The main part of the article is below. Visit the site for more photos and additional info on the show: Event Magazine.
‘We want Poldark to go out with a bang!’ Aidan Turner and the cast reveal the secrets of the swashbuckling final series of Poldark… plus, Event’s Deborah Ross on why it’s the perfect Sunday night TV drama
By BENJI WILSON and DEBORAH ROSS
The Irish actor Aidan Turner, whose swarthy good looks have made Poldark an unmissable treat for his legions of female fans, turns suddenly solemn when asked about the forthcoming fifth and final series.
‘He dies,’ says Turner, looking down at his feet. There’s an awkward pause, then the actor looks up, grins widely and bursts into riotous laughter.
Of course Ross Poldark doesn’t die – he’s there, tricorn hat and all, at the end of Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels. More to the point, Ross is here, front and centre, as Event is invited onto the set of the Cornish period drama, which is being filmed – somewhat inaccurately – at Grade II-listed Leigh Court in Bristol.
Aidan’s maidens, as the female crowd pressing their faces against Leigh Court’s gates are known, can breathe again as the show’s creator Debbie Horsfield confirms the eponymous hero is set to last the course. ‘We’ve always been very clear that we would never create anything that contradicts the events in the remaining five books,’ she adds. ‘Ross isn’t going to die.’
However, author Graham, who wrote the first four books of the Poldark series in the Forties and Fifties and returned after a 20-year hiatus in the Seventies to complete the series, left the producers with a huge conundrum to solve.
The last series took the saga to the end of Graham’s seventh novel, The Angry Tide. But action in the eighth novel, The Stranger From The Sea, takes place 11 years later, when Poldark has gone from being a mine owner and politician to a government agent during the Peninsular War, reporting on the morale of British troops in Portugal.
As well as explaining the disconnect, the writers would also have had to make 36-year-old Turner – whose smouldering on-screen presence has done so much to drive the success of the show – into a 51-year-old version of ‘Cap’n Ross’.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Horsfield decided series five would go ‘off book’. So the finale will consist of stories that bridge the missing Poldark decade. The Winston Graham estate approved Horsfield filling in the gaps.
‘According to the books, he goes from mine owner to government spy,’ she says. ‘My question was, how on earth did he get there? That became the spine of series five. What happened? What decisions did he make that set him on that journey to book eight?’
So while the next book in the series starts in 1811, the final TV series begins in 1800, a few months after the climactic ending of series four, and spans two years. Elizabeth Warleggan (Heida Reed) is dead after taking a potion to induce an early birth in an attempt to persuade George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) that Valentine was his child.
Ross feels guilty over the death of his first love and disillusioned at his powerlessness as a politician. It is only a few years after the American and the French revolutions, and the British government is clamping down on sedition in any form they find it, and it’s here that Ross becomes involved.
‘Ross is called in by an old friend from his army days, Colonel Ned Despard [played by Vincent Regan], who’s been imprisoned,’ says producer Michael Ray. Despard had been the governor of British Honduras (now Belize) and was tasked with allotting land to settlers. He allotted it too freely for the British government’s liking, however, giving land to everyone, including freed slaves, and he was duly recalled to England and put in prison.
‘What he did ties in to that revolutionary fever,’ says Ray. ‘That sense of equality that people are after. He needs Ross to help him get out of prison and clear his name. That becomes Ross’s mission for the series.’
With Despard, Horsfield has followed Graham’s model of bringing real historical figures into the Poldark universe. ‘I was researching the period of the missing years and I came across Colonel Edward Despard and his wife Catherine. I started looking into their backgrounds and it was an absolute gift.’
Despard turns out to be a mirror image of Poldark. They both have an army background, they both believe in social justice and neither is afraid to get their hands dirty by working alongside their employees (though we won’t be seeing Regan with his top off). Most fascinatingly, in real life ‘Ned’ Despard also married his servant, in the form of his Jamaican kitchen maid Kitty (Kerri McLean). Ross, of course, married Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) in the love story that underpins the entire series.
‘They both risked the condemnation of society, but both had very fulfilling and happy marriages. I just thought this is an extraordinary coincidence,’ says Horsfield. ‘Obviously I don’t want to give away what actually happened to Ned (though you can find it in the history books), but he appeared to provide a salutary warning to Ross. They were kindred spirits. And if Ross had made certain decisions, he could have gone the same way.’
For Turner, the arrival of Ned meant something different: ‘It was nice that Ross finally had a friend! And I get to have fun with Vincent Regan. I even get to have sword fights. That’s a first. We’ve had pistols, we’ve had swimming, but never swords.’
Poldark, though, has never just been about Ross’s story. On set we watch George Warleggan, in frock coat and big-buckled boots, acting out a scene on his knees. A man raises a sword towards his head… but only because George is finally getting the knighthood he has craved so long. But is he happy? Not a bit of it. The man with the darkest scowl on TV doesn’t do happy.
‘Towards the end of the last series he had everything he wanted. Then he lost his wife. So we left him at his lowest ever point,’ says Farthing. We find him quite soon after that. He’s apparently packed that grief away and is back at his desk, getting on with work, keeping himself to himself. And then it becomes apparent that he can’t compartmentalise it any longer. It comes back and it hits him. Hard.’
I even get to have sword fights. That’s a first. We’ve had pistols, we’ve had swimming but never swords
George’s trauma and mental health is a storyline that brings in Dwight Enys (Luke Norris), a doctor in the Revolutionary War who’s investigating the fledgling discipline of psychology. In another scene that Event watches being filmed, Dwight is giving a presentation to the Royal College of Surgeons. His thesis that ‘People not of sound mind cannot be held responsible for their actions’ receives short shrift from the watching intelligentsia, though he starts working on George, who’s suffering.
George’s treatment at the hands of Enys will lead to some of the most shocking scenes in Poldark’s four-year run. ‘Some of the procedures that George goes through are not pleasant to watch,’ says Horsfield, ‘but that was the way of treating it. We were shocked. We couldn’t show some of the brutality. It was way too much. It was so physical. There were theories at the time that people had been overtaken by animal spirits and needed to have them beaten out of them.’
Yet if the storylines have been some of the toughest yet, you wouldn’t know it on set. It’s all bonhomie between takes as the actors enjoy their last Poldark hurrah.
Farthing says he will miss playing one of TV’s best villains (‘My aim from the beginning was to make him a human being’), but he won’t miss his shoes (‘They’re Cuban heels in the extreme and they make me look like an antelope…’). Ellise Chappell (Morwenna Chynoweth) has already bagged a couple of mementos: ‘I took the shell bracelet and an antique book; it’s still got winter primroses pressed in it.’ And some of them already know their last lines. ‘Mine is “Goodbye,”’ says Farthing.
Turner’s final scenes are with Demelza. ‘Our last day was quite poignant. It was just me and Eleanor doing bedroom scenes! That was, erm, interesting… but it made sense that it was just the two of us.’
Which only leaves the future. Although this is the end of Poldark, both producers and writers have stressed it’s only the end for now. Nearly half of the books remain to be adapted, so why are they stopping? ‘There were only ever going to be five series,’ says Horsfield. ‘The actors were optioned for five series. We never knew from one to the next whether we would actually get to five, but having got there, that’s it.’
‘We want it to go out with a bang,’ says producer Michael Ray. ‘The key to ending any series is the audience should want to know more but not need to. There are more books, so we will never say never on this. That’s it for now, but there’s always another story to tell.’
Hmm. I’d bank on us all being back on those Cornish beaches before the decade’s out, wouldn’t you?