Poldark series 5 episode 1 review: spies, slavery and revolt

Double-o-Devon! (Er, Cornwall? – Ed) Poldark becomes an espionage thriller in the series five premiere. Spoilers…

This review contains spoilers.

A spy for the English crown! Fancy that. Despite it being an annual tradition on Poldark for a person of rank to corner a reluctant Ross by the syllabub and force a position of power on him, that was a turn up for the books. Unless you’ve read the books, in which case it wasn’t. 

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Those who’ve read other books may recognise the name Edward Despard, a genuine chap of history whose exploits explain why Dwight was so keen for his pal to steer clear. Tell Ross Poldark that someone’s too dangerous? Oh, Dwight. You may as well put Despard in a Demelza wig and dip him in honey. Ross loves danger. After patrician responsibility and clifftop-staring, it’s his favourite thing. 

Elizabeth having croaked in the series four finale, George’s favourite thing is no more – not that it’s stopped him from seeing or talking to her. Cornwall’s own mad king George is grieving soap-style, a subscriber to the full ‘hallucinations and rage’ package. 

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To use the parlance of the day, George is now one horse short of a barouche. He’s a loon-gabber, a howl-o-the-moon, a nine pound fruit cake, an elbow-rattling hi-di-hi. (The turn of the 19th century wasn’t known for its sensitivity to mental illness. Bedlam had only just stopped charging toffs a penny a go to ‘pin the tail on the halfwit’.) It was therefore incumbent on Uncle Doom to conceal the fact that George’s mind had turned to pudding, for the sake of the business.   

The Warleggan business – banking, mining, grain and running over kittens with a steamroller – is diversifying into true evil this series. At the invitation of new villain Ralph Hanson (Peter Sullivan) George is entering the world of slave-grown mahogany.

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If Uncle Doom had his way, George would also be entering Hanson’s daughter Cecily (Lily Dodsworth-Evans). “Prime breeding stock, impressive fortune” was his wolf-eyed, lip-licking assessment of the newcomer. Alas, soon-to-be-Sir George only had eyes for ghost Elizabeth. And Cecily had her eyes set on a prize bigger than a rich husband: burning down the establishment, starting with the slave trade. 

She wasn’t the only one with the itch of revolution in her drawers – the episode also welcomed freed-slave-turned-activist Catherine Despard (Kerri McLean) and eat-the-rich rabble-rouser Tess Tregidden (Sofia Oxenham). Both mounted their soap boxes this week. Catherine aroused the attention of the British secret service, while Tess aroused that of Sam ‘ee do like a challenge’ Carne. 

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Tess’ soul will take some saving. Sly, surly and likely plotting to raze Nampara to the ground, she was last seen sharpening a knife and making prison-yard eye contact as Demelza’s London-bound carriage wheeled out of the farm. It was only thanks to some quick thinking with a wet blanket and Garrick the immortal dog (he must be at least forty years old by this point) that Demelza and the kids weren’t burned as crisp as one of Prudie’s pie crusts. Will that squinty-eyed maid be brought into line? 

(Incidentally, good to see Prudie’s ‘Queen Of Nampara’ spin-off seeded good and early. Five-minute webisodes detailing her adventures with pilchards, coming soon to BBC Three.)

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If George should awaken from his grief and notice the attributes of fair Cecily, he’ll have some competition from his step-son. Cecily may keep her political nous hidden under a bonnet, but her instant attraction to Geoffrey-Charles (now played by Freddie Wise, after another visit to the actor factory) is less easy to conceal. “It’s so dull, being an orphan,” said G-C this week. Don’t worry kiddo, your first romantic plotline should liven things up.

Drake and Morwenna’s romance is still the sweetest thing on screen since Horace’s marzipan. Poor Wenna, still suffering the aftermath of one husband’s abuse and feeling the guilt of ‘depriving’ the next. Lovely, adoring Drake next to her in that little bed, hard as a railway spike and nothing to be done. Patience and kindness, Drake, just as you are.  

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The Poldarks were in a good way. They spent much of the episode laughing about how Ross had murdered someone the last time they went to London. ‘No fighting now, you!’ grinned Demelza, wagging her finger with a chuckle. Both Demelza and Kitty are remarkably good-natured about what annoying prongs they’ve married. Best of a bad lot, must be.

The actual best of a bad lot, Dwight Enys, was reduced to the role of ‘girlfriend in an action movie’ this week. Up he popped, again and again telling Ross to reconsider his involvement with vexatious specimen Ned. Then, perhaps as a result of spending too long sniffing Elizabeth’s secret death vial and frowning, Dwight was surprisingly chill about Ross signing up to his majesty’s secret service. 

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Helping Ned might be the rashest thing Ross ever does, Kitty warned. Will it though? She doesn’t know our Ross, a man who does six rash things before breakfast and whose middle name would be ‘impulsive’ if it weren’t Vennor – pub quiz trivia for you there. 

A toast then, to the new century. What do it hold for us? Just seven remaining Sunday nights of Cornish joy. Relish them.

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