TV preview: Poldark

Aidan Turner takes the lead in the new BBC adaptation of Winston Graham's Poldark novels, set in Cornwall in the late 18th century
Aidan Turner takes the lead in the new BBC adaptation of Winston Graham's Poldark novels, set in Cornwall in the late 18th century
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Britain is in the grip of crisis… wages are falling, prices are rising and civil unrest brews. In fact, only the bankers are smiling.

It’s 1783 and Ross Poldark returns from the American War of Independence to his beloved Cornwall to find the world he once knew in ruins.

First adapted for television in the 1970s, this new eight-part drama is based on the first two novels in Winston Graham’s 12-book series, which he wrote between 1945 and 2002.

“Ross Poldark is one of literature’s great heroes: a gentleman who is also a rebel, who has a keen sense of morality and social justice, but without any priggishness or moralising,” says writer Debbie Horsfield. “He’s also a great romantic figure who is caught between two women from two completely different backgrounds. A gentleman who marries his kitchen maid. A man who doesn’t stand on ceremony, who doesn’t play by the rules and who frequently falls foul of authority. He has elements of Darcy, Heathcliff, Rochester, Rhett Butler and Robin Hood. He is quite a combination.

“I had never read the Poldark novels before so had no idea what masterly narratives they were and how exquisitely detailed and engaging the characters were – but it was no surprise to me to learn that the books have never been out of print. People who haven’t read them are in for a treat.”

Robin Ellis, who played Ross in the first adaptation, will be making a cameo appearance in two episodes, but the main role goes to Aidan Turner who confesses he was unaware of the original television series.

“When I told my parents I was going to play Ross Poldark they nearly had a fit. The previous series was so popular in Ireland, I guess because people could relate to it – the farming, the scenery, the horses.”

The series opens with not only the country, but Ross himself at a crossroads. “He went away as a young, cocky, confident character with a carefree attitude, who was running away from a lot of things,” says Turner. “In America he was faced with death on a daily basis and then when he returns to England he doesn’t really know who he is anymore.

“Everything’s changed for him – his father has died, his land is barren, the local tin mines are going through a hard time and laying off workers, leaving the region on its knees and he’s lost Elizabeth, his childhood sweetheart, whom he expected to marry on his return.

“Ross knows he needs to pick himself up and try to find who he is and where he lies in this new world. He’s strong – that’s what I love about him – he’s someone who can get on with things, he doesn’t wallow in self-pity or despair. He sees a situation for what it is and drags himself through it. He admires hard working people and treats people with respect if they earn it – no matter what their position in life. He is an original class warrior.”

Poldark, BBC1, Sunday, 9pm.