It’s Cornwall, sometime around 1795, and there are two missions.
In the first, Ross Poldark and his comrades attempt a daring jail break for their good friend, the kindly and committed Dr Dwight Enys, who is languishing in a French prison.
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In the other, George Warleggan is trying to suck up to local grandee Lord Falmouth and blacken Ross’s name.
Death, valour and loyalty in the one corner. In the other? “I promised Lord Falmouth the Allemande”, to quote Elizabeth, and my how Ross’s erstwhile lover has fallen in our estimation over the last two series.
She has taken to her world of pampered privilege rather too nicely, even if she’s still on the alcoholic tinctures and wants to obliterate at least some of it from her mind.
There is no ambiguity about who are the goodies and who are the baddies nowadays, and the real emotional punch was dealt when Captain Henshawe (John Hollingworth) – aka Hensh – died in the rescue bid, which did at least succeed in prising Dwight from the grasp of the murderous French.
You could sense a death was coming, and my feeling was that Drake Carne, Demelza’s brother, was the most likely candidate given his desperation to join the raid.
His rejection by Morwenna (who has realised that their liaison could only result in heartbreak and the wrath of George) stirred in him a death wish which you felt this drama was going to meet. But he survived, injured.
The image of Ross appearing before Dwight in the godforsaken prison was beautifully handled by director Stephen Woolfenden – his presence was like a vision to Dwight that the poor benighted doc couldn’t believe was real. It spoke of the core heroic values of loyalty and courage that is crucial to the heart of Poldark and why so many of us love it.
“Your friends have risked life and limb to free you,” said Ross when Enys said he had to stay with his patients.
When push came to shove it was most exciting – moonlit, frenetic, brilliant – when the plans went awry, and Captain Henshawe’s fate was ultimately sealed. Word reached the other inmates that Ross and the boys were there and all hell broke loose.
The death of Hensh was a blow for fans of the show. He has always been there or thereabouts, a Ross loyalist and definitely on the side of the angels.
But the irony about the outcome of the raid is that it has appeared to – at least temporarily – backfire on George, whose scenes of prancing social climbing were put into sharpest possible relief by all the drama from France.
Lord Falmouth’s aristocratic nephew Lieutenant Hugh Armitage was held captive in the same prison, so George’s sneering from the safety of the ballroom at Ross’s derring-do did him no favours in the eyes of the person he most wanted to please. Armitage was also freed, almost by chance, which will count for the master of Nampara.
However, judging by the taster for next week’s episode, it seems that you can’t keep a nasty Poldark villain down, and George will have Drake in his sights for his presumption in falling in love with Morwenna, the woman he has in mind for the disgusting Osborne Whitworth.
It also seems as if Lieutenant Armitage will pay Ross back for his rescue by taking a fancy to Demelza. He suggested a certain unpleasantly selfish side to his nature when he banged on about living his life to the full – all spoken at Hensh’s memorial service. Hardly tactful I’d say, and perhaps a sign of things to come.
So after all the passionate excitement tonight, we can forget bloodthirsty French revolutionaries. It is the raging of aristocratic egos and libidos that we will have to worry about from now on.
Poldark season three airs on Sundays from 8/7c, PBS Masterpiece