabeth, who hasn’t exactly given Warleggan a firm ‘no thank you’, is having extremely mixed feelings about their marriage.
Francis, as series one fans will recall, is no stranger to having a wretched time of it, what with losing his mine on cards and being a bit of an ineffectual idiot generally.
But what seems to have driven him to take such drastic action was his reckless standing up to Warleggan in defence of Ross, telling the banker, who essentially owns the roof over his head, what a cad he thought he was for his anti-Ross pamphlets (Warleggan’s pamphlets being a kind of effective trolling, C18th style, before the trial).
After that, Francis really was in trouble. Or perhaps, as seems more likely, he had his say to Warleggan knowing full well that he was going to try and take his own life and had nothing to lose.
Up until then, the people attracting most of our attention were Ross and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) in a beautifully-constructed, fabulously-shot episode which seemed to have that extra dash of sweeping grandeur (a sign no doubt of a budget boost).
Still grieving the death of their daughter Julia from the “Putrid Throat”, Ross is facing charges for plundering shipwrecked booty from the Warleggans’ ship and somewhat pig-headedly refused to take up Warleggan’s deal for clemency on principle. Of course it was the moral and proper course of action, but Ross does sometimes infuriate viewers. Principles be damned.
All the signs are that things will likely be a lot darker this series for him. As well as the trial, he will have to get used to the day-to-day difficulties of married life with Demelza and his clearly-suppressed feelings towards first love Elizabeth. There was a tenderly shot bedroom scene with Demelza; but after that he got up to chop wood, suggesting a certain lack of chivalry may have crept into their union.
Turner fanatics can at least console themselves with a glimpse of the fabled Aidan torso when he went to his mine for “an honest day’s work” and took his shirt off for a bit of “hot hewing” down below. It was surprising, too, because Aidan had assured RadioTimes.com readers earlier in the year that his appearance would be defined by “clothes”. Not always, it seems. The certainly camera lingered on his bare upper body as he wielded a pick axe.
In other news, two of my favourite characters, Jud and Prudie Paynter (the factotums fired by Ross in series one), were being sized up as witnesses in their former boss’ trial while Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) has been given some fun lines. There is more than a hint of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey in her studied put downs.
Among the new characters, I rather liked John Nettles’ turn as the kindly landowner Ray Penvenen, besotted with his spoilt and his beautiful niece, Caroline (Gabriella Wilde). She also looks like one to watch; Caroline clearly seems to have taken a shine to Ross, making that three beautiful women with the hots for him. No wonder Francis felt so low.
Her intended husband, the prospective MP Unwin Trevaunance, played by W1A and The Windsors actor Hugh Skinner, was perhaps the only mis-step in the episode. A character designed to provide a mixture of aristocratic villainy and comic relief, he seemed a bit too buffoonish and ridiculous for this world; perhaps it’s my fault I still can’t stop thinking of him as W1A’s dumb intern Will Humphries, uhming and ahhing his way to haplessness, so let’s give him a chance.
But the good news is that Poldark has returned on song. And, rather like conditions down Ross’ mine, things are hotting up very nicely indeed.
Poldark continues on BBC1 on Sunday nights at 9pm