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You Should Be Watching: 'Poldark'

Fans of “Downton Abbey” and British period dramas in general will enjoy this entertaining series set in the late 18th century, filmed on location in Cornwall and starring dashing Capt. Ross Poldark, who gallops about the scenic countryside in his high boots and tri-corner hat, scandalizing his peers in the gentry with his sympathy for the working class. This excellent adaptation by Debbie Horsfield of the novels by Winston Graham updates a 1970s Masterpiece Theater series.

Title: "Poldark"

Year it began: 2015 on BBC, Masterpiece Theater.

Where it can be seen: Amazon.com. WNED-WBFO "Passport" members  ($60 annual donation)  may livestream the show from  https://video.wned.org/show/poldark/ or through the PBS app on mobile, tablets and streaming TV services. The fourth season has started airing on WNED and a fifth season is planned.

Who’s in it: Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Heida Reed, Jack Farthing, Ruby Bental, Kyle Soller, Caroline Blakiston, Luke Norris.

Typical episode length: 60 minutes.

Number of episodes through three seasons: 27.

Brief plot description: British Capt. Ross Poldark, wounded and feared dead during the American Revolution, returns to Cornwall after a two-year absence to find his father dead, his estate in ruins and his sweetheart, Elizabeth, engaged to marry his cousin. Only the most extreme effort will salvage Ross’s inheritance, an abandoned tin mine.

Why It’s Worth Watching: The soap opera of romantic entanglements and family intrigues plays out against a colorful backdrop of Cornwall’s failing mining industry,  food riots, smuggling and, in season 3, the gentry’s fear of the French Revolution happening just across the English Channel.

Irish actor Aidan Turner (the dwarf Kili in “The Hobbit” movies by Peter Jackson) is excellent as charismatic, brooding Ross Poldark, often filmed shirtless sweating in the mine or threshing in the fields. Poldark has met his match in Demelza, a miner’s daughter who first comes into his life as his kitchen maid. Red-haired British actress Eleanor Tomlinson is superb as Demelza, carrying off a believable Pygmalion-esque transformation from scullery maid to lady, who can skin a rabbit, chop wood and match wits with the most insufferable of her boorish neighbors.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Jack Farthing is particularly fine as odious banker George Warleggan. Caroline Blakiston, as Ross’s Great Aunt Agatha, adds plenty of acerbic commentary, an ancient crone dressed in black and forecasting doom from her Tarot cards. Phil Davis and Beatie Edney offer comic relief as Poldark’s lazy servants Jud and Prudie. Here’s a classic Prudie quote, after handing Ross his burned dinner: “'Tis that long since mistress let me bake, I've mislaid all my skillage.” Season 3 adds a new villain, the lecherous Rev. Osborne Whitworth, brought to vivid life by actor Christian Brassington.

The script milks drama from the love triangle between Poldark, Demelza and Elizabeth (the lovely Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark’s desperate financial schemes to keep his estate afloat. There’s also plenty of action, whether it be Poldark’s scrapes with the law, a duel, fisticuffs and rioting, high-stakes card games, a shipwreck, a mine collapse, a murder, a jail break, a drowning. Season 4 will take Ross to London.

The soundtrack is gorgeous. Composer Anne Dudley says the “Poldark” theme is based loosely on the harmonies of Cornish folk music. Tomlinson is a gifted singer, and a scene where a very nervous Demelza sings a haunting love song before a company of strangers is a lovely surprise.

An interesting factoid: Robin Ellis, who played Ross Poldark in the 1970s Masterpiece production, returns in a small role as a bewigged magistrate who just might be willing to send Ross Poldark to the gallows.

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