Monday 12 June 2017

We Don't Go Back #683: That One Episode of POLDARK (2017)

This is a post that is in my series about folk horror on film and TV, but it is also a post about POLDARK.

In my head, POLDARK is written in capital letters. POLDARK is so repetitive, every episode might as well be written from a checklist. POLDARK is melodramatic and overwrought on every possible level. POLDARK has hilariously on the nose dialogue. POLDARK is entirely predictable.

I unironically love it. I'm not joking. It is so much fun.

I'm going to talk in some detail about last night's episode here so if you're a fan and you haven't seen it yet, seriously, why not?

When you've seen it come back and we'll talk.

I'll wait.

Look, here's a picture of Aidan with his shirt undone for your trouble.
OK. Look, there is no point in me summarising the plot of the first two series of POLDARK. The plot twists are so insane and brilliant and yet so weirdly guessing-game predictable that you should just watch it (drunk is best). Also, honestly? This will make no more sense to you if you have seen it.

POLDARK is based on an exceptionally long running series of novels by Winston Graham. Set across the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth, POLDARK is a saga of generational rivalry, tangly passion, jealousy, love, hate, social transformation and terrible financial decisions. People stand on windy cliffs brooding and ride across windy cliffs. And stand looking into the wind so it catches their hair fetchingly. And punch beaches on their knees when they're sad.
Embracing on windy clifftops is a Thing.
Aidan Turner plays Ross Poldark. Ross takes his shirt off a lot and broods. He is married to red haired Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) who is Fiery and Passionate and Brave and is Perfect in Every Way but gets a lot of abuse because she's working class. Ross is an idiot, and because he's an idiot he's still hung up over his ex, Elizabeth (Heida Reed) who married Ross's Unreliable Cousin while Ross was off at war and then when Unreliable Cousin fell down a mine shaft married Ross's arch-enemy George Warleggan (Jack Farthing). George is also an idiot. But he's a baddie. You know he's a baddie because he sneers a lot. Usually, for reasons I cannot fathom, while standing in a doorway.

Look, I don't write it.
Exhibit A: sneering (not in doorway).
As series three opens, things look like they might be OK. But then Ross says, "Things might yet go amiss," and then someone else says "What could possibly go wrong," so that torpedoes that hope. 

George is still an idiot because he doesn't know that a few weeks before he married Elizabeth, Ross rode through a dark and stormy night (there is no other kind) to Elizabeth's place and finally had some stormy passion times with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is soon expecting and because George is an idiot, he thinks it's his.

Eight months in, Elizabeth starts going into labour and engineers a suitably dramatic Fall Down the Stairs to ensure that her travail (they like using words like that. It's how you know it's a historical drama) has a reasonable excuse.

News gets to Ross that Elizabeth's in labour and that's because he's in the middle of witnessing the secret wedding of Caroline the Posh Dog Lady (Gabriella Wilde) to Dreamy Doctor Dwight Enys (Luke Norris). The usual doctor, you see, is ministering to Caroline's guardian (John Nettles), who is on his sick bed (just go with this) so they call on Dwight to be the obstetrician (they couldn't Call the Midwife, because that was in the timeslot POLDARK took over so they're all on holiday).
There's no way that kid's premature. He's at least three weeks old.
So Dwight and Caroline postpone whatever honeymoon they were intending to have, and Dwight ends up running off to deliver a baby and Caroline runs off to say her goodbyes to her sweet old guardian and Ross goes to stand outside Elizabeth's house because thats not at all creepy and weird, and meanwhile Demelza's dad (who was once an abusive drunk and is now an abusive fundamental), is also saying his goodbyes, and then the moon snuffs out.

All right, it's a lunar eclipse, but everyone doesn't see it that way. The moon snuffs out and then when it comes back it's a Blood Moon and no one is happy.
Demelza: I ne'er was the God-fearing kind...
Prudie: Nor I.
Demelza: But if I were, I'd pray.
Prudie: For what, maid?
Demelza: Deliverance. 
Cut to Elizabeth in not-really-premature labour.

Deliverance, you see.

They must know.

They can't not have known what they were doing.

Meanwhile Ross is outside brooding and Demelza's been doing Pregnancy Maths back home, because unlike the men, Demelza is not an idiot.
But there's a Blood Moon. Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blakiston, best known among nerds for being sad about Bothan spies a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), who has spent the last couple series dividing her time between effortlessly snarking at the main cast and reading disaster in the Tarot, pronounces it a bad omen. Spectacularly. It's amazing.

Demelza's dad and Caroline's guardian die at the same moment. George decides he's fed up with Agatha throwing shade and he gets his henchmen to pick up her chair with her in it and carry her out of the room and she silences both of the henchmen and, pointing and everything, pronounces the child CURSED! CURSED!

Ross rides off and punches a beach on the way home. 
I wasn't joking about the beach-punching.
Phew. And that's only about half the plot. I haven't mentioned Ross and Demelza's disappearing son, or why George thinks that a teenaged girl is a suitable governess for a boy on the cusp of adolescence (apart from him being an idiot, OBVIOUSLY) or the subplot about Demelza's brothers agreeing to be fundamentals too because Dad passive-aggressively asks them on his death-bed. The point is that suddenly just for one episode POLDARK went full folk horror. This ridiculous and brilliant costume drama suddenly took on the language of Blood Moons and curses.

We're on the adaptation of book five of the series now, which is The Black Moon, which suggests to me that the lunar eclipse is part of the original plot, but nonetheless all the pieces seem to be falling into place.
One Blood Moon.
For the last couple of years, I've had the strong feeling that the 21st century has been the 20th in hard reverse, and that we really are heading back to the 1970s, with all that is good and bad about them — neofascists on the streets standing in elections, the clash between classes and generations, the debates over borders, the crazy argument over Europe, the descent of a whole sector of the population into poverty, the political reawakening of young people. An election ended up pretty much like it did in 1974 and British politics once again look set to descend into chaos. And now not only is POLDARK on mainstream British TV again, but it is giving us dark omens, Blood Moons, cursed seeds and wild superstitions. We're full into the folk horror narrative, all over again.

We're going back.