Ross Poldark

RossPoldark-cov“Returning home from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark is reunited with his beloved Cornwall and family. But the joyful homecoming he had anticipated turns sour; his father is dead, his estate in derelict,  and the girl he loves has become engaged to his cousin. However, his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district leads him to rescue a half-starved urchin girl from a fairground brawl and take her home — an act that will change the entire course of his life.”

“Ross Poldark is the first novel in Winston Graham’s sweeping saga of Cornish life in the eighteenth century. First published in 1945, the Poldark series has enthralled readers for over seventy years.”

I first discovered this story through the TV series (the 2015 BBC adaptation with Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, not the previous 1975 adaptation with Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees) which aired on PBS as part of the Masterpiece show. It is an excellent and beautiful historical drama, very well written and with great actors. It really shows all the aspects of the Georgian era’s society in Cornwall (the westernmost county of England): mostly the sentimental struggle of the main characters, of course, but how they manage to survive at a time when the local mining industry is starting to fail, and how the living conditions of the common people (miners, farmers, fishermen) could be so starkly contrasted with those of the nobility. It also subtlety talks about the political, moral or religious issues of the era. It was all fascinating and I couldn’t resist wanting to see what the books looked like (or at least the first volume).

The book series was written by Winston Graham, who based the story on many aspects of his own life. He was born in Manchester in 1908 but lived in Perranporth, Cornwall, for thirty years (1925-1960). He first met his wife when she was thirteen year-old and the character of Demelza is partly based on her. The series includes twelve volumes which were written in two periods. The first four volumes (Vol. 1: Ross Poldark, Vol. 2: Demelza, Vol. 3: Jeremy Poldark, Vol. 4: Warleggan) were written between 1945 and 1953. In 1973, after a long hiatus, he resumed the series and wrote eight more volumes (Vol. 5: Black Moon, Vol. 6: The Four Swan, Vol. 7: The Angry Tide, Vol. 8: The Stranger From The Sea, Vol. 9: The Miller’s Dance, Vol. 10: The Loving Cup, Vol. 11: The Twisted Sword, Vol. 12: Bella Poldark), the last one being published in 2002, just a year before his death. The first seven volumes are set in the eighteenth century (1783-1799) and depict the life of Ross and Demelza, while the last five volumes, set in the nineteenth century (1810-1820), are centred around their children.

[ WARNING: The following MAY contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing/reading the story themselves are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further. ]

The first volume starts as Ross Poldark (a young British army officer, member of the low and rural English nobility) comes back from fighting on the losing side of the American War of Independence. He has been wounded in the leg and his face is scarred. Unfortunately, he quickly learn that, during his two years absence, his dissolute father has died, their mine has been closed, his two lazy domestic have let his house and domain (Nampara, located near Truro) go into disrepair, and — worse of all — his young fiancé, Elizabeth, believing he had been killed, is now engaged with his cousin Francis! However, he has a strong character and doesn’t despair: he simply roll-up his sleeves, repair the house, plow the land and makes plans to get financing in order to re-open the mine. He is certainly not perfect and has a quick temper but he is a good man, and, seeing the plight of the local villagers, will do his best to help them and always fight for justice. His exceptional social position (privileged but still a gentleman farmer) allows him the move around flawlessly between the social classes, in both the peasantry, the mine workers on one side and the nobility on the other. 

Ross struggles to forget Elizabeth, his first love, and avoids meeting her. He helps his cousin, Verity, in her amorous affair with the captain Andrew Blamey, but it puts him at odds with his family, and deepen the rift with Francis. After the birth of their child, Geoffrey Charles, Francis is gambling too much at the instigation of George Warleggan and Elizabeth is seeking Ross’ help. The family more or less reconciles on Christmas 1787. His choice of Pascoe’s Bank to finance his business (and eventually some personnal enmities) will put Ross on a collision course with George Warleggan, the son of a blacksmith who became a banker and industrialist.

However, the most life-changing event will occur when Ross saves a thirteen year-old girl from a fairground brawl (started over the abuse of her puppy dog, Garrick). He takes her into his household as a kitchen maid and she grows up admiring Ross. But, at seventeen year-old, fearing that Ross could send her back to her abusive father, she seduces him. They will soon after marry despite all the gossips. Ross will slowly learn to love her. She is a coarse young woman but beautiful and, with the help of Verity, will quickly learn the manners of the nobility. She will always see Elizabeth as a rival, but, despite their tumultuous relationship, Ross will somehow be happy. This is as much her story as his.

Winston Graham’s writing is beautiful and easy to read. The story is not only captivating because of its drama, but also because of its description the Georgian society. However, there are substantial differences between the book and the TV series. For examples: Demelza has black hair and not a beautiful red mane like on TV; she boldly seduces Ross in the book while they simply “fall in love” in the adaptation. The book tend to be more realistic in its description, showing more violence and grit, while the TV series is more reserved. But that’s to be expected. On the other side, the TV adaptation shows more easily the beauty of the Cornish countryside. 

I greatly enjoyed reading this first volume (even if I already knew the story), but I am not ready to engaged in the long commitment required by such a large series. However, I strongly recommend it. Also, take note that I read the edition from the superb MacMillan Collector’s Library but there is another edition, the Pan Macmillan media tie-in edition [ Amazon / Goodreads ], which is probably more widely available.

Ross Poldark – A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787, by Winston Graham. London: Pan MacMillan (MacMillan Collector’s Library), 2016. 460 pg. £9.99 / $10.00 US. ISBN 978-1-909621-51-0. For readers fourteen year-old and above. stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

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© Winston Graham 1945.

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Press Ep. 1

tv-55-8-lawson-press-rileyI just watched yesterday the first episode of Press, a six-part British TV series that aired on BBC One between September 6th and October 11th 2018. It is written by playwright Michael Bartlett (Doctor Foster, King Charles III), directed by Tom Vaughan (Endeavour, Victoria) and starring Charlotte Riley (portrayed on the left), Ben Chaplin (World Without End), Priyanga BurfordPaapa Essiedu (The Miniaturist) and David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot). It is set in the world of newspapers in England, showing the work, life and career anxiety of the staff from two very different (and fictional) newspapers: The Herald and The Post. It’s apparently inspired by The Guardian and The Mirror, two newspapers with opposite journalistic philosophies: one is more of an investigative newspaper and the other more of a tabloid (or “Red Tops” as they say in the U.K.).

It is a very good TV series. The acting is excellent and it is quite well-written — it is not as good and clever as Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom (which was about the daily operation and trials of a cable news TV station) but it is still interesting and well worth watching (like most British TV series). Of course, despite the creator’s best efforts, the show was criticized for not portraying accurately the journalistic and editorial work, but all fiction need to take same artistic license to make the subject interesting. However, the writer of the series thought it was important to base the story on some real aspects of the journalists’ work (even if the details is sometimes wrong) in order to express the essence of journalism to the viewers. And I think it succeeded pretty well.

It’s a mini-series, so I have only five more episodes to watch… That’s what I like with British TV: it is usually short and sweet, all the goodness being concentrated in just a few episodes. No car chases or explosions with special effects, but just excellent writing and storytelling. That’s all a good show needs.

Press will air in North America on PBS’ Masterpiece following the UK broadcast, probably in early 2019. I recommend that you watch it if you can… stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ BBCGoogleIMDbPBSWikipediaYoutube ]

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Capsules

More on “The Terror”

TheTerror-posterI just finished watching The Terror — which I already commented earlier this month. It’s interesting but a little disappointing. The fantastical aspect of the Inuk mythology seemed at first the most promising element but was left largely unexploited. The slaying of the beast was the symbol of the white men killing the native spirits, or their innocence, the beginning of their conquest. I guess the larger theme is homo homini lupus or, in extreme circumstances, men are their worst enemy. It’s a story of survival, even if it failed for all but one — who nevertheless disappeared into the wilderness as he went native, probably to atone his failure. Apparently, they are planning a second season set during WW2 in a Japanese-American internment camp. An interesting speculative-historic drama. stars-3-0

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The Terror

the-terrorI’m watching The Terror (three episodes in so far): It’s cool, although the storytelling moves like a slow agony and the suspense is unbearable! Joke aside, it is a very interesting 10-part TV series from AMC, based on Dan Simmons’ novel of the same title. I was first hesitating to watch as it is presented as an horror drama, but it should be considered more fantastic (as it seems to follow Todorov’s definition of the genre). The series was well received (92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and for good reasons: It has a great cast (Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Nive Nielsen!) and offers an interesting story about Franklin’s lost expedition which was looking for the Northwest Passage in 1845–1848. The story is, of course, largely fictionalized, but nevertheless based on all the known facts about the fate of the expedition. Many subsequent expeditions searched for survivors or for the two Franklin’s ships without much success: the only clues cames from Inuk eyewitness accounts (1854-55), as well as a few artefacts and skeletons (1859-69). Only very recently, modern expeditions found the remains of the HMS Erebus (2014) and of the HMS Terror (2016). stars-3-0

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Movie Capsule-reviews (02.018.145)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

StarWars-LastJedi-covThis movie offers good action and relatively interesting storytelling. It fits pretty well within the saga and it is a great joy to see Mark Hamill as Luke again. It is beautifully made and succeeds to express the depth of the characters’ angst facing their destiny — but with a good dose of humour. However, this movie is turning a page, as Disney seems to bring the franchise into a new direction. Yes, let’s get rid of all the old characters to reboot the story with an entire new cast! Good? Bad? We’ll see. I greatly enjoyed the movie but, strangely, there’s a disparity on Rotten Tomatoes between the critics’ rating (91%) and the audience’s (46%). stars-3-5

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Maze runner: The Death Cure

MazeRunner-DeathCure-covBetter than expected. I liked it despite the low Rotten Tomatoes rating (42%). Good action (bigger and louder than the previous two movies) and drama (although not always credible and sometime predictable). It is supposed to be the end of the trilogy, but the open ending might suggest otherwise… After too many average YA novel adaptations (i.e. Hunger Games or Divergent) it doesn’t feel too original, although I am a sucker for any dystopian, post-apocalyptic story — even with a simili-zombie twist. Anyway, I am not too demanding with that kind of movies: I just want to be entertained. stars-2-5

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Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit451-covThe latest TV movie adaptation of the great Ray Bradbury’s novel is quite disappointing. It is a slow burn: there’s not much action, the acting is not that great, and the storytelling felt like cold ashes compared to my memory of the novel. Although it is not that different from the previous, interesting but painfully slow, adaptation by François Truffaut. Evidently, Ramin Bahrani wanted to rekindle Bradbury’s dystopian future (where “firemen” burned books instead of putting out fires) in order to give a warning about the dangers of a presidency during which truth and personal liberties are eroded a little more every day. stars-2-5

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Assassin’s Creed

AssassinsCreed-covI never played the video game but despite this I still enjoyed the story. The concept of the “genetic memory” is quite far-fetched but still somewhat interesting. Strangely, I was expecting a movie set in the past, not in the modern days, so I was a little caught off-guard. It is amusing to see the templar knights portrayed as the bad guys for once. Can wanting to end all violence and wars be a bad thing? Of course, it is if it involves removing all free will from the people! 

It is worth watching mostly because it is so visually beautiful and entertaining — but not much else. stars-3-0

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All the way

AllTheWay-covThis is a biographical TV movie mostly about Lyndon B. Johnson’s struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act. The title comes from LBJ’s campaign slogan (and how his opponents’ misused it!). It is an interesting historical movie, but it also offers sort of a commentary on the contemporary political situation. Politics don’t really change much with time and all the political in-fighting is quite reminiscent of the 2016 election campaign. However, fifty-four years after LBJ passed his civil right bill that was supposed to put an end to white people killing black people, where are we? Again, nothing seems to have changed much. Quite an educative movie indeed. stars-3-0

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Youth

Youth-covTwo retired friends, composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), are spending their vacation in the Swiss Alps. Fred is bugged by the Queen’s emissary who want him to perform for the prince’s birthday, but he refuses because the music piece they chose was written for his wife (who has now Alzheimer’s). Mick is putting the finishing touch on the script of his next movie. Family and friends will bring disturbance, drama and, eventually, tragedy.  This is another relatively contemplative movie by Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, La Grande Bellezza). It is rather similar to The Great Beauty. It is a really beautiful movie, with great actors (although the acting itself seems a little contrived sometimes), and which offers deep reflections on life. I enjoyed it a lot. stars-3-5

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Media Capsule Reviews

The Scorch Trials

91x9iAjQw-L._SL1500_The sequel to Maze Runner is okay but nothing more. The storytelling is rather ordinary and predictable, but entertaining enough to keep viewers interested. It’s now a mix between a rebel fighter movie and a zombie movie. Hopefully the next and final instalment of the series will be better, but I won’t hold my breath because lately YA novels’ adaptations have mostly been disappointing and the first reviews of Maze Runner: The Death Cure are not very positive… stars-2-5

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Dalida

91GpShex6uL._SL1500_Le récit tragique de la vie d’une chanteuse de charme populaire, d’origine Italo-Égyptienne. Était-elle cruelle ou juste malchanceuse en amour? Car nombreux sont ses amoureux ou ses proches qui se sont enlevé la vie! Une vie qui s’est acharnée sur elle — nourrissant et inspirant son talent — jusqu’à ce que cela lui soit insupportable. Je ne croyais pas connaître vraiment son oeuvre jusqu’à ce que je me rende compte que beaucoup de ses mélodies me soient familières (ayant grandi à l’écoute de la radio française). Un beau film mais sortez vos mouchoirs! stars-3-0

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Blade Runner 2049

91hcrkzdjl-_sl1500_.jpgExcellente continuité d’ambiance et de style avec le premier film. Le récit est lent mais captivant et constant. Il y a suffisamment de scènes d’action pour maintenir l’attention du spectateur (d’une façon assez similaire au premier film). L’histoire nous amène dans une direction un peu inattendue. Excellent film. stars-4-0

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Guardians of the Galaxy 2

81AAEGoLMWL._SL1384_A good old space opera with lots of humour, some reflections on solitude and a good dose of action that defies the laws of physic. But who cares when it’s greatly entertaining! stars-3-5

 

 

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Wonder Woman 

91wpz6nkrdl-_sl1500_.jpgThis is the story of the transition of a classical hero into a superhero. Beautifully choreographed combat scenes. Probably the most accomplished movies set in the DC universe so far. It offers stronger moral and better storytelling than any other character of the Justice League, and is less dark and violent than the Batman or Superman movies. It about time we see a movie with a strong female character. Let’s see more of that. Strangely the extra on the BluRay are longer than the movie itself! stars-3-5

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John Wick 2

9172FEX3XlL._SL1500_Boring! Almost non-stop violence with a thin tread of story. Keanu is cool but that’s not enough to sustain a movie. And yet it was a success at the box office. What ever! stars-2-0

 

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Captain America: Civil War

91am8N7+o7L._SL1500_This movie is all that we expected it to be: entertaining with lots of fighting and explosion. Released two years ago, it strangely foretold the socio-political situation of today’s USA. When you’re against an enemy, no need to fight: you just need to plant the seed of dissent and let it follow its course. People will destroy themselves (now, the country is divided, the Republicans are divided. Even the Democrats are divided, well done mister Russian Dictator!). Of course, the movie ends on an hopeful note — eventually all wounds between friends will heal… You just need to watch the next movie! stars-3-0

(Of course, in order to avoid being accused of whitewashing, they added the Black Panther in the line up — how many Avengers is there, anyway? And they ended up producing what is said to be the best movie so far in the Marvel universe. I can’t wait to see this one…)

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X-Files TV series Season 11

220px-The_X-Files_Season_11With this new (and final) season of the TV series “they” push the self-parody even further… It’s the Trump Era after all! So nobody wants to believe anymore. And it is really funny. stars-3-5

 

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Brit Box

britbox_logo_stacked_canada_flavourI first saw an advertisement for this on Facebook but didn’t pay much attention to it (because, these days, who trust what they are seeing on FB). I’ve also seen lots of similar offers in Totally British magazine, but it looked like it was either expensive, complicated or semi-legit solutions. However, when I saw an ad on TV (I don’t remember if it was on CNN or MSNBC) then it got my attention as it looked quite serious. Everyone who is a fan of British television should have a look at this.

BritBox.com is similar to Netflix: it’s a digital video subscription service. It offers a large selection of TV shows for streaming (dramas, comedies, mysteries, documentaries, soaps, lifestyles, etc.) to the difference that those shows are exclusively British. It claims that they are the “Biggest streaming collection of British TV… ever” !

You can sign in for a 7-day free trial and, after that, you can indulge your inner Brit by paying only $8.99 per month and be able to cancel anytime. Forget about catching a few Brit TV shows on CBC, PBS or BBC Canada. Now you can watch the best of Brit TV anytime, anywhere (web, phone, tablet, Apple TV, etc.), uncut and commercial free. All you need is an internet connection. Quite interesting.

BritBox is co-owned by the BBC and ITV and launched in Canada last February. 

Here’s a few of the shows available on BritBox that I found could be quite interesting to (re-) watch: Agatha Christie’s Poirot (6 seasons), Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (2006), Around the World in 80 Treasures (2005), Blackadder (5 seasons: 1983-89), Bleak House (2005), Cadfael (4 seasons: 1994-98), Classic Doctor Who (25 seasons: 1963-89), Cranford (2 seasons: 2007-09), Desperate Romantics (2009), Doctor Zhivago (2002), Dunkirk (2004), Elizabeth R (1971), Father Brown (1974), Hammer House movies (1980), Inspector Morse (8 seasons: 1987-1993), Lark Rise to Candleford (4 seasons: 2008-11), Life on Mars (2 seasons: 2006-07), Maigret (both 1992 and 2016 series), Midsomer Murders (19 seasons: 1998-2018), Poldark (1996), Prime Suspect (7 seasons: 2991-2006), Red Dwarf (12 seasons: 1988-1999, 2009, 2016-2017), Rosemary & Thyme (3 seasons: 2003-07), Sharpe (7 seasons: 1993-97, 2006, 2008), Sherlock Holmes (4 seasons: 1984-1985, 1986-1988, 1991-93, 1994), Spitting Image (5 seasons: 1984-88), The Champions (1968-69), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981), The Moonstone (1972-73, 2016), The Queen’s Archive Speeches (1940-2002), Torchwood (4 seasons: 2006-11), Tutankhamun (2016), and Upstairs Downstairs (both series: 1971-74, 2010-12). Just to name a few! 

It is certainly worth a look and I am planning to sign in for the free trial during my next vacation in May for a binge-test! Watch this space (and let me know what you think of it if you are already a subscriber)!

Sources: 

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