This review contains spoilers.
Poldark series four: there’s a glass and a half of full-cream misery in every episode. Week after week, we waited for a break in its thundering deluge of distress, but the sadness just kept pouring.
The bleakest moment? Take your pick: Zacky Morris weeping over his hanged son. Dwight begging his dying daughter to stay alive just a little longer. Morwenna’s frozen face as her husband congratulated himself on doing God’s work by raping her. Caroline refusing to give up the corpse of her baby. Sam Carne having his heart broken by Emma Tregirls. Rosina Hoblyn being jilted by Drake Carne. The disaster at the mine. Drake kicking woefully at the charred remains of his home. The parade of child coffins containing famine and fever victims. Ross and Demelza’s marriage breaking down more often than my seventeen-year-old Mazda 323. Hugh dying. Sarah dying. Everyone dying.
Even Drake and Morwenna’s much-wished-for happy ending couldn’t move the arrow from ‘bleak’ to ‘joy’. To do that, BBC One would have needed to scrap the finale in favour of screening a full hour of Little Bird Plays With Paper Towel.
They didn’t. Instead, they killed off Elizabeth, and nobody played with a paper towel.
We all needed one though, to dab away the tears pricked by George’s plaintive “The purpose? The point? Of everything?” By breaking it, Elizabeth’s death proved the existence of George’s heart. Even after a series where his dangerous, bigoted character has behaved with such cruelty, Jack Farthing is still able to locate George’s humanity. The man’s a marvel, and so was that scene.
Before Elizabeth suffered her ghastly exit, we were given the gift of a flashback to a happier time. We met a pre-enlistment, pre-scar Ross, and a pre-wealth-and-influence George.
Young Warleggan in his scruffy wig was almost endearing. “To think of owning a place like this,” he told Uncle Doom, clasping his hands in wonder and gazing up at Trenwith’s dado rails. The fittings and fixtures weren’t the real object of his affect of course. That was the beautiful Elizabeth. Her heart though, belonged to Ross and always would.
‘One thing’s certain,’ said twenty-years-ago-Francis, ‘she’ll never marry me as a runner-up when Ross doesn’t come back from the American War in the promised six months, and then later, when I drown in the family mine, marry you George!’
‘Don’t I know it!’ said George, tsking, as both turned and looked straight down the camera lens.
It was, in truth, a lovely surprise of a scene that rewarded fans with cameos by old favourites (Agatha! The tarot deck!) and reminded us of the Ross-related baggage George has been carrying around for decades.
Ross grieved for Elizabeth the only way he knows how: in silhouette. He can take comfort that her final words to him were forgiveness. There’s much to forgive.
Like someone about to emigrate, Elizabeth had gone about the episode making amends and giving away bulky items. She forgave Ross, had a warm rapprochement with Demelza in the churchyard, and told Morwenna how much she regretted her part in the Whitworth affair.
It was love that drove Elizabeth to such a reckless act. Love for Valentine, whose future she ensured in her act of desperate deception. Love is what brought Ross back to Demelza, and brought Caroline back to Dwight. It’s what returned Morwenna to that holy well, and restored Drake to himself. Ultimately, that was the message of series four: life can be cruel, but love is the only way.
Things weren’t half made miserable to prove that point though. For the sake of our emotional well-being, could series five pease have a smidge more contentment? A few extra barrels of ale and stargazy pies? Let Prudie get into a scrape with a butter-churner, and Garrick the immortal dog cause a ruckus by getting at the Christmas custards. Include at least one shot per week of a blissful Morwenna and Drake spinning around in slow-motion and gaily chucking winter primroses into the air. Just a little more happiness, please.
For now though, for poor Elizabeth, for that poor motherless little she-bear, and yes, even for poor George, I need to drown my sorrows. Someone, bring me a bottle of the 94 claret.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.