This review contains spoilers.
Many’s the time on Poldark that the sight of George Warleggan being dunked into icy water would have sent up the cheeriest of panto cheers. Tee-hee-hoo-hoo, we’d say, the devil had it coming, give him a leech from me! One for every time he hanged a pauper, cut a wage and sold a governess to a well-connected rapist.
Jack Farthing being an awkward sort though, he will insist on having such talent that it’s impossible to enjoy his character being mistreated so. However hateful George Warleggan’s actions, Farthing is always careful to leave an ounce of humanity in the man, enough to make you want to reach for him at the clifftop rather than boot him over the edge. At the sight of Valentine happy in the bosom of the Poldark family, George gave the briefest of smiles and it was enough to keep the door to the possibility of redemption ajar.
On the subject of people who deserve to be booted off a cliff, Ralph Hanson nailed shut his own redemption door with Kitty’s revelation that he’s not just a smarmy, racist slave trader, but also an unrepentant child rapist. It’s almost enough to make you miss Monk Adderley – at least he was just a sentient stiffie who’d read too many copies of Louche Monthly. Hanson is pure, pure evil. No amount of leeches, emetics and ice baths would be too good for him.
Ned Despard might want to try a tincture for his humours, if there’s any going spare. As Dwight diagnosed this episode, Ned’s blood could do with cooling. Like the ghost of Christmas future, Despard’s character is here as an object lesson to Ross in this final series. Change your impetuous ways Captain Poldark, before it’s too late and you too are just a walking speech bubble containing the words ‘C’mon, what are you, man? Some kind of pussy?!’ and squaring up to milk churns and passing squirrels for a fight.
Ross isn’t ready to hear that Ned is a bit of a nobber, even if he’s getting the news in stereo. Dwight, Demelza … even Bannantine took the trouble to write from beyond the grave and warn Ross to steer clear of his future self. Before this show is put to bed, Ross will surely have learned his lesson and chosen the path less foolhardy.
The episode found the gang in a reflective mood. Tess had Demelza considering her lowborn roots, while she and Ross replayed their greatest hits (literally in the case of Demelza singing I’d Pluck A Fair Rose – the song that made Ross realise he first loved her) and reminisced over their first night together. Dwight and Morwenna too, when they weren’t finding urchins hiding in their breadbin and crouching under their bed, went starry eyed at the thought of the Holy Well.
Only Dwight and Caroline had other things on their mind. For him: mental healthcare reform. For her: ending racism. Though admirably intentioned, Caroline’s gala for the local bigots sent out a confused message. Cake For Intolerance! Next time, Caz, only let them have a bit of Turkish Delight if they’ve managed to converse with an actual Turk without fainting.
Speaking of fainting, the introduction of two of Rosina’s siblings – Arthur the 12-year-old miner and poor starving, scurvy-ridden Tommy who can’t read – opened up the serious subject of child labour and literacy. Why should it be that the likes of John Conan have two tutors, a fencing master, a riding instructor, a personal physician, a handkerchief tailor and a wig footman, while poor starving scurvy-ridden Tommy who can’t read is poor, starving, ridden with scurvy and can’t read?
Demelza, a resolutely good soul, came up with the idea of creating class mobility through educational support, while Morwenna unwittingly started a cake-based primary school. Not that the parents were grateful. Jacka Hoblyn all but spat at the idea that children shouldn’t be put in life-threatening situations until they’d reached a goodly age for death – 14 – and argued that his son should be allowed down Ross’ mine.
“He don’t want charity,” said Jacka, “he wants men’s work.” No, Jacka, he’s 12. He wants an X-Box, a bag of Haribo Starmix, and Jade from Little Mix to tuck him in at night.
When little Arthur’s unconscious body was carried out of the disaster at Wheal Plenty, Ross refrained from saying “I told you so.” With the corpses of poor Tiggy Teazle, Gizzard Bumfan and Treno Trenownanananan lying there, it wouldn’t have been fitty.
What else? Action! Peril! Indiana Jones-style leaps! Proper, top-drawer villainy, George running around the Cornish coast in a wee willy winky nightshirt, a happy Valentine (it was starting to look as though he was another Trenwith ghost, the way Bessie and Uncle Doom looked right through him), a heart-warming romance developing between two motherless pups, Demelza in a tin bath, a mouth-watering display of baked goods, and a socially conscious commentary. This episode had it all and more – with two feet firmly back on Cornish soil, it was series five’s best yet.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.