Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Poldark – a post series reflection

I didn’t watch the Poldark TV series in the 1970’s. But I’ve seen the DVDs at the library, looking somewhat dated and uninspiring. I have also turned the novels over in my hand and wondered whether I might enjoy them. They are Cornish and therefore Celtic, Cerynweg being a sister language to Cymraeg (Welsh). I’m also rather partial to a multi-book family saga. But … twelve novels represented a considerable emotional investment. I simply didn’t have the time. Until they were made into new TV series. Then, like every woman (and not a few men) in Australia, I had my evenings pinioned to the screen.

Comparing book to screen adaptations is one of my pastimes. I read Jennifer Worth’s, Call the Midwife, and enjoyed seeing her autobiographical musings turned into TV episodes, which were somehow true to their original form and yet also improved. More recently, I have been following the Outlander series based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon. It was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the allure of Poldark too.

Written by Winston Graham, the author of forty two novels (yes, this could be a bigger emotional investment than first envisaged), the first Poldark novel was first published in 1945. It’s sequel Demelza Poldark followed in 1946. Graham wrote two further Poldark novels in the fifties. Not returning to the series again until the 1970’s, after which, he wrote the remaining eight novels. He finished the final instalment three years before his death in 2005. Let’s look at some additional series trivia:

  • Demelza is a Cornish word meaning ‘fort of Maeldaf. It was not used as a given name until the mid twentieth century.
  • Her character was partly based on Graham’s Cornish wife, Jean Williamson
  • Ross Poldark was conceived as Ross Polgreen but on reflection the name was not evocative enough
  • The name Poldark was born
  • His character was inspired by a fighter pilot Graham met on the train during World War Two
  • Upon their release in the U.S. The first two novels were edited and shortened by 12% and 14% respectively
  • These are the editions commonly read today
  • Yes, I’ve read Wikipedia too

Series one of the new TV adaptation is based on the first two Poldark novels with the sudden dramatic, cliff hanger ending, filched from from the beginning of the third book, Jeremy Poldark. The early books are written in an old fashioned, omniscient style with a great deal of narration, description and introspection that is somehow also strangely compelling. I have enjoyed seeing them successfully adapted for the screen. I particularly liked the short, succinct conversations between George and Cary Warllegan, the way scenes shifted back and forth in quick succession (easier done on TV than with prose), the use of scenery to convey mood and emotion, the tally board showing Jim Carter’s time in prison, the slow motion segments (particularly Ross carrying that tiny coffin), the costumes, the horseriding and, of course, the iconic coastal scenery.

I’m not sure how I would have felt about this adaptation had I read the books first. But from my TV first vantage point it seems the spirit of the novels has been preserved. Much of the original dialogue is also intact. Nevertheless, there are considerable differences. Here are some that stood out to me.

  • Ross is taller and not quite as sizzlingly handsome in the books (not that I’m complaining)
  • Demelza’s has dark hair and dark eyes
  • She is only thirteen when Ross finds her at the Redruth fair
  • Seventeen when Ross takes her into his bed
  • The first novel was divided into three book dated: October 1783 – April 1785, April-May, 1787, June-December 1787
  • The use of a child actor for the beginning of the TV series may have conveyed this time difference more effectively
  • Or it could have been icky
  • The second novel is also divided into three books but in my edition they aren’t dated
  • George Warllegan is not fatherless in the novels
  • Jinny does not get married because she is pregnant
  • The pilchard scene is not so egalitarian
  • The sub-plot involving Jinny and Reuben Clemmow is left out
  • The storm and Doctor Choakes’ neglect at Julia’s birth are glossed over
  • Jim Carters arrest and the entry to Bodmin gaol happen with less incident on TV
  • Doctor Enys is not previously known to Ross

I’m not obsessed with this series. But I have read up to the eighth novel. I’ve foresworn further reading until I’m on the airplane to the UK, however. I will be leaving home for five months. There are bound to be niggling doubts and a small dose of terror. Further instalments of Winston Graham’s delightful family saga will be a welcome distraction. Meanwhile, my husband has started galloping up and down the house on a broom in order to replicate Poldark on horseback. I’ve told him a tri-corn hat, a billowing linen shirt, and long black boots would improve his chances. 🙂



The Anchoress – by Robyn Cadwallader


Some pre-travel conversations


  1. Rosie Powell

    The use of a child actor for the beginning of the TV series may have conveyed this time difference more effectively.

    They didn’t use a child actress to portray Demelza in the 1970s series, either. Actress Angharad Rees, who was at least 30 or 31 when the 1975 series aired, portrayed Demelza from the beginning to the end.

    George Warllegan is not fatherless in the novels

    The current series has not reached the point in which George Warleggan became a husband and father. That probably won’t happen until Series 3 . . . or 4.

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Hi! Thanks for reading. I’ve finished the series now. I meant George’s father isn’t dead in the novels (bad wording on my part). I think he might be in the TV series. His father certainly doesn’t appear.

  2. Rosie Powell

    I’ve also noticed that Nicholas Warleggan isn’t in this new series. Perhaps the production was limited for budget reasons and they decided that Cary Warleggan was the more interesting character.

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Yes, I’m sure that was for simplicity. Those scenes between George and Cary were so effective. I think a child actor for Demelza in the first episode would have conveyed the passing of time better too. Maybe they need us on their advisory board.

  3. Janet de C

    I was always mystified as to why they used a red haired actress in not just the first but both TV series. It isn’t as though it wouldn’t be possible to find a tall dark haired and dark eyed actress to play Demelza as she was described in the novels. It doesn’t matter particurlarly but I always found it odd.

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      I agree. I have thought that a number of times.

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