Poldark: Stewardship & Servitude

screen-shot-2014-08-08-at-141415After much hype Poldark has finally galloped back onto our screens. Cue epic wide-angle shots of the Cornish coastline and we’ve got something to spice up Sunday nights. I wasn’t born when the series aired the first time round, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect, that is aside from an Eighteenth-Century setting and a smouldering leading man, but needless to say that was enough to make me tune in!

Week 1 saw Ross Poldark return from fighting in the American War of Independence only to discover everyone thought he had died and his sweetheart Elizabeth is set to marry his cousin Francis. If that wasn’t bad enough, he learns his father is dead and finds his inheritance in a sorry state. We’re repeatedly told the land is barren, the mine has fallen into disuse, the property is mortgaged to the hilt and he’s been left saddled with his father’s debts – but that’s not going to stop a man like Poldark, even if he has to get his hands dirty. He belongs on his land, not in London where his uncle would rather have him out of the way.

In direct contrast to the new-money (i.e. bad) George Warleggan, Ross Poldark is presented as a compassionate landowner who’s only got his ancient family name left to recommend him and the drive to work hard for himself and his tenants. Here the reciprocal system of servitude is still firmly in place. The men are willing to serve and fight for him even if he can’t afford to pay them. When Demelza is offered employment as a kitchen maid so she can escape her brutal father she is offered more than just a job – but shelter, food, clothing and protection. Something tells me he’ll soon forget about Elizabeth! You can detect a master/servant relationship stirring a mile off – or have I been spending too much time reading Pamela of late?

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Following criticism that The White Queen was far too clean, the make-up department on Poldark have obviously been working overtime, not only enhancing Aiden Turner’s abs (cue gratuitous shirtless shot), but fitting very bad, blackened false teeth to the serving classes. Take Poldark’s two servants Perdie and Jud who look worthy of a Hogarth print: over-sexed and under-worked with a propensity to help themselves to their master’s rum. It’s a rather stereotypical portrait of servitude at this stage, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mr Poldark over the coming weeks. With this series only covering Winston Graham’s first 3 Poldark novels, there could be more seasons in store if it continues to go down well!

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