This review contains spoilers.
Dancing shoes at the ready, Poldark fans, because there’s a new grave in town. Yes. Cartoon comedy rapist Rev. Osborne Whitworth has worn his last lemon waistcoat and uttered his last vomit-worthy “conjugal duties”. Ding dong, the reverend’s dead, the wicked reverend is deeead!
Not that I’m one to gloat.
It was no weddings and a funeral in episode five, which—thanks to a spooked horse and a candlestick-wielding cuckold—saw the good reverend come to a painful end. Not painful enough, perhaps. Had Debbie Horsfield seen fit to fill the entire hour with Ossie being dragged along the forest floor screaming, head bumping against the ground like a Buzz Lightyear toy trapped in the door of a moving Ford Focus, the Bafta campaign would start here.
It’s not as though Poldark shies away from distressing scenes. This episode saw three tiny coffins being led along the clifftop as a fever took down Cornwall’s malnourished tykes. Between the ague, the famine, and last week’s mining disaster, Sawle’s poor just can’t catch a break this series. Even Demelza and Dwight’s apple stand isn’t enough to save them. What the poor need is someone with a plan.
And so to Ross. What ‘ave ee achieved since ee went away? This week: the invention of the Working Tax Credit.
Getting nowhere fast by trying to convince his fellow MPs that the needy aren’t feckless but simply underpaid, Ross took a different tack. First, he undertook a fact-finding mission to a local poor house, where he found the fact that poor house = sadface. Next, he encountered a waiting man whose best day at work involved the shiny farthing awaiting him after the privilege of cleaning up a pile of aristocratic sick.
What if, thought Ross, rich gents could tip poor people not just for cleaning up their sick, but for doing, like, whatever their normal job is? He whipped up a pilot scheme and proposed a national rollout (catching the admiring eye of the prime minister in the process, which George will probably be fine about.)
In an ideal world of course, Ross’ proposal wouldn’t be necessary. Poldark’s grain merchants and factory owers would just be less Scrooge McDuck about it all and dig into shareholder profits to ensure workers were paid a living wage with which to buy affordable bread.
In an even more ideal world, everyone would chuck a few quid into a giant tip jar that could shower the population in, like, free healthcare and education and money to stop children starving to death all the time. What a fitty idea that would be.
George Warleggan would never abide it, of course. Episode five took us behind the scenes at Slytherin, where George and Elizabeth were hosting a dinner party for the wealthy and unconcerned. The first course (Smithian neoliberalist soup served with a price-inflated granary roll) was spent giggling over the naivety of those seeking to feed the starving poor instead of the tidier option of simply having them all hanged.
Elizabeth soon stopped laughing, what with Geoffrey Charles having produced in a London gaming house one of the aforementioned piles of aristocratic sick (earning himself a distinction in the Drinking, Gambling and Fighting Viscounts BTEC National he’s taking at Harrow this year). Luckily for G-C, Uncle Ross was there to step in, disarm his opponents, and pull the classic ‘I know your dad’ old man power move.
Ross was also there to disrupt Caroline’s plan of filling her head so full of fashionable company, silk gowns and hat feathers that she forgot about her broken heart. He growled at Captain Monk Adderley (an all-purpose baddie available to hire for radio plays and soap operas), and told Caroline that “tears must fall”.
Tears did fall in this melancholy episode, and not just from Caroline. Morwenna shed none over Ossie of course, but nor was she ready to join me in a round of do-si-do in the churchyard. (Despite being the architect of her match, George, who must in his youth have sold his conscience to Satan for a pair of frogless breeches, was entirely untormented about Morwenna’s distress.) Marriage to that preening brute had pumelled the hope clean out of her.
The cruelty of fate, George Warleggan, and Tom Harry’s stunt double brother has done the same to Drake Carne. Not since Satan thought Job looked ripe for a kicking have innocents been tormented so.
Whither Poldark’s fun? Whither its merry maids and shanty-singing fishermen? Heartbreak, disaster, grief and starvation are fast becoming the themes of Sunday nights on BBC One. As Demelza said this week, “Dear God, it gets worser and worse.” Pray it don’t get any more worser.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.