Why Poldark is the TV hit of the year

Preposterous as all this might have seemed to some at the more cold-hearted end of the viewer spectrum, for those of us swept up in the onrushing drama it was impossible not to capitulate to the sweeping romance of it.

“Today I was asked when I real­ized I was in the wrong body. As much as it took me a real­ly long time to come to terms with it, I think I have known since I can remember—since I could even think about gen­der or notice it. I was think­ing about when I was in pre‑K ‚and I would dress up as Cin­derel­la and do girl things. If I decid­ed to wear a dress or role­play as a princess, my teach­ers would tell me I couldn’t do it because I was a boy. So when you have every­one in your life telling you that you’re a boy, you kind of start to believe it, even though none of it comes nat­u­ral­ly to you.

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (Photo: BBC)
Eleanor Tom­lin­son as Demelza (Pho­to: BBC)

My tran­si­tion has been a very grad­ual, very cere­bral process. For a lot of peo­ple, it’s very easy to reduce gen­der to bod­ies, and that’s ter­ri­ble. So to answer that ques­tion that I was asked today, I real­ized I was a woman after I was already liv­ing as a woman for about a year or so. Before that, I had this plat­inum blond hair, acrylics, and would dress in skirts, and wear purses—but I still iden­ti­fied as male. I was open-mind­ed enough, grow­ing up, to think that even if my out­ward appear­ance was female, I could still be male. If you read enough queer the­o­ry, you real­ize any sort of con­junc­tion is pos­si­ble. There are boys who want expe­ri­ence life as women but still be boys, and that’s valid.

I nev­er under­stood why peo­ple would think that men couldn’t be as beau­ti­ful as women, so for a long time I didn’t have a word for myself. I was like, ‘I’m not a boy but I can’t let myself be a woman.’ So at the time I was like, ‘OK, I’ll be some­thing else.’ It was weird for me, and in some ways, my think­ing allowed me to keep putting off how I felt inside by just cov­er­ing it up with this cere­bral explanation.

There is a lot of psy­cho­log­i­cal ten­sion in try­ing to dis­cuss any­thing with gen­der identity.

I used to wear a lot more make­up. I fuck­ing love Boy George, and I would put on that amount of makeup—like Boy George amounts of make­up. My eye­lin­er would like reach my hair­line. I would go real­ly crazy with it. I would try to over­com­pen­sate. Now I’m much more toned down, but I feel like all girls have that phase when exper­i­ment­ing with make­up for the first time. Though, if I start­ed off putting on the amount of make­up I wear now, I knew I would just look like who I real­ly am, and I think I was just not ready for that.

I was 14 years old when I got my first taste of make­up. I was in a band as the lead singer and we were play­ing one of our first shows. At that point all I could get away with was straight­en­ing my hair maybe once a month. So yeah, I was at my first show, and I remem­ber find­ing a Revlon retractable black eye­lin­er in the bath­room. I put it on my water­line, not even think­ing about the fact that I could get an eye infec­tion as I picked it up off the floor—it was dis­gust­ing. I guess the cool thing about being in a band is that there is so much more free­dom. There’s the clas­sic ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’-feel. I felt like I could wear the eye­lin­er, and no one would care because I was at a rock show. Then I wore it again to a crowd that was more of a hard­core scene, and it wasn’t a cool expe­ri­ence. They were scream­ing at me to get off the stage and call­ing me the F word. I was just like, ‘Wow, OK.’ I was 15 at that point. It was a ter­ri­ble wake up call to me, all because I was wear­ing eyeliner—it’s not that big of a deal, and yet, peo­ple are already polic­ing me for not per­form­ing this gen­der that I’m pre­tend­ing to be. Obvi­ous­ly I was doing a shit­ty job at per­form­ing male. Some­times I tell peo­ple that I real­ly feel like I was in drag for over a decade, in the sense of per­form­ing male gen­der roles. I’d end the night and make sure to wipe off my eye­lin­er before I got home.


So much atten­tion was focused on star Aidan Turn­er, it was easy to over­look the oth­er virtues. His capac­i­ty to com­bine Heath­clif­fean brood­ing with mati­nee idol looks (and that much-fet­ed scene in which, oiled-up and stripped to the waist, he went to mow a mead­ow) set hearts aflut­ter and the media into over­drive. And right­ly so. In fact, it was often the clench-jawed con­vic­tion of Turner’s per­for­mance that stopped Poldark slip­ping into com­plete ludi­crous­ness on occasion.

Eleanor Tom­lin­son shone, too, trans­form­ing the nit-infest­ed urchin Demelza into a 21st-cen­tu­ry woman at home in 18th-cen­tu­ry Corn­wall. Turn­er may have got the adu­la­tion, but it was the screen chem­istry con­jured between these two that put much of the fizz into Poldark.

Nev­er more so than in this episode’s scenes where Demelza, at death’s door momen­tar­i­ly, drew from Ross the con­fes­sion that she had sup­plant­ed his child­hood sweet­heart Eliz­a­beth as “the love of [his] life”.

The only oth­er thing that could have been thrown at this finale to make it more Cor­nish­ly dra­mat­ic was a ship­wreck. And so we got one, hand­some­ly done, as the nasty War­leg­gans’ new ves­sel, the Queen Char­lotte, foundered on her maid­en voyage.

Wash­ing ashore not only a bel­ly­ful of plun­der for Ross’s starv­ing work­ers, but a grat­i­fy­ing note of poet­ic jus­tice done – albeit soon to be whipped away by the winds of fate and that clifftop, cliffhang­er arrest.


“T’aint right, t’aint fit, t’aint fair, t’aint prop­er,” some will have chant­ed, famil­iar now with the ver­nac­u­lar. But real­ly, it’s hard to imag­ine a more tan­ta­lis­ing­ly sat­is­fy­ing end­ing, con­tain­ing as it did the promise of a sec­ond series (already com­mis­sioned) replete with as much high dra­ma as the first.

Giv­en that the Sev­en­ties Poldark ran to 29 episodes, and Graham’s nov­els num­ber 12 (only two of which were plun­dered for this series), it’s safe to assume that not only one more run of adven­tures, but many, lie ahead for Cap’n Ross and his much-admired chest.

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