Poldark series 4 episode 1 review

Poldark is back, in a grave series opener that’s high on dramatic stakes and low on laughs. Spoilers ahead…

This review contains spoilers.

We return to Poldark in uncertain times. War is raging. Parliament is dissolved. The peasants are revolting (you can say that again, wuzza wuzza!). And Ross and Demelza are spending a great deal of time frowning worriedly into the middle distance. In that middle distance, both are watching the same scene – Hugh and Demelza, Demelza and Hugh cooing like collared doves and nuzzling their beaks into each other’s neck feathers. To Ross the vision is a torment; to his wife it’s a fond, if ambivalent, memory.

Not content with their sandy session being conscribed to memory, Hugh’s after a repeat performance and has been writing Demelza plaintiff poetry to that effect. He’d better make the next one a haiku though, because the young poet is surely going down to secretly-coughing-blood-into-a-hankie town. Hiding your medical symptoms in a period drama? Oh, mate.

Hugh has as much chance of seeing out this series alive as he has of pulling up to Nampara in the finale and riding off with Demelza on the back of a motorbike. If that boy should be writing anything, it’s his last will and testament.

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It was business as usual, this series premiere, more a continuation of last year’s than a new departure, which is just how we like it. However uncertain the times, there are still certainties in Poldark‘s characters. It’s certain, for instance, that George Warleggan will take every despicable opportunity to exact vengeance for an imagined slight. George told Elizabeth this week “You have my word, things will be different. I am now different”, then went on to prove that he’s as unchanged as a housebrick, and roughly as compassionate. 

Repeatedly stymied in last series’ attempts to destroy Drake Carne’s life, George moved like lightning when presented with a fresh opportunity to do so this week. On the word of henchman Tom Harry—a marginally less reliable eyewitness than Caroline Penvenen’s pug—George had both Drake brothers arrested and sentenced to death. Their crime? Attempting to argufy with Zacky’s recently returned son Jago, with whom there never was no argufying. 

The real charge was theft and affray during the quayside riot, neither of which the Carne boys were guilty. That didn’t stop the honourable member for Truro contriving to have them hanged as an example to the rest of the vulgars, who’d got a wacky notion into their heads about not starving to death while their MP raked in enough cash to have the peacock feather stuffing in his duvet refreshed on a weekly basis. 

George shelled out for Aunt Agatha’s headstone, at least (even if he wouldn’t stretch to a postage stamp for Verity’s invitation by the look of things). Yes, the redoubtable witch of Trenwith was finally laid to rest under a suitable monument—though she’d no doubt have preferred a marble statue of her laughing her head off while kicking George up the bum, a creation I’m sure any number of local stonemasons would have been happy to provide.

Laughter was in short supply overall this episode, which was characterised by imminent death, fatherly grief (poor dear Zacky) and marital suffering. Ross waged a dangerous bet by contriving to protect Demelza from the news that her brothers might soon be swinging like air fresheners from a rear-view mirror. It paid off, and it was thanks to his rousing last-minute speech that the Carnes were given a reprieve, but will Demelza forgive him yet more secrets?

There was some comedy. That old ‘honey, the boss is coming to dinner!’ sitcom convention as given an airing as Sir Francis Basset (now Lord de Dun de dun de Dunstanville) tipped up at Nampara with no notice, requiring Demelza and Prudie to run around clearing the chickens off the dining room table and shaking the paupers out of the curtains.

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Ross and Demelza ended a tricky hour side by side, having a refreshingly modern heart to heart. “I think perhaps I’ve taken you for granted,” he told her, softly. ‘Well, DUR!’ Demelza replied, slapping him on the forehead and striding off to milk a goat.

It’s now onwards and upwards for the Poldarks and the Enyses (Enysi? Enysum?). Caroline—whose series four hair, incidentally, is reaching local wildlife-distrubing girth—is with child. As long as her jealous dog doesn’t sit on the baby, she and Dwight are going to be parents. It was a rare moment of honeyed happiness amid all the noose-based gloom. 

More gloom came from the odious Ossie of course, who’s a rare prospect as a villain, being both extremely funny thanks to Christian Brassington’s comic performance, and extremely hateable thanks to him being such an unforgivable monster. His downfall, when the wonderful Morwenna (surely) delivers it, deserves to be more celebrated than any number of shots of Aidan Turner’s glistening torso.

Read Louisa’s recap of the previous series here.