Television review

PBS’s ‘Poldark’ thrives on its Britishness

Aidan Turner and Heida Reed in “Poldark.”
Aidan Turner and Heida Reed in “Poldark.”Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE 21TicketTV

First, take a pretty view — the craggy coastline of Cornwall will do, with a broad and shining sea in the distance and muscular horses galloping over sun-drenched green fields. Then, add to all that gusty beauty the sight of impossibly handsome actor Aidan Turner brooding as if his life depended on it, his Mr. Darcy-like heroism as obvious as the thick black curls forever bouncing atop his head. Finally, deliver a story filled with romantic twists, troublesome class differences, and 18th-century manners and you’ve got a pleaser for the “Masterpiece” crowd.

I can’t pretend that “Poldark,” PBS’s new “Masterpiece” series based on the novels by Winston Graham, has literary merit, nor can I pretend that I couldn’t see every plot twist coming long before it arrived. But I can almost guarantee that if you’re a “Downton Abbey” type who also has a Jane Austen fetish as well as an inclination to go weak at the knees at the sound of British accents, you will find something to embrace in this period drama. It’s just right for lazy, low-expectation, but dignity-protecting summer viewing.


The story, which first came to TV as a 1975 “Masterpiece Theatre” series, begins as Turner’s Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall after years fighting in the American Revolution. He quickly learns his elegant fiancee, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), is engaged to his spineless cousin; she thought he had been killed. Furthermore, Poldark’s father has died, leaving him with a rickety house, a pair of useless servants, and a nearly bankrupt copper mine.

After a bath of self-pity, he takes charge of the situation, making moves to revive the mine and hiring a housekeeper, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), thereby saving her from abuse by her poverty-stricken, brutal father. I don’t want to spoil anything here, to protect those who aren’t as cynically attuned to predictable plot twists as I am, but I will say that Poldark is a force of good in the community for whom his tenants will do anything.


Turner is just the right choice for the role. As often as he is required to look proud and sad — just watch Poldark toast his beloved and her fiance without barbs, a war scar on his cheekbone like a falling tear — he nonetheless projects an undeniable warmth. He brings an almost undetectable but entirely appealing self-mockery to his character’s bravery and dashing demeanor, a tinge of comedy. He strips Poldark’s Henry Higgins-like tendencies of any potentially unseemly qualities, which helps to make him easy to root for. Like everything else in “Poldark,” he’s old-fashioned and winning.

Television review:


Starring: Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Kyle Soller, Heida Reed, Beatie Edney, Ruby Bentall


Time: Sunday, 9 p.m.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.