In lemon silks and too-tight breeches, the Reverend Osborne Whitworth is the gaudiest member of Poldark’s core cast. With extravagant tastes and a limited budget, the Reverend turns to darker quarters to fulfill his incessant appetites. Actor Christian Brassington, who put on more than 35 pounds to play the hefty Ossie, used careful voicework to find his place in the character — along with a diet of more than 3,500 calories per day. Hear the true story behind one of Poldark’s most reprehensible characters here.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
The Reverend Osborne Whitworth is the lowest of the low in Cornwall, brutally assaulting his wife Morwenna and pushing to commit her to an insane asylum when she refuses his advances.
Ossie: Of late, I’ve noticed a marked deterioration in her behavior — periods of profound melancholy, suffers increasingly from the most alarming delusions and continues to refuse me my conjugal rights. All of which leads me to conclude that she’s beyond help and would be better off in an institution.
Jace: But this week on Poldark, Reverend Whitworth finally gets his just desserts from the most unlikely of sources. Arthur, the cuckolded husband of his sister-in-law, Rowella, frightens Ossie’s horse and ends up sending him to an early grave.
Arthur: Reverend Whitworth.
Ossie: What do you want?
Arthur: This is what I want.
Jace: Christian Brassington truly went all-in to play the awful Ossie, gaining weight and growing out his hair to illustrate the vile Reverend’s overfed image of depraved nobility.
Christian Brassington: I think his appetite is endless. He can never really be satisfied…He has gone through his entire life expecting everything to happen for him the moment he clicks his fingers or demands it.
Jace: Brassington joined us to discuss how it felt to play the repulsive Ossie, what he’ll look forward to now that he’s through with Poldark, and how Ossie’s toe fetish came to life on the screen.
And this week we are joined by Poldark star Christian Brassington. Welcome.
Christian: Hello, thank you.
Jace: Christopher Biggins, who played Ossie in the 1970s adaptation, was voted the most hated man in England for his performance. Did you have any trepidation about stepping into Ossie’s rather large shoes?
Christian: I didn’t have any trepidation, because the part is so wonderful, and I think that when you start on a show like Poldark, you don’t quite realise the impact that it has. Not that I’m saying I would change anything now, but I dived in headfirst because It’s such a wonderful character and such a treat to play, so didn’t worry about that particularly and I also think that if you do become the most hated man on television, if that’s a moniker that can be applied then who decides that quite then I think we’ve probably done our job, because he is vile and he is hateful, so I could maybe take it as a perverse compliment.
Jace: Given the public reaction to Christopher Biggins in the 1970s, have you been recognized in the streets and been shouted at by any angry Poldark fans?
Christian: I haven’t, no because between series I lose the weight and I grow a beard, and so I don’t think anyone really recognizes me. Up until recently where I had to have my beard shaved my hair cut for a role in a movie, and rather alarmingly, as soon as that happened, people started coming up to me in the streets and saying, ‘Oh you’re that awful vicar from Poldark, aren’t you?’ So it’s starting to happen a lot more frequent I’m not sure how happy I about that but so far people have been slightly wary but polite.
Jace: True or false: it was your own decision to gain weight for the role, rather than the producer’s?
Christian: True, yes, true, but he is, I mean he is overweight. It says in the book that he crushes his pregnant wife Morwena in the most horrific circumstances imaginable. So I think that if we hadn’t embraced that side of his physicality, then we’d have been doing a disservice to the writing, I think. But certainly nobody said ‘You can only do this job if you put on two and a half stone,’ no one, no one ever did that to me. No, I wasn’t forced into it.
Jace: To get to that point you had to eat a diet of 3,500 calories a day to bulk up. What was that process like?
Christian: Well the 3,500-calorie-a-day process was for series 3 and that was pretty good most of the time I just went for it. I was eating burgers and drinking beer and pizzas and going out for curries and just having an amazing time and never limited limiting myself, you know, you if you want a doughnut, have a doughnut, then have another one, or have some ice cream so that was kind of great fun. However, I didn’t feel particularly healthy. So for series four, we approached it in a much more scientific way, and I worked with a nutritionist called Lucy Jones, and her husband, who’s a personal trainer called Neil Eldin and for this series it was 4,000 calories a day of healthier food. It was healthy food, it was just an awful lot of it, and lots of heavy weights squats and deadlifts to try and put on as much muscle mass, as well as the inevitable fat when you eating that much and not running or doing any cardio. So series three, a lot of fun, didn’t feel very healthy. Series four was a lot of hard work, but I think that I was kinder to my body doing it in that way.
Jace: And did you just lose the weight immediately as soon as you stopped that that diet?
Christian: You have an insurance period after you stop filming, where you have to maintain your appearance essentially, just in case you need to go back. And then after that, I got straight on in the gym twice a day, working with a personal trainer again and really watching my diet. And then that’s been slightly interrupted by a film that I’ve just done where my character was described as being portly. So I thought, ‘Well I’d better not go too crazy with it,’ so I paused it slightly, but we’ll be getting back on it now. To really, to yeah, get rid of the very last vestiges of Ossie, because that’s not someone you want to carrying around with you in your day to day life.
Jace: For many Poldark viewers the name Ossie has become synonymous with ‘toe-sucking monster.’ What did you make of the character of Osborne when you first read the scripts for season three?
Christian: So my initial reaction was that I sort of I could hear his voice very clearly. I remember very distinctly reading the script for the first time, and hearing his voice very clearly, and realizing that he was larger than life, realizing that he had this enormous appetite for everything, and then the speech I remember, it was a scene where I’m trying to woo Elise Chappell Morwena, and I talk about myself, I just bang on and on and on about myself, and there’s a moment where I just, it just changes very quickly and he says you will be mine or words to that effect, this will happen. There’s no choice for you in this matter.
Ossie: I felt at once that you’d be sent to console me, to be a new mother to my two daughters, to comfort me as only a wife can. And now I know that my sentiments are returned…
Morwena: I’m not at all sure they are returned.
Ossie: Your hesitancy does you credit. All decent women approach matrimony with a degree of shyness, but as a man of feeling, and a man of God, I assure you my love will be returned.
Christian: That was that moment of thinking oh there’s real darkness here as well as the ridiculous frippery and extravagance that was the moment where I thought okay this is this is a really wonderful part. This is a real gift for an actor to be able to play the slightly buffoonish person but who is actually a monster underneath.
Jace: How odious did you set out to make Ossie in that scene?
Christian: I didn’t set out to make him odious at all. I think as an actor if you start trying to play the evil in somebody, or the badness in somebody, then it very quickly becomes a bit of a caricature which you have to be so careful with Osborne Whitworth, because he is larger than life, and he is you know, almost a caricature but in his own time. So I didn’t set out to be odious at all or to be evil or to be unpleasant. I just tried to commit as fully as possible to the to what was in the script, to what was asked of the character. And in a moment like that, where he does change, he’s just completely convinced of that aspect of that happening that you just have to play that truth with it, I think.
Jace: It’s been said that Ossie quote, ‘has champagne tastes on a beer income.’
Jace: Is that ultimately what’s at conflict within the character, his inability to satisfy his hunger with what’s available to him?
Christian: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think that’s exactly it. I think his appetite is endless. He can never really be satisfied. I think that he has such a sense of self-importance because of his family’s aristocratic name, which accounted for so much in the circles that he moved in in those times. He has gone through his entire life expecting everything to happen for him the moment he clicks his fingers or demands it. So when that doesn’t happen, his temper is very quick and he quickly flies into a rage in order to make what he wants happen more quickly or so he hopes.
Jace: Given as we’ve discussed that you gained a lot of weight to play the lemon-silked Ossie, how difficult was it to leave the character on the set once you finished filming each day? Did he stick around with you?
Christian: I think that not in a very obvious way, but the way in which I was able to get back into the character for series four made me do a sort of double take, if you like, and think well, hold on, this guy is within me somewhere. It’s quite alarming to think that you create this person. Obviously the script and the story have a huge amount to do with the creation of a character, but the physical embodiment of him and the voice and the tics and nuances that he has as a person, or my portrayal of him, which I hope, I hope he has, that does come from within you, and that is slightly alarming thing that I carry this person around. I don’t know that there’s anything in me that similar to Osborne. My goodness, I hope there’s nothing in me which is similar to Osborne, but I do know that both my actual wife and Elise Chappell, my work wife, did not like it when I ever did the voice off set. They did not like that. That wasn’t a joke which went down very well. It’s not like, that’s that’s not a welcome surprise to hear that voice around you when you’re not expecting it there’s a scene where with Elise in series three where I sidle up behind her.
Ossie: Would you prefer Oxford or Bath?
Morwena: For what, sir?
Ossie: Our honeymoon?
Morwena: I’d prefer not to speak of such of thing
Ossie: All the more to tease me.
Morwena: I pray you, do not imagine.
Ossie: Oh but I do, my dear. All the time.
Christian: And I make Elise’s Morwena jump by doing that. So for a little while I thought it was funny to do that during filming days. But yes she didn’t like it very much, so I stopped.
Jace: On the subject of Elise Chappell — what is it like acting opposite Elise, and what did she bring to those harrowing scenes of the two of them together?
Christian: I could wax lyrical for hours about Elise. I was so, so lucky to have my sparring partner in Poldark be her. She’s an incredibly natural, talented actor. Her commitment is just fantastic and that lends itself to a fantastic portrayal of Morwena which she has delivered. But also it means that Elise gets really into the scenes you know, you’re there together and as an actor playing opposite her, that’s wonderful because you’re there, you’re there together you’re in these moments and you can, you’re feeding off each other. But we also had to do some really awful stuff, some horrific abusive scenes and it can be distressing to see somebody who you care about, who you become very good friends with, to see somebody that upset and distressed. And it’s tough stuff, to watch but it’s as testament to her commitment and talent and skill as an actor but she went to those places. But generally it was an absolute joy, both on and off screen.
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Jace: What do you make of Ossie’s treatment of Morwena, and does he see her as less a human being, and more of a possession or thing?
Christian: What I make of Ossie’s treatment of her as a person living in the 21st century is that he’s a monster. He’s completely unrepentant after committing these awful acts. I suppose the thing that I find quite disturbing about him is that there’s no sense or there’s no notion that he’s doing anything wrong. I don’t think he wakes up the next morning after committing these awful, awful crimes and has a think to himself, and thinks, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. That was an awful thing to do,’ even, or even questions himself. I think that as you said, he views his wife as chattel, as somebody who is at his beck and call who is now his wife so she has no say without his giving permission for anything to happen. I think he does very much view her like that, yeah, as a possession. And it’s awful, and she’s completely trapped because there’s no there’s no empathy in the man. I don’t think. It’s just complete self involvement.
Jace: Ossie turns his attentions to Morwena’s flirtatious sister Rowella to fulfill his sexual desire. What does Rowella offer him, and does he not see that she’s clearly manipulating him?
Christian: I don’t think he’s very bright. I think that he gives his outward projection of being this very cultured, you know, wonderful man who thinks he’s God’s gift, if you’ll pardon the pun, but I don’t think he knows when he’s being played. I don’t think he knows when he’s being played by George Warleggan, and I certainly don’t think he knows when he’s being played by Rowella Chynoweth either. I think that this beautiful young lady comes into their household, and he can’t help himself. He just has no self-control whatsoever. So I don’t think that he does realize he’s being played, I think until it’s too late, when she’s blackmailing him and saying, you know ‘We’ll talk about your home your pig’s tail mole on your buttocks.’ And thereby then, it’s too late to hand over the cash. And of course he’s he’s furious about it, he’s impotently furious about it. But there’s nothing he can do by that point because he’s been he’s been played.
Jace: I have to ask about the toe-sucking scene in season three.
Christian: Good, good.
Jace: What’s it like filming this with Esme Coye, who plays Rowella?
Christian: Well it wasn’t Esme’s toes, who I was sucking, she only had to endure me sort of staring at them and licking my lips lasciviously, rather than actually have anything to do with that. We did have a couple of risque scenes but thankfully we avoided that. No the toe-sucking scene, I mean, what do, you just have to go for it. There’s no way around it. It wasn’t a prosthetic. That would have been nicer should’ve suggested that maybe we could have a prosthetic? But yeah, there was no way around it you just had to go for it and hope that we got it in one or two takes and didn’t have to keep doing it too often. Not my most favorite scene I’ve ever filmed. But, my goodness, did it get a reaction.
Jace: One viewer said of that scene quote, ‘I think I’ll need bleach to cleanse my mind after witnessing that second scene. Why Poldark, why?’ What did you make of the audience reaction on social media to that scene?
Christian: I think that encapsulates perfectly the reaction that we would want to that scene. What I would say to the people complaining about watching it is, try doing it, and then see if it’s any worse. I know which one I’d choose: I’d rather be watching it than having to do it, I think.
Jace: I mean interestingly, that scene was filmed, but actually never aired in the 1970s adaptation, as the BBC felt it was too quote, ‘racy’ to air.
Jace: Do you feel like a pioneer in that respect?
Christian: Do I feel like a pioneer? I’m not sure it’s the same thing as stepping foot on the moon but I’ve got to say…
Jace: Still involves feet!
Christian: Yeah still about. Yeah. One small one small well suck for man. I’m pleased it got the reaction. I think it’s so informative for the character, for his rampant sexual appetite, for his appetite for all things so I don’t know whether I feel like a pioneer. I’m sure there have been…I mean The Big Lebowski that featured feet quite heavily. There was there was feet on the poster for The Big Lebowski, I think, but I don’t think I don’t think anyone had to put that foot in their mouth. So maybe maybe I’m a pioneer. Maybe that’ll be on my gravestone.
Jace: Foot fetishist pioneer.
Christian: Yeah. Yeah.
Jace: Ossie learned that Rowella wasn’t pregnant with his child. Does he believe that she lost the baby or does he actually suspect that she faked her pregnancy to get leverage over him?
Christian: I think the way that we played in that scene. I think he’s furious with her instantly. I think he realizes again that he is being completely played and I think he sort of realized quite quickly what she’s done. That it was all an act. But of course again he can’t help himself he can’t see the error of his ways and all she needs to do or what it needs to do is give him a little smile and then he’s you know weak at the knees once again and that the smile that Esme Coye delivers as Rowella in that in that market scene was a thing of brilliance. You know we speak about that often because it was just a wonderful a wonderful moment for me. And then Ossie can’t himself yet again.
Jace: He hatches a plot to commit Morwena one that Dwight won’t go along with. What does he hope to achieve by having Morwena committed?
Dwight: Sir, as Mrs. Whitworth’s husband, you are of course entitled to have her put away but I question why you would wish to? She performs her household and parrish duties admirably…
Ossie: But her conjugal duties, don’t you see. As you know, sir, I’m in holy office, therefore my position is delicate. If took the step of incarcerating my wife, possibly for life, I’d be reluctant to have the matter come to the attention of the Bishop, or my parisonhers, if I alone was responsible. That’s why the sanction of a physician is of the utmost importance.
Dwight: I see that, sir. And I trust you’ll not easily find such a man.
Christian: I think that he is is trying to satisfy his desires all the time. And I think that Morwena, obviously tragically in love with Drake, stands up to him as much as she possibly can, because the plan never comes to fruition. I wonder whether he was trying to get her committed so that he could was then free from her, could get divorced, could go and find another victim, or whether he was going to use that as some blackmailing device saying to her, ‘If you don’t let me have what I want, I’m going to have you committed.’ I think it’s either one of those things we never quite see what happens at the end of it. But he’s very determined and it’s only Dwight’s good nature that that stops him from doing it. And that as a lover saying I love filming that scene with Luke Norris where Ossie is trying to persuade Dwight of the need for Morwenna to be committed. And Dwight has obviously suffered this horrific heartache that’s happened to him, just he’s the worst mental place imaginable. And you know, I don’t know how he manages not to swing for Ossie, If I’m honest at that point, but it was a lovely scene to film with another lovely actor.
Jace: I thought it very interesting that it’s not the longsuffering Morwena or the heartbroken Drake that actually do Ossie in, but it’s rather Rowella’s rather milquetoast husband. Why do you feel it’s important that Ossie’s undoing is his carelessness with Rowella?
Christian: I think that he needs to get his comeuppance, doesn’t he? I think that he is so vile and so awful, that the only way that we can have any closure on his story is for him to die in a pretty horrific, and also slightly ridiculous way. And I think that it is right, as you say, that his undoing comes from his dalliance with a married woman — who is also his wife’s sister, by the way — I think that it is right. And it is fitting, and it’s good, I’m glad that, you know the meek Arthur Solway us the one that eventually leads to his demise because he’s been so dismissive of Arthur for the entire time he’s been on the scene. So yeah, there’s a sort of mini fist bump, that Arthur Solway manages to be the one that essentially does him in. Yeah.
Jace: But it’s not exactly a battle royale between the two of them fighting with a riding crop and a candlestick, and then Ossie gets his foot stuck in his horse’s stirrup, and he’s dragged to death.
Jace: What was it like shooting this rather ridiculous, yet very brutal fight scene?
Christian: Well it was lovely to be on Aramis, who is the black stallion who I was riding. But I’m going to level with you, most of the sort of stunt man stuff was done by a stunt man. So I was on the horse, and we did the sort of swinging about with the riding crop and the candlestick, but the actual dragging on the ground that was done by a stunt man. And when I watched it, I was pleased it wasn’t me and that costume makeup department did an incredible job of turning this very handsome, slim stuntman into the odious, toad-like Osborne Wentworth on the horse. So I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it. I had to do slightly more than I thought I was going to do. I did have to sort of fall backwards off the horse, although not quite to the ground, which in a way was somehow somehow scarier. They do a very clever knot on one of the stirrups, which mean that you can’t physically fall back from the horse, but you still have to throw your body off the back of a horse, and if you can visualize it, when you’re sat on either side of a horse, you throw your body back over the side of the horse so that your left leg ends up on the saddle and you are hanging from the back of the horse, you know, sort of arms dangling just above the ground down there. And at that moment as I was hanging there, completely helpless, I did think, ‘If this horse decides to run now, this might be an actual death scene, as opposed to a fictional death scene.’ So that was slightly more than I was expecting, and I will remember forever that that line being uttered to me of, ‘So if you could just throw yourself back off the horse now, that would be great.’ Right, we’re really go for this. But yeah it was a good day, and a lovely, incredibly well-trained horse, thankfully.
Jace: I mean the entire thing would be almost humiliating if it hadn’t been fatal which I think is perhaps the most fitting end for Ossie imaginable, to be humiliated in death.
Christian: Yes absolutely. I agree. It’s a humiliating end because he him and his mother boast about his ability as a writer, and how you know he would love the idea of everyone thinking of him being an expert rider and horseman. So the fact that what kills him is is a mistake, essentially, him getting his foot caught in the saddle and being dragged away. And it is slightly ridiculous. I mean it’s also pretty awful and a not a very pleasant way to go, I’m sure. But it’s slightly ridiculous, and I’m pleased about that. I think that the things he’s done to humiliate other people, it’s kind of fitting that he’s humiliated right at the very end as well.
Jace: His body is discovered in the woods by two miners. Was it easy playing a corpse?
Christian: No it wasn’t easy, playing a corpse. No. Because the ground was very wet, and there was a breeze blowing through. So you were trying to lie there with your with your eyes open. And I had a foot in the stirrup but it had to be in a suit of slightly odd angle and noted that it would stay in there, that it was still attached. And it was in a what they call a deadman’s knot or deadman’s loop? I can’t remember the exact phrase, very technical. So if Aramis decided to wander off, then the foot gets released from the stirrup, and we just we just reset. And that was fine, apart from on the take where it didn’t release, and Aramis had had enough of standing around waiting for me to be able to keep my eyes open in the breeze and started to wander off. And I did try and stay still for as long as I possibly could but I thought, oh I thought, ‘Oh, my foot going to break here, if I don’t shout,’ so I sort of yelled. Then everyone jumped in and they saved it, so I don’t know quite what is going on there. So for what was essentially a scene where I was lying down on the floor, I made it more difficult than it probably should have been.
Jace: I love the casting here of Rebecca Front as Ossie’s mother, Lady Whitworth, who might be almost as calculating and callous as Ossie himself. What was it like working with Rebecca?
Christian: Wonderful. I’ve been a big fan of her’s for many, many years. I was slightly intimidated, I think, meeting her for the first time but she’s such a lovely person when she’s not playing Lady Whitworth, that she quickly put any fears about that aside, and it was it was wonderful working with her. I wish we’d been able to do more together but I can’t tell you how different a person Rebecca is from from Lady Whitworth. She’s a lovely lady who invites you round for lunch and her and her husband cook you lovely food rather than this evil witch-like person who harasses Morwena and tries to ruin her life after we think she might finally be free.
Jace: Ossie’s excess isn’t limited to food, drink or sex. He’s also the most flamboyantly and expensively attired character on the show. What did you make of Ossie’s costumes?
Christian: I loved them. I did enjoy wearing them, I enjoyed the flamboyance of them. I think the costume department quite liked it. I think Howard and his team quite liked being able to have a bit of flamboyance with one of the male characters, because suddenly someone’s coming in he spends all his income, meager or not, on clothes so I think they they quite enjoyed it. And I loved it when a new waistcoat would arrive, and they would say, ‘Oh, we’ve made you a new waistcoat,’ a new one would arrive and I’d say, ‘Oh that’s very nice,’ but yeah, the lemon silk waistcoat was my absolute favorite. I just wish that they could have been worn by me when I wasn’t in that sort of shape. And when I wasn’t playing such an awful character, because the costumes were really lovely and some beautifully cut pieces although all cut slightly too small for me, to accentuate my curves, shall we say. So they were all pretty tight, these costumes, to the point whereby if I put my costume on in the wrong order, you know, in life you put your shoes on last. But when you are playing Ossie in the costume you have to put them on quite early in the process because once you’ve done up your britches, they’re so tight that you can’t bend down to put them on. So during filming days, I would sort of be sat at a funny angle like a like a plank of wood because I couldn’t quite bend at the waist while we were filming because everything was so tight. It’s all glamor, it’s all glamor, I tell you.
Jace: Looking back at the last two seasons of Poldark, do you have a favorite scene?
Christian: While there were a lot of scenes to choose from. A scene that I really enjoy which is very brief, is the tailor scene. That is just Ossie in full flow, he’s being measured for his wedding suit. No idea that his wife doesn’t want to marry him, or if he has got any idea, he doesn’t care and is just much more interested in the clothes than about her feelings. So I think that was a very fun thing, I remember that being a very fun brief scene to do. And almost every scene with Elise as Morwena, we just we just had such a great time sparring with each other. It was I enjoyed that back and forth so much in trying to find all the little moments in it. And you know I’m always drinking or eating something, that was all great fun. Yeah. The reason I say almost all is that there were some pretty difficult scenes and you couldn’t ever say that they were good fun to film. But on the whole my favorite scenes were Ossie and Morwena and their back and forth. There was a treat.
Jace: Christian Brassington thank you so much.
Christian: Thank you very much. It’s been great. Thank you.
If you’ve watched MASTERPIECE Mystery! In the past 38 years, you’ve seen the spooky, Victorian-style line drawings that make up the series’ distinctive title sequence. The drawings come from the genius mind of illustrator Edward Gorey, and our producer, Nick Andersen, visited Gorey’s house on Cape Cod to learn more about the man behind Mystery!’s macabre and unforgettable opening scenes.
Check your podcast feeds this Wednesday, October 31st for a special Halloween bonus episode from the Edward Gorey House and Museum in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. And also tune in Sunday, November 11 for an interview with The Durrells in Corfu star Alexis Georgouils.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises and The MASTERPIECE Trust.
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