This review contains spoilers.
Like a Cornish smock draped over a wooden scarecrow, this series of Poldark dangles from the bones of real historical event. Look it up – controversy magnets Ned and Kitty Despard, would-be assassin James Hadfield, lawyer Thomas Erskine – the subjects of their own Wikipedia page, all. Or rather, don’t look it up as you’ll spoil what’s to come.
What’s to come is trouble, that much was guaranteed by yet another of Demelza’s universe-baiting declarations that “All’s right in the world”. When will that woman learn the fey power of her words? In five series, surely she must have noticed that no sooner has she cast out her arms, thrown back her head and grinned at the Poldarks’ sunny good fortune than they’re are beset by a pernicious Scottish captain/childhood disease/horny poet/the revolutionary French?
This year’s threat? A plot at the highest level (read: a man in a library holding a kestrel) to frame Ross as a conspirator against the crown. Who’s behind it? Ralph ‘I heart slavery’ Hanson and George ‘so far off his rocker, his rocker’s a vanishing dot on the horizon’ Warleggan.
Apologies to Dr Enys for the insensitive language. Dwight, a twenty-first century man in his great-great-great-great-grandfather’s pantaloons, is attempting to reframe the conversation around mental health, not that the Royal College of Surgeons is having any of it. His suggestion that dunking the afflicted in a barrel of leeches and attempting to poke the devil out of them with a sharp stick might not be the most propitious way to soothe spirits was met by grumbly walk-outs and a sea of shaking heads.
Ross hardly fared better in his parliamentary address on the evil of slavery and the goodness of his new cause celebre, Colonel Ned. Where his oratory stumbled though, the power of the written word succeeded. Faced with a problem, Ross did what any 19th century man would do and printed a pamphlet for circulation among a circle of discerning and sympathetic gentlemen. Trying to help, Demelza Wikileaked said pamphlet all over London, putting Ross on the wrong side of the Crown and arousing the murderous ire of Hanson and his kestrel-fancier. Now Bannantine’s dead, Ross has to spy on the Despards, and it’s all scat to mitchens.
Looking similarly bleak is the outlook for Sir George, who’s one giggle away from being trussed up and tossed in the back of the funny wagon. To quote the legal definition of insanity, George isn’t yet lost to all sense but he’s definitely dropped his map in a puddle. Will his periods of lucidity eventually outnumber his periods of talking to thin air, or will it be the other way around? Might George end Poldark witless as well as heartless?
The treatment of poor mite Valentine aside, a viewer bonus of George dancing the dance of the cuckoo is the increased presence of his gravel-voiced uncle. Finally, a chance to see under the wig and find out what kind of creature is Uncle Doom. Should George’s malady worsen, will his kin stand by him or spot an opportunity to cart him off and sit in the big chair for once?
Sizing up Nampara’s big chair for her own bum was Tess Tregidden, who fancies herself Demelza’s successor as mistress. Traditionally Poldark isn’t a fan of her kind – the ungrateful poor – it prefers its peasants humble and suffering to haughty and naughty. Between flashing her slice of heavy cake at Sam Carne and rummaging through Demelza’s gowns, Tess proved her villainy. She’s such a wrong’ un she could feature in her own series of morally instructive Hogarth engravings: An Impudent’s Progress. That one’s either on the way to her comeuppance or her salvation.
Drake and Morwenna, adorable Labrador puppies that they are, must surely be on their way to happiness soon. If those two aren’t bounding around, wagging their tails and carrying a pup between their teeth by the finale, I’ll sell my charms to an elderly duchess.
On the subject of pups, Cecily and G-C are playing a familiar tune. Like Verity and Caroline, her heart’s set on an unapproved match. Like Captain Blamey and Dwight, he’s a military man at a time when George III was liable to stick a pin in a map and declare England at war. Like Drake and Morwenna, their families are feuding, and like the whole lot of them, their romance has to be kept secret. Fingers crossed for their sakes that Ralph Hanson meets a hungry jaguar on his next trip to Honduras.
Something of that kind is stalking the Poldarks, creeping between trees in Hyde Park and rustling the bushes of London. “I just keep thinking someone’s watching us!” Demelza told Ross this episode. You’re right, Bella. Approx. 5 million of us, every Sunday night for the next six weeks. Make it worth our while.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.