Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Like nearly everything in Demelza Poldark’s life, this week’s Season 3 finale was particularly dramatic. Cliffside romances, simmering flirtations, and an affair amid the dunes, all wrapped up in one heartbreaking bow.
Ross: Demelza, may I ask…
Demelza: No, Ross. Ask me nothing.
Jace: After months of suggestive poems, stolen glances, and more with the dashing Leftenant Hugh Armitage, Demelza finally decided to give in to temptation on the sands.
Hugh: It is to the heart which I now appeal, that part which, dare I say it, has been neglected. Can you allow me this? Shall we grant ourselves to each other, so that I may go into the darkness knowing that I once tasted heaven?
Jace: Actor Eleanor Tomlinson wasn’t surprised by Demelza’s choices this season. But she was surprised by the fan reaction to her character’s stunning betrayal of her husband, Ross.
Eleanor Tomlinson: Why shouldn’t she go and make the most of that? If he’s going to go and do what he wants to do why shouldn’t she go and have some fun?
Jace: Eleanor joined MASTERPIECE producer Barrett Brountas to talk about Demelza, Hugh and Ross, and what comes next after the end of the third season of Poldark.
Barrett Brountas: Welcome to the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast, Eleanor Tomlinson.
Eleanor: Thank you.
Barrett: Can you describe Demelza’s journey over the course of this third season?
Eleanor: Well I think Demelza’s journey for this series is that she and Ross have been working on their relationship and you know coming off the back of series two, when Ross slept with Elizabeth, they decided to stay together and they’ve been working on how they go forward from there as a family. So it very much focuses on how their relationship is not perfect. And I think that is probably what people love about Ross and Demelza, is that they have the normal struggles of you know everyday life and very normal relationships, a lot of jealousy, there’s a lot of betrayal–but there’s also a lot of love there. And they have to very much work together and work hard to stay the family unit they are.
Barrett: So Hugh Armitage…
Barrett: Has a thing for Demelza.
Barrett: Can you describe the character of Hugh and how things develop between them?
Eleanor: Well I think Demelza’s relationship with Hugh starts off as being incredibly innocent. I think he pays her attention where Ross doesn’t. I think that he romances her. He writes poetry. He sketches her. And Ross is so busy and closed book about conversations such as Valentine that he’s driven the wedge between Demelza and Ross, and I think Hugh steps in and flatters her and I think it’s just refreshing and lovely to be noticed by by a man and to have that attention again.
Barrett: Do you think that Demelza would have been drawn to Hugh if Ross hadn’t taken her so for granted this season?
Eleanor: No I don’t. I think she loves Ross. I think Ross is her one and only I think Hugh just came as a distraction because Demelza was feeling neglected.
Hugh: I’m no Leonardo, but you are surely Mona Lisa.
Demelza: I do not know these people.
Hugh: Forgive me, my attempt at a compliment. Perhaps I should stick to verse. Especially with such inspiration before me.
Demelza: No one’s ever written me poetry before.
Barrett: At Lord Falmouth’s party Demelza tells Hugh, ‘The woman you think she is not really there at all.’ And he replies, ‘it’s not perfection I seek, but flesh and blood.’ Does Hugh see her as she is?
Eleanor: Yes I think he does. I think he has fallen in love with the slightly awkward girl who doesn’t fit into those very posh ballroom scenes. And I think he finds her utterly refreshing because his family have constantly tried to match him with someone of Caroline’s status. For instance I think what he loves about Demelza is you know she’s come from nothing and she’s true at heart. And she’s not not pretentious, not trying to be something she’s not.
Barrett: Demelza says at the end of the last episode that she wishes she could be two people — Ross’s wife but also could love another just for a day. So I am amazed at the depth of her honesty here. I think a less courageous person would just be like, “Oh yeah, I’m sure i’m just tired, it was a long day.”
Eleanor: What’s brilliant about Demelza is her honesty. She’s so truthful, almost too truthful sometimes I think, but if I’ve learnt anything from this character that’s certainly how I would like to go about my life, is to live it with the truth that she loves her. I think it’s incredibly admirable.
Demelza: Who am I, Ross?
Ross: My wife.
Demelza: And when you’re away, who do I defer to? Do I wait for you to return and fill the void you’ve left behind? Or do I step into it?
Barrett: Absolutely. It’s so devastating but so courageous, and I think if Poldark at its heart is really like the story of a long marriage, this honesty and bravery seems to be a key element in success.
Eleanor: Yes I think it is. I think it is.
Barrett: So she describes her wish to be with someone else just for a day. What has been holding her back from giving in to temptation?
Eleanor: I think what’s been holding her back is that she loves Ross dearly and she doesn’t really think of another man in that sense. It’s just that I think what she says that she would like to be able to love someone else without hurting anyone, without the pressures of knowing that she’s got a family, that that’s not an option for her. I think she would just like the freedom to to be able to to run off and do something unusual or out of character just for a day. I think really what’s holding her back is that she’s giving Ross another opportunity, another chance. And then when we realize that he’s been unfaithful again, you know, behind her back kissing Elizabeth in a church when Demelza’s been at home being the oh-so-faithful wife, it’s just hurtful. It’s annoying. I think her betrayal, as it were, comes off the back of that in that you know why should she be treated like that? Why should she be left at home caring for their family and bringing up their children when he behaves as he wants to regardless of her feelings.
Barrett: Demelza and Hugh’s courtship is very different than hers with Ross which was very physical and fast and this one is all letters and poems and stolen looks. So what was it like to play such a different romance?
Eleanor: It was really fun and very interesting because like you say, it’s all in those secret looks and those kind of, you know, where your heart is beating, you know, double time. And that was really interesting, it was lovely to go back to that and play the falling in love — not that it is falling in love, but certainly the flattery that just makes her so excited. It was really lovely to play that moment and to feel, you know, every poem that he writes and every sketch that he does to feel how that, you know, flatters her and touches her heart. It’s extraordinary because she has been so neglected for so long, and it’s just lovely to see her get that giddiness that you get when, when you meet someone that you fancy. So yeah, it was a lot of fun.
Barrett: What was the precise moment where Demelza moved from temptation and action. Was it just she was just so mad about Ross kissing Elizabeth? Or was she more mad about Ross keeping secrets, or was it sort of like the pity consummation, because Hugh was going blind?
Eleanor: Oh no, I don’t think it was that at all. I think it was that she can’t bear the secrets anymore. She can’t bear the fact the Ross is always sneaking off and just doing his own thing doing things that he knows would hurt her. She knew about it. And instead of just being honest and talking openly about his feelings for Elizabeth and how they’re still there and how you know he hasn’t been able to bury them and how he went over and saw her and they slept together and she had a baby that’s his, as opposed to being open and talking about it, which I admit, is probably very difficult. But I think she just gets fed up with the constant secrecy and things being kept from her behind her back and finding out through Chinese whispers through Prudie, and just not having any respect from him. Him not really valuing what he has. So I think it comes out of frustration, and the fact that this really lovely man has been paying her attention and flattering her. And why shouldn’t she go and make the most of that if he is, if he’s going to go and do what he wants to do, why should she go and have some fun right?
Barrett: So what was it like filming the beautiful scene with Hugh and Demelza in the dunes? Was there a lot of rehearsal involved?
Eleanor: We did talk about it beforehand but we didn’t rehearse it. It was actually one of the first scenes that we shot in the series. It was certainly Josh’s first scene.
Eleanor: And it was a little bit awkward. Luckily I’d worked with him before, so I knew him. You know that’s a classic filming, you don’t shoot anything in sequence so it was it was the first scene he shot and it was within the first week of starting filming and it was great fun in the end. You know, it was technically difficult, you know, negotiating sand dunes and dresses. You know, it was, it was a very funny, those things are never romantic, they’re always hilarious. But we had a real laugh.
Barrett: And you say you’ve worked with him before previously. Is it true that you suggested that Josh Whitehouse audition for the role?
Eleanor: Yeah, I did. I was having some lunch and some of the producers and we were talking about potential Hugh Armitages, and I just think Josh is a great guy, I think he’s a brilliant actor, but he has a real sensitivity about him that is very, very lovely, and I think, you know, he’s an artist himself. He draws all the time, he sketches, he paints. So he seemed to fit fit the brief completely. All I did was suggest to him, and the next minute I got a call from the producer, saying, ‘Oh my goodness, he’s amazing!’ So you know, I’m delighted that I was able to help in some tiny way.
Barrett: So do you have a favorite scene from the third season of Poldark?
Eleanor: Goodness. Do I have a favorite scene of the series? It’s probably probably the scene with Hugh in the sand dunes I think because it’s just it’s from me brilliant that Demelza has spread her wings and says I don’t need Ross I don’t need to be treated like that. You know I’m I’m an independent woman and I won’t be treated badly by a man. So I think that’s probably one of my favorite scenes.
Hugh: I do not presume to compare myself to Ross. He’s a great man. My savior and friend. But you are…
Demelza: His wife. And mother of his children.
Barrett: Yeah. it seems so contemporary. The way she takes action there.
Eleanor: Yeah I think I think it is I think she’s a very contemporary woman. I think that’s why people can relate to her and Ross and that they’re both very contemporary in many ways.
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Barrett: Many of Ross and Demelza’s conversations this season are about something that isn’t explicitly said — Valentine. Can you talk about how Valentine’s existence affects them as individuals and as a couple?
Ross: I met Elizabeth. And for the first time in years, we talked. At first, she was hostile, but then she softened. I kissed her. I love her, Demelza.
Eleanor: I think what’s really frustrating for Demelza is that Ross is incapable of opening up. You know, he very much promises to try harder and to work with her in order to get through things and to be open and honest with her. But he seems to fail in doing that. I think the mention of Valentine is something that Ross cannot admit to and something that he doesn’t want to face. But actually in doing that he alienates Demelza and she persistently tries to get him to open up and talk about it so they can work through it together. But it’s incredibly hard for him because he doesn’t he doesn’t want to admit to his flaws almost.
Barrett: Would you say that Demelza has a fatal flaw? And if so, what what is it?
Eleanor: I think she does have a fatal flaw in that she doesn’t appreciate her own worth and her own self. She always feels like she doesn’t fit in and it takes her a really long time to become comfortable in her own skin. I think that is one of her flaws. I think if she if she was more confident in in her own self, her own intelligence, her own ability and her own relationship her own love of Ross and his love of her, I think that they would be happier.
Barrett: How real does Ross and Demelza’s relationship feel to you, as an actor?
Eleanor: I think Ross and Demelza’s relationship is incredibly real. I think that’s what I certainly love about the character and doing those scenes with Aidan is that we have you know very relatable material to play to. So as I said before I think that’s what people people love about them is that you know they have this incredibly real bond and there’s a lot of love there but they also fight each other all the time.
Demelza: Will you never learn? How long do you think you can do as you please, plough your own furrow, regardless of anyone else, or I?
Demelza: Not once have you asked my advice, or hearkened to my opinion, not once!
Barrett: It’s true it’s so true. They’re bickering one minute and then like they’re just sort of doing housework and then, it’s hot. It’s a real thing. It’s nice.
Eleanor: It’s also very much about you know the logistics of trying to keep a family going and trying to make sure there’s there’s food on the table. But also take care of the surrounding villages. And Ross is one of those people that cares about everyone, and you know, his mine you know he needs to kind of get his mine working so that the fellow villagers can afford to eat.
Barrett: And what is it like going on this journey together with Aidan Turner?
Eleanor: It’s lovely. Aidan’s a fabulous actor. And we’ve got a really good bond now as the characters, which is fantastic. You know, I’m honored to be able to work with someone like him and I think he’s created a brilliant Ross Poldark for Demelza to play against.
Barrett: So Demelza is disappointed and then she’s enraged that time and again Ross rejects political opportunities that would advance him to positions of power, which would in turn help him to achieve what he believes in. So, can you talk about how his refusal drives a wedge between them?
Eleanor: I think it’s taht Demelza is just very anxious that she wants Ross to stand up for what he believes in as opposed to being stubborn and refusing to step up because that’s what’s expected of him I think she knows how he could make a change and make a difference. And she’s very pro that and she deals with his frustration at the world in the state that it’s in and as opposed to her you know him actively being able to change it. He turns its back on it and that I think she finds very frustrating.
Barrett: Well at one point Demelza urges Ross to stand up for what he believes in, he’s all, “I am not that man.” So I don’t think we’re buying that — but what about Ross? Do you think that’s what he really believes?
Eleanor: I think he has an idea of how politicians behave and he doesn’t see himself as that man. But what he doesn’t see is that he could change the way that things happen in Parliament if he was to bring his ideas to it. So I think he’s just looking at it really in the wrong frame of mind.
Barrett: So do you think this moment changes the way Demelza sees Ross?
Eleanor: No, I don’t think it does. I think that, I think she knows that he could do good. And I think she just decides that there will come another opportunity and eventually something will happen that will force him to step up. I don’t think she thinks that he’s a coward, ever. I think that she just gets frustrated with how much he moans about the situation but doesn’t do anything about it.
Barrett: So this season Demelza finds herself growing closer to Caroline. And as you see these two women as unlikely friends or are they more similar than we might think?
Eleanor: I think Demelza and Carolina are incredibly similar in many ways. Obviously their upbringing and social standing isn’t at all similar. But they become really really firm friends. And I think they actually help each other a lot along the way. But they you know both have the same issues they’re both in love with men they’re both in relationships that you know have their problems and I think they found great friends in each other I would say that Caroline has become Demelza’s greatest friend in the series. And I think you know with the absence of Verity having moved away, I think Caroline it is that girlfriend that Demelza really needs.
Barrett: I know, I love that friendship. I love this sort of BFF thing between them. And then when Verity is there and it’s the three of them at that party at Tehidy — it’s just like they’re like Charlie’s Angels, you’ve got a redhead, a blonde and a brunette.
Eleanor: I’ve never heard them referred to as Charlie’s Angels, but that’s magnificent.
Demelza: We know our mission?
Verity: Get news of the Travail and Esmerelda, by any means necessary.
Barrett: So Demelza somehow seems to be equally at home skinning rabbits as she is waltzing in a dress in a great house. Will do you make of that contradiction, or that complexity in her?
Eleanor: Well I think it’s brilliant. I mean, it’s great for me to play because you know you get both ends of the scale: the very realistic Demelza who’s got to prepare dinner, which happens to be a skinned rabbit, and then you’ve got, you know, her trying to be a lady in a ballroom and dancing and having fun with her husband, so I think it’s brilliant. I think she she tries to fit in and does an interesting job of it. I don’t think that she ever does fully fit in, but I think that’s kind of what, certainly what I love about her.
Barrett: So viewers are thrilled that Demelza sings again this season and this time with a beautiful rendition of Love is Long…
Demelza: Do not ask me for a smile, life is short, but love is long…
Barrett: What was it like for you to film Demelza’s performance?
Eleanor: It was terrifying. All of the singing scenes are terrifying, but I loved it. It was great. I think it’s a lovely moment and I think it quite sadly mirrors that moment in series one where demands are Ross falling in love with each other and she sings to him. And I think because of the neglect that Ross has been showing her he notices that her affections have transferred on to someone else and you know it you see that that jealousy that realization of what he has lost.
Barrett: The final scene of the season is so, so sad. I love how Demelza burrows into Ross and he holds her tightly. What does this say about their characters that they hold each other in this moment of anguish?
Eleanor: I think at that point they’re on an equal level. I think they’ve both done things that have hurt the other. And I think that that is a big thing for Ross to take on board that you know she’s she’s gone off and done the same thing. Will he be able to handle that with as much grace as Demelza handled the Elizabeth situation. Will he be able to forgive her like Demelza forgave him? so it’s incredible strength shown from both of them. There’s a lot of love there. It’s a complicated relationship. No relationship is easy but I think the mere fact that she’s come home to him and I think the fact that they can end in each other’s arms albeit painful shows that there’s hope there and that they can go for together. It won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it because they love each other.
Barrett: Now you’re back at work now filming season four of Poldark which is so exciting for us. What can you tease about what’s coming up Ross and in Demelza in next season.
Eleanor: Oh my goodness. Well lots more rollercoaster emotions. Again the relationship between Ross, Elizabeth and Demelza will be pushing the limits and explored and obviously the children are now growing up, you’ve got Valentine growing up, but you’ve also got this pressure from Ross to do something about the state of Cornwall and to stand up for what he believes in. So you know, will we see that happen, will he finally you know step up to the mark and be the man that Demelza needs him to be?
Barrett: And all of Cornwall needs him to be.
Eleanor: And yes, yes, quite.
Barrett: Great I can’t wait. Well, Eleanor Tomlinson, thank you so much for joining us on the MASTERPIECE Studio.
Eleanor: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jace: Coming up next on a special bonus episode of the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast, we’ll speak again with The Durrells in Corfu star Keeley Hawes about the end of the second season of the period drama. Louisa is single — again — and staying in Corfu with her family. But is she really happy?
Keeley Hawes: Me and my family, we come in a bunch and so also that relationship probably wouldn’t have worked out for her and the children, and ultimately that’s what’s important to her.
Jace: Watch out for that episode, appearing Wednesday in your podcast feeds.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises, Farmers Insurance, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.