Alright, impatient Poldark fans, keep your shirt on.
There only needs to be one topless person on a Sunday night for the next ten weeks and he’s here right now.
Finally, Ross Poldark is back!
Back, and exactly where we left him nearly a year and a half ago in that clifftop cliffhanger: arrested and being tugged off by a group of burly soldiers while Demelza watches helplessly (if there’s a better way to phrase that I don’t want to hear it). Clapped in irons, tossed in front of the magistrate, and charged with the sexy crime of starring in last season’s excellent shipwreck-themed finale, he’s faced with the prospect of being hanged by the neck. His sexy, sexy neck.
But despite the bad noose, our hero doesn’t seem fazed. ‘They cannot hang me, I’ve too much to do,’ he confidently tells his wife, before burying his head in the sand by burying his shovel back in Wheal Leisure. Cue some hot topless mining action as he sweatily labours alongside his employees, chipping, chiseling, and preparing to blow his lode. His lode of copper. Well, scything is so 1783, and never let it be said this show doesn’t know it’s audience.
And never let it be said that Aidan Turner isn’t a commanding lead in a drama full of strong performances. Yes there’ll be those who still treasure Robin Ellis, but by now Turner has made the part his own, always careful not to overplay Ross’ confidence, nor underplay the vulnerability of a character who now has a lot more to lose than when we first met him.
Demelza’s worried it’s going to be ‘#RIP RP’, but we on our sofas don’t need to pay a visit to genial John Nettles’ Ray Penvenen. We know Ross will be fine, even when he’s locked up in Bodmin Jail (it now gets a 4/5 stars on TripAdvisor so they’ve really done the place up since he was there).
It’s been 15 months but we still remember that – at least when he’s not giving his mine workers body image issues – there’s nothing Ross loves more than to fight injustice. The man wields the moral high-ground like he doesn’t have a shirt to restrict him.
We gleefully saw it throughout last season as he bloodied the noses of the wealthy, the corrupt, and the covetous. We know he’ll triumphantly do it again. That, or much of this season is going to be highlights from Verity and Captain Blamey’s honeymoon. George Warleggan, as one of those bloodied noses, knows it too.
‘Thank you for being every bit as predictable as I hoped you’d be,’ George sneers at Ross after visiting him in Bodmin and offering ‘help’, in what he thinks is the checkmate move of his campaign to see his better-chested rival hanged. But he’s also 200 years too early to pop by that four star gift shop for some luxury fudge so he’s not quite as clever as he thinks he is.
Last year Warleggan was the avatar for the Banks, and all the greed and anxiety they spur in others. This year I’d venture to say that with his dirt-digging lackeys, libellous publications, and behind the scenes political connections, he’s more like certain sections of The Press. Or I might be reading way too much into Debbie Horsfield’s excellent script and Jack Farthing’s performance. Either way, he’s clearly being positioned as a much greater threat than the previous season, when he was more a thorn – or little prick, you might say – in Ross’s side.
Floundering in the shallows of Poldark’s stubborn heroics and Warleggan’s machinations, we don’t really notice the warning signs Francis Poldark is giving off. Compared to blokes with plans and ladies forthright enough to defy the patronising ‘Ooh, no. No, you wouldn’t like it at the assizes, darling, you stay here and knit or something’, he’s ineffectual, invisible.
Until it’s too late; until the ink is dried and the metal is pressed to the temple and BANG. Who let Francis have a gun? Remember, he can’t even scythe without hurting himself.
It looks like it’s all over for him, all over for us for this week, and presumably all over the wall of that boarding house. Poor Dr Enys still has to sleep in that room. Although the way newcomer Caroline Penvenen (Gabriella Wilde) looks at him, he may find he’s laying his prescription pad somewhere else in the future. And it won’t be in Horace’s dog basket.
Francis’ suicide is a grim end to the opener, but the emotion you’ll likely come away with as the credits roll is delight. Delight that the show is back and just as you remember.
Poldark returns flaunting all of its strengths (and a few other things too) – filled with the confidence of a show which already has a third season ordered, and an ensemble cast with the energy and talent to sustain that commission and beyond.
Suddenly all feels right on a Sunday night in Blighty again.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 4 September 2016 on BBC One.
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