The Poldark Women – Role Models For Girls Everywhere!
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While the BBC have done a brilliant job of colonising Aidan Turner’s manly chest – and turning it into an international franchise, all of its own; I am far more interested in the more nuanced, subtle and intelligent performances of the three leading actresses who orbit around our hero like glittery supernovas, and are destined to become stars in their own right.
I am talking about Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, Hedda Reed, as the stoic, aristocratic beauty Elizabeth, with cheekbones one could dine off, and hair I want to steal – and Ruby Bentall, gentle, sweet, democratic Verity, who resembles a porcelain doll, but really has the heart of a lioness, and ultimately finds the wings and courage to defy her family and her sex, and run away to sea, rather than be condemned to live without the man she loves.
A Time of Revolution, Unrest and Social Flux
Each actress playing the role of the very different women who inhabit 18th Century Cornwall at a time of revolution, unrest and social injustice. What juicy roles for our talented leading ladies. Poldark’s women are maddening, colourful, heartbreaking, often unfathomable, and brave, and have much to teach us in the 21st century, especially about compassion, tolerance, social mobility, adversity and love. Oh, and the fun to be had in nature from galloping a deux along the cliffs to hard labour in the fields. How long will it be before stressed out city types are dashing over to Cornwall to learn how to sythe!!
Role Models for Modern Girls
Almost a hundred years since woman gained the vote, and yet we still live in a world where women are frequently disrespected and reduced to mere appendages or love interests of men. Not that I am comfortable with Aidan Turner being treated as a mere Sex God either, though it is funny, and he seems to rather revel in the role. So it is encouraging and exciting to see roles being reversed, and women being portrayed as the stronger, more capable sex, and to display qualities that are to be admired and create positive role models for girls all of the world today. And by girls, I mean women of any age! No ageism please.
How exciting then, that Debbie Horsfield has chosen to be faithful to Winston Graham’s original portrait of Demelza, as a beautiful, spirited independent tomboy, inspired by his own wife. Eleanor has an enormous sense of self and inner confidence as an actress. It comes from years spent learning the craft of acting. Note how her portrait of Demelza is all about her character’s journey, not about having her décolleté on display and her relationship with Ross is portrayed in a very girlish, innocent, romantic way. Have you noticed how we never see more than her swan neck or a pretty ankle, as she luxuriates in the grass in a post coital afterglow? – I adore this new restraint and demureness, for it leaves much to the imagination and allows the viewer to daydream.
Demelza – From Seventies Sex Goddess to 21st Century Girl Power!
And as much as I quite enjoyed watching Angharad Rees’s portrait of Demelza, from the seventies, it seems very dated and overtly dripping in seventies, sex-mad liberation! It does make Demelza very one-dimensional. Where Rees is portrayed as a breathless, earthy sex goddess, Tomlinson’s portrait of Demelza seems less fluffy, more real and more about her interesting struggles with social displacement and identity. Nor does she forget her roots. Eleanor’s Demelza is Ross’s moral touchstone for social justice. She is more suffragette than sex kitten!
Her Pygmalion struggles to become a lady and mistress of Nampara are painful, funny and charming, and really endear her character to us.
I also like the way see her weaknesses. She meddles in her cousin Verity’s life with terrible consequences for Ross, but we can’t imagine this Demelza dropping her knickers for a shilling – which was never in Graham’s books! Instead, watching Demelza’s metamorphosis is like watching the slow, lovely unfurling of a flower, hidden from the world by misery, dirt and deprivation, and endless bread making and sything! Slowly, and not without difficulty or mortification, she moves from ragged urchin into an elegant, accomplished swan. Tomlinson nails this most painful of transformations with quiet, determined aplomb. One of the most memorable scenes in series 1 occurs when she is asked to sing in front of the very people who despise and detest her elevation in society. And yet the revelation of her girlish, trembling voice and her innate grace transforms everyone’s opinion of her, and leaves Ross glowing with pride – and us the viewer tingling with the promise of more triumphs, drama, disasters and true romance to come!
Next time I will discuss Hedda Reed’s Character, Elizabeth.
Poldark is currently airing in the US. The Second Series of Poldark Returns in 2016.
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