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Poldark – A need for more Soggy Bottoms

Cornish tin mine

The BBC’s 18th century Cornish saga, Poldark, represents everything that is wrong with broadcasting and the very worst of period drama.

Lavish costumes there may be, beautiful people certainly, and it is filmed in the very best of Cornwall, Bristol and at Prior Park College Bath – so it’s off to a good start, but the plot is shallow, the dialogue stilted and the characters one-dimensional pantomime bores. Ross, the strong hero, stands up for all that is right against the tyranny of the age. This character is particularly asinine and for all his chiselled poses could well have come straight from the pages of Mills and Boon. Surely the public want something a little bit more… challenging?

The real problem here is that the production company (Mammoth Productions) are not really interested in our opinion at all. The name of the game is to sell these episodes to the American market, and Americans just lap up this sort of drivel.

As a representation of Cornwall in the 18th century Poldark falls hopelessly short. References to poverty look ridiculous and as for merry peasants striking up a tune on their fiddles to celebrate another great Ross Poldark triumph it’s even more patronising than David Cameron. One minute the locals are cat-calling and shouting Ross down because of something utterly trivial, then a moment later he makes a stirring speech, proves his true metal, the peasants recant and Ross’s enemy sulks off in disgrace.

This is sentimental soap opera at its most turgid but the tragedy is that underneath the sugar-coating there are great stories being ignored: the history of Cornwall and the struggles of its miners and fishermen merit a more thoughtful treatment. It might be unrealistic to expect prime time TV to sacrifice a sexy romp in favour of historical accuracy, but other than dressing up the cast in fancy costumes and interspersing a few scenes with horses and chickens this remake might as well have been set in Hollyoaks.

Fortunately for us the viewing figures were disappointing and the series lost out in the rating war against ITV’s Victoria (apparently based on the life of a real person). Regrettably all the three “blockbusters” of the season (the other being Versailles) show little respect for historical accuracy – a shame when the real life versions are so relevant to us today and would be so much more fun. To reduce the tale of 18th century Cornwall to a sappy love story neither does the period justice nor its audience.

Perhaps in a hundred years’ time the debates around Brexit will be similarly remembered: some hunky chap with stubble will be playing David Cameron, stripped to the waist scything the meadows outside the European Commission whilst a sultry Angela Merkel swoons from a top floor window, her cheeks glowing and her lips pouting as she composes love poems and an evil President Putin tries to win her over with his obsessive interest in AK47s. For good measure someone might even work in a bake-off.