Sparkling drama, comic relief and political intrigue, 1790s-style. Poldark's fourth series remains on-form.
On Sunday night, it was time for the second round of the fourth season of Poldark, the epic drama series based in late 18th-early 19th century Cornwall. Following a “punchy and engaging” opening episode, the latest instalment set out its stall in far more accomplished fashion, and set up the rest of the series nicely.
The travails of Ross (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) following the latter’s tryst in some sandy dunes with handsome naval officer Hugh Armitage continued. Armitage (Josh Whitehouse) really wasn’t faking it when playing the ‘I’m going to die’ card last week and in Series 3’s conclusion with Demelza. In this episode, he was holed up in bed through all of his scenes, which were mercifully short considering his prior form with chat-up lines to Demelza – the toe-curling “I’m no Leonardo, but you’re surely Mona Lisa?” still brings nightmares.
On the subject of toes, this episode features a notable scene which has already proven to be a predominant talking point – a short, twenty second or so scene where the foul Vicar Osborne Whitworth fulfilled his foot fetish with a prostitute. While it’s understandable that a more prudish viewer might have felt discomfort, and the scene’s placing in the episode was perhaps slightly-jarring, the scene was necessary. Christian Brassington, playing Whitworth, had provided the most enjoyable comic moments of the episode, particularly when he joyously spoke at the dining table of Ross’s surprise late nomination for the Truro parliamentary seat, to the evident displeasure of Ross’s archenemy, George Warleggan. The toe scene was required to highlight how beneath his pompous, comical facade, Whitworth is a repellent creature who abused and raped his young wife Morwenna. A subsequent scene in which Rowella – Morwenna’s sister who cunningly exploited Whitworth’s foot fetish to have an affair with him – claimed to be pregnant and then blackmailed him for money, resurfaced, confirming that the pregnancy was a deception and enticing Whitworth once more. All of this leaves hope for Morwenna (Ellise Chappell) to rejoin her heartthrob Drake Carne, a promising story thread.
Love was also in the air for the other Carne brother, ‘Soulful Sam’ (seriously, count the number of times he says soul), as his liking for Emma Tregirls was made more clear-cut when he agreed to ‘Cornish wrestle’ Warleggan gamekeeper and brute Tom Harry in exchange for her agreeing to have her soul redeemed. Sam’s (Tom York) yearning for Emma (Ciara Charteris) clearly runs deep, as during conversations with her he briefly forgot to mention the word ‘soul’. Of all the Poldark couples, Caroline and Dr Dwight Enys seem the most content. Enys’s transformation from a young, timid doctor who dallied with a married local village woman in series 1 with disastrous consequences, to a greatly respected physician and upstanding gentleman of society, is nearly complete. Typically, Caroline regretted to announce ‘an Enys-Penvenen offshoot’ – which we can translate as ‘expect a baby to be born next episode’. Meanwhile, Dr Choake did himself no favours in his competition with Dr Enys for most relied-upon doctor in southern Cornwall with his proposed cure for Armitage’s diagnosis of brain fever: ‘We’ll proceed first with blistering, thereafter with purging, vomiting, poulticing and bleeding’. With this treatment astonishingly failing, Dr Choake next planned trepanation, surgically driving a hole into the skull. Even the most avid Armitage hater couldn’t help but feel sorry for the chap.
The delicious Poldark-Warleggan storyline developed fantastically this episode. From arguments and clear clashes of political ideals over a pewter tankard at The Red Lion in Truro, to their wager over the result of ‘Soulful Sam’ and Tom Harry’s Cornish wrestling bout, to Ross’s late contesting of the Truro seat against sitting MP George Warleggan, is it any wonder that Ross was pleased to be allowed to glare at George? Beautifully capturing the gulf between the two families and the lingering emnity between Demelza and Elizabeth – two women who love the same man – was a festivities scene, as unwitting half-brothers Valentine Warleggan and Jeremy Poldark locked in a kiddy embrace. Cue the two female protagonists marching simultaneously to fetch their respective son away, meeting and enduring awkward, fleeting direct eye contact. At the election, thanks to an extraordinary alliance between former enemies Lord Falmouth and Sir John Basset – the latter of whom deserves more screen time for the way John Hopkins portrays him – Ross triumphed.
In the final scene we saw Ross bid farewell to Demelza and their two children and catch the coach to London. Ross’s policy conditions when agreeing to stand for Lord Falmouth may well indicate which 1790s political topics are likely to prove central to his attempts to mend ‘all that’s wasted and broken and lost in the world’. Our hero’s condition of taking any action he feels would benefit the poor seems far too vague to not cause future tension, whilst my historical studies make me slightly sceptical that even Ross Poldark could manage to abolish slavery in the late 1790s.
However, I wish Ross well and undoubtedly, Poldark is back to sparkling form.
Poldark Series 4 continues on Sunday 9PM on BBC One. The first two episodes are available on BBC iPlayer now.