“Life is cheap,” says Ross Poldark at the end of this cracking series opener –and don’t we Poldark fans know it.
Warning: this article contains spoilers about Poldark series 4 episode 1
Because it’s not the first time Ross has had to make a last ditch attempt to save a life from the hangman’s noose.
In series two his own life hung in the balance – now Demelza’s brothers, Drake and Sam Carne, were awaiting the scaffold after being convicted of the murder of a corn merchant during an affray. While they were lucky to have a stirring speech from 18th century Cornwall’s answer to Che Guevara, poor Jago Martin was less fortunate.
Ross’s rousing oratory about the strength of mercy was almost Biblical in its power and the purity of its message. But it was not enough to save Zacky’s tearaway son, Ross clinging to his poor, distraught father as he was killed. It was a very moving moment that will be remembered, for my money, as one of the most powerful in Poldark.
Talking of memorable scenes, Aidan Turner’s tricorned hero really was on storming form from the very first moment when he swam across a tumbling sea, his muscular chest fighting against the thundering waves, his only item of clothing a pair of linen shorts that cling tightly to his legs.
The audience at a preview screening of this episode cheered and laughed in equal measure when they saw this. It was cheesy, but there was a knowing, tongue-in-cheek nod here. It gave the fans (and Mariella Frostrup) what they wanted.
What followed was an immediate and subtle reminder of the bombshell of the series three climax when Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza had given herself to the mooning poet Hugh Armitage. And while this infidelity was rarely addressed directly, it haunted every look between the pair and pretty much everyone else. Caroline Enys clearly knows about what went on; her look to Demelza at one stage felt almost saucy. So, it seems, does Ross – though he isn’t enjoying it one bit.
“I saw you swim away,” said Demelza as she walked from the sand dunes with their children to meet him on the shore.
“No, I’m still here,” he replied, his remark as awash with meaning as Ross’s smalls were sodden with sea water.
Ross and Demelza did later reflect over the fireside on the fall-out from Sand Dune-gate, asking themselves very modern questions about whether there is room in a person’s heart for two people. Ross didn’t get it all his own way: Demelza, still the street fighting Cornish girl at heart, reminded him that his feelings for Elizabeth haven’t exactly been straightforward. However, given Mistress Warleggan’s increasing devotion to awful George (she asked him into bed on the same night he had poor Zacky hanged), any of Ross’s residual affection is likely to disappear fast.
Hugh meanwhile, was mainly stuck in his uncle’s big house, dealing with chronic headaches and problems with his eyesight. Just before his dalliance with Demelza he had told her that he was going blind (quite a good chat-up line that) and it looks like that fate may befall him. He can still see well enough to write her his (to my mind, god awful) poems, mind. Though as Doctor Enys made clear, he won’t be fit enough to stand for election.
We can all guess who is though, as politics enters Poldark front and centre. Prime Minister Pitt has called an election, and it looks like Ross is going to stand against ghastly George and win. He has had enough of standing up to injustice from the outside. He knows he needs his hands on the levers of power.
The trial and the unrest also has repercussions for Morwenna, who thought she was going to see her beloved Drake swing. Morwenna’s awful husband Osborne Whitworth didn’t seem troubled though, as he sat almost smirking by the scaffold while Jago and the boys awaited their fates.
The sex-crazed, toe-sucking cleric’s dalliance with his wife’s sister has been uncovered, which at least gives his poor wife an excuse not to renew what Ossie creepily referred to as their “conjugal bliss”. But Morwenna’s passion for Drake continues to burn fiercely; this is a story which, like so many Poldark plot strands in Debbie Horsfield’s beautifully written scripts, is artfully poised. How wonderful it would be to see Ossie get his comeuppance?
The Caroline/Dwight marriage seems to be the only one on an even keel. Dwight is gathering strength following his exertions in France in the last series and – joy of joys – Caroline is expecting a baby.
So, with Ross off to Westminster, and Demelza likely to be keeping the home fires of Nampara burning with Hugh’s love letters, it is they who are in the running to be Cornwall’s top couple. Maybe it’s time for the dashing doc to start practising his front crawl?
Poldark season four airs on Sundays, 9/8c, Masterpiece on PBS
This article was originally published in June 2018
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