For the hero of a swashbuckling romantic drama, Ross and company spend an awful lot of time searching for rocks underground. But good news! They’ve found copper in the mine. And even better — Demelza is pregnant.
Barrett Brountas: It’s Christmas time in Cornwall, and our trusty Captain Ross Poldark has more than one gift to unwrap this holiday season.
Demelza: I hope you will have a little love t’ spare.
Ross: For what?
Demelza: Our child.
Barrett A new baby on the way — and a load of copper struck at last in Wheal Leisure — mean brighter days for Ross and Demelza. But Demelza must first claim her proper place in Cornish society.
John: Damn you, Ross, for keeping this rosebud a secret.
Ruth: Hardly secret, John. All the county was talking of her in June!
Demelza: Yes, ma’am. People dearly love t’ gossip, don’t they?
Barrett I’m Barrett Brountas, and this is Mining Poldark, a podcast from MASTERPIECE. Today, we’ll look at the halfway point of this first season of the series, and explore how the joys of this Christmas season might one day come to be pain points in future episodes.
And I’m joined, as always, by Robin Ellis, the original Ross Poldark from the 1970s adaptation of the series.
As is our habit, we’re going to recap the episode in fast-fashion on top, just so you can get caught up to speed.
As it opens the snobs are snubbing, Francis is bullying, Uncle Charles is dying and Elizabeth is playing the harp. And seemingly everyone else either waits for pilchards or mines for copper.
Robin It’s also about learning to courtesy and dance and set a proper table. Francis becomes lord of the manor but has doubts about his capability to fill the role
Barrett Ross yoyos between, ‘What have I done?’ and ‘Well done me.’
Robin Demelza, too expresses strong doubts about her worthiness to be Ross’s wife, and most of the world around her agrees, though Ross does his best to convince her. George is keen to get his hands on some Wheal Leisure shares. Christmas comes along with an invitation from the big house. Demelza yet again is full of fear. Ross is persuasive and she entrances. It’s a beautiful episode in which Ross learns to love again.
Barrett Oh, you’re right at the heart of it. And when I first watched this episode, the very first time I watched it, and we got to the end of it. He had finally said he loved her ,and she was pregnant and they’d found copper. I thought, ‘Well okay! We’re good. This is this is the end of the series so I don’t know what the next four episodes are gonna be all about because everything’s good now, it’s all wrapped up. What could possibly happen?’ I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Robin I mean, you know, you obviously know, that this is the end of the first book. This is how the first book, Ross Poldark, ends written all the way back in 1945.
Barrett Robin I didn’t know that. That’s amazing!
Robin: There is a sort of gathering through the last few pages of the book, and it’s beautifully done, and this is exactly what’s what’s reflected in this episode. It’s an ending of some sort. But of course it’s all left with lots of possible openings.
Barrett There are so many things about this episode that are are riveting. But aside from all that the ups and downs of the drama, you get just such a true, true sense of the place and you get such a sense of this small community. It’s just beautiful to look at, and to see these people gazing out over the cliffs just looking for the pilchards, and hoping they’re going to come in, that sense of sort of desperation. So much is riding on that. But you see these views, there’s sort of a moment of like mist in the in the field by Trenwith, and the passing of the seasons the element of nature is so strong that it’s sort of like a throughline in the episode. While all the drama of the characters go goes up and down, and you have a sense that it’s just been this way forever.
Barrett Was like that for you. Did you have an experience?
Robin I think it gave the impression there were about two sunsets a day in Cornwall. Every five minutes there’s this fantastic sunset as people as you say look out in search for pilchards. But it is very beautiful and it reflects the beauty of Cornwall. I don’t know whether you’ve been there, Barrett?
Barrett No, but I have plans, some day.
Robin Oh good. Well it is really lovely. It is as as they show it, although there are bad patches of weather now and again but it is very beautiful and very rough and very wild, that ties in with the story. There is a wildness about Ross, for instance, and he reflects the the landscape in many ways. We’re not far from Land’s End, you know, we filmed actually very near Land’s End, and you do get the feeling that they’re out on a limb in Cornwall, you know it’s right orn the southwest tip of England and you feel that they really are far away from anywhere. But you’re right it looks absolutely gorgeous and I love the frost at Christmastime, the slightly, sort of, it felt rather chilly in fact as they approached the house. And I like the fact that they actually walked from Nampara to Trenwith, which I think in the book they say is three miles, so gave it a sort of I don’t know a thoughtful feeling that they’d been through an experience of Christmas and it had been worrying but it finally had you know been a triumph and they were able to reflect on the way back on the walk, which was lovely.
Barrett I know and there was so much that goes on but I kind of I don’t. Would it be terrible if we skipped right to Christmas first, and filled in afterwards. I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas here, I don’t know.
Robin I’m not surprised. I mean it’s a great scene.
Barrett It certainly is. I mean here’s Demelza, just so worried about how she’s going to sort of perform and be perceived by Ross’s relatives. And this high class community. The worst possible thing to happen is this horrible Ruth arrives. George and Uncle Cary and Ruth and her new husband, they all party crash.
Robin They do. And she’s thwarted of course, Ruth because she set her sights on Ross, hadn’t she, and she thought he had a good chance of of capturing him, and she lost basically to her.
Barrett: She’s not just a little bitter, is she?
Robin: She’s not, she’s not, she actually very effective isn’t it, in the in the dinner scene where Demelza gives as good as she gets in fact.
Ruth: How d’you manage for servants, Elizabeth? Mama and I were only saying, young girls these days have such ideas – always trying to rise above their station!
Elizabeth: I haven’t noticed that. Perhaps you’ve been unlucky?
Ruth: Well, at least I have my own household. My poor sisters all lack husbands. And truly, beyond the age of twenty-three, what hope is there?
Demelza: I don’t believe there’s ever cause to give up hope. ‘Tis sometimes just a question of waiting.
Ruth And seizing the opportunity when it comes? I bow before your expertise, ma’am.
Robin Remarkable isn’t it? And very cruel, and Demelza, because of her experience with Verity early on in the episode which we can talk about, defends Verity very, very strongly because she feels she feels extremely caring about her. They bond wonderfully I think and it’s very believable, that bonding.
Barrett It is.
Robin: And it’s the the gateway for Demelza into a more personal feeling of comfort in this new world that she’s been introduced to, which makes her so uncomfortable. But Verity is the wonderful feet on the ground and she feels Verity is the truth, somehow and she can grab onto her. This is a different Demelza. She’s not feeling well. She’s feeling sick because she’s pregnant and so she’s very fearful that she’s going to throw up in the middle of the dinner party and eats very little which surprises Ross because Ross has seen her absolutely gulp down huge quantities of food.
Barrett Yes let’s take a moment to discuss that because while there’s no bigger fan of Ross than I, I felt like a little bit of the bloom came off the rose when she had just received her dress in a box.
Ross: What’s this?
Demelza: Jus’ something I ordered from town. No, Ross! ‘Tis meant as a surprise!
Ross: It’s just a family party. No need to flick yourself up for it.
Demelza: I asked Verity. She said it was right t’ change fer Christmas Eve.
Ross: Well, don’t lace your stays too tight. They feed you well here, and I know your appetite!
Barrett Oh! Knife in the heart. I mean, you don’t say something like that to a woman, especially when she’s feeling insecure.
Robin No I mean he’s got a bit of learning to do, hasn’t he?
Barrett It’s indefensible.
Robin He’s quite rude about her, or offhand about earlier not to her face but to remember to Margaret the goodtime girl earlier on.
Margaret: So, you love her?
Ross: We get on.
Robin He’s struggling basically. There are a couple of lovely little, tiny little shots of Ross looking at Demelza very early on. He’s on his horse, she’s collecting flowers and you see him stop on the way to Nampara and I think he’s looking at her, and then later on he comes in and she’s kneading bread and he has a long reflective look, and one wonders whether he’s thinking, ‘What have I done? or, ‘How how lovely she is!’ There’s a process going on in his in his mind which is sort of real, really. I mean, it’s it’s a fairly shocking thing that’s happened, this sudden marriage. They’ve both got to get used to it, in a way.
Barrett I wonder Robin if we’re seeing a bit of a reversal here because in the prior episodes we saw Demelza watching Ross from afar.
Barrett And now we’re seeing Ross looking at Demelza and contemplating who she is to him. And just the pleasure of observing this person.
Robin That’s nice.
Barrett a similar sort of reversal takes place in the episode where now Demelza is really struggling with her identity going from servant to wife. And this episode is really you know in large part about that journey for her to transform, and then at the end of the episode.
Ross Why do you think I married you?
Demelza I don’t rightly know.
Ross To satisfy an appetite? To save myself from being alone? Because it was the right thing to do? I had few expectations. At best you’d be a distraction, a bandage to ease a wound. But I was mistaken. You’ve redeemed me. I’m your humble servant, and I love you.
So again it’s so wonderful full circle where he’s now the servant.
Robing: Turn of the coin. Absolutely.
Barrett I feel like that moment was really earned.
Robin Like that moment was earned, I quite agree. Yeah, it rang completely true, that in a way we had to go through this episode and the doubts and and indeed, I mean the insults are thrown at him and her, of course, they both had to come through this and and the great solid moral center of the episode is his Verity who quite naturally like Demelza, sees the goodness in her and has a kind of teacher’s instinct about her really. She says she doesn’t regard Demelza as anything other than just a three dimensional human being who will become her friend and that’s a lovely kind of anchor for the relationship and the episode.
Barrett: It’s so great between them and I just know they’re going to be friends forever. That’s how Verity is. I mean, I want Verity as my own friend. I don’t know how many people like her there are in the world.
Robin Yeah, it’s great.
Barrett: That was a real high point of the episode. What were what were some of your other favorite parts that we that we had in this episode that was jam-packed with great parts.
Robin Well there’s a marvelous moment. Ross insistS that Demelza shows up at the mine and shows itself as his wife I mean quite naturally, He wants to acknowledge her as as his wife, so she turns up and she’s very awkward and Henshaw who isn’t used to being curtseyed to by fine ladies is very amused. And Ross stops her, puts put his arm down and just helps her out of the curtsy and Henshaw sort of roars with laughter in a very quiet way. It’s a lovely, lovely moment which explains an awful lot, somehow. It’s very short but it just that’s the advantage of film like that, you can do that kind of thing very convincingly. And it shows them all good in a good light. They know that there’s a problem to be solved in a sense. But it’s very sort of solvable with with with a good heart.
Barrett: Let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…
Barrett: Those wonderful moments of humor that you were describing, they are so small and subtle, and the way they do it, they’re not making Demelza the butt of a joke at all. Even though she’s behaving this way because she’s afraid of being perceived as putting on airs and she feels insecure and that sort of thing. But there’s just the most hilarious moment that I love so much. When Ross comes, the bell’s ringing and everybody’s rushing down to get to the shore to get the pilchards and Ross rides up to Nampara, and says, ‘Let’s go we’ve got to go now!’ And she says, you know, ‘What is it? What is it?’ She says, ‘I worry that I don’t please you.’ And he’s looking at her with great look of like, ‘What? What are you even talking about right now. I have no idea,’ and I think this just like, ‘We’ve got pilchards!’
Robin We got pilchards you can’t talk about that.
Barrett Yeah. Like, ‘And also by the way, I’ve never had to encounter this in my life because I have not been married, and I’ve not had to consider what someone else is thinking about or how they how they feel in a given moment when we have to go do something else right now.’ It’s so great and then he just takes it takes a second, he resets himself. But I love that look on his face, like ‘What are you even talking about? It’s pilchards o’clock, and we’ve got to go.’
Robin Absolutely. I mean it is priceless see the look on his face I remember it very well. He’s completely puzzled, but he’s genuinely puzzled, he doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about. And then he sort of realizes, but he says, ‘No no, no.’ It’s a wonderful moment. These little tiny moments of of progress in a sense, or moments that will lead to progress in the relationship
Barrett And Ido think also Robyn that that that the pilchards is one such of those moments. It is so important for them, when they go down there and it’s just they are part of the community, together, and they’re side by side working toward this common goal. Everybody is just like exuberant and filled with joy, because this thing is happening now, what they need in order to really survive the winter, and they are all hands on deck. And the fact that Ross and Demelza are together side by side, and then as people leave, the people of the community begin to see them together.
Robin The this occupation of dealing with these millions of pilchards, the lifesaving harvest of pilchards and the joy it brings, they’re so pleased to be able to be to express joy, which in a sense maybe they don’t know it fully at the moment, but expresses their own feelings about each other in a sense you know they’re joyful with each other but they haven’t found a way of expressing it. So this this this harvest, this huge harvest of these pilchards, a quarter of a million of them which have to be collected in about five minutes for the community to survive is is a wonderful wonderful way of of expressing their own joy of each other, without really kind of even knowing that that’s what it is. They needed some kind of explosion, and this provided it, an explosion of joy and relief of tension you know the tension because it is very tense for them both.
Barrett I guess I have to ask before we finish up with pilchards….Have you ever tried a pilchard in your days playing Ross.
Robin I have yeah. Oh we’re probably probably stargazy pies the pilchard pie where all the little you know you’ve seen those haven’t you? With the pictures of the the fish round the round the side of the pie. I love pilchards, I mean I think they’re like sardines, basically they’re more or less the same fish. I adore them. And Cornwall now is of course is famous for fish restaurants, I mean they’re all over Cornwall and they’re supplied beautifully with the local catch. I adore. I cook sardines here, they’re very plentiful.
Barrett Well I’ll make that up. I’ll put that on my to do list when I go to Cornwall some day. Good to have some stargazy pie
Robin Stargazy pie, absolutely.
Barrett: Let’s talk about the song, this is just such a big deal.
Robin: Yes, beautiful, beautiful song and a great risk. But she has been practicing, hasn’t she? I mean she’s very adventurous in that sense and going into the secret room and finding the spinet or the harpsichord and finding the music and finding the song, and so she is prepared and a tremendously brave moment.
Demelza: (Singing) I’d a pluck a fair rose for my love, I’d a pluck a red rose blowing. Love’s in my heart and trying so to prove what your heart’s knowing.
Robin She sings it in this beautiful natural way, which just knocks everybody out. I mean she actually stuns everybody because they’re not expecting it, they’re expecting her, you know, like at the dinner table to make a fool of herself and they’re expecting, ‘Oh wow she’s going to sing a song, this’ll be fun,’ and she comes up trumps, and it’s just terrific
Barrett in this scene another another way. Her singing is so powerful is that you see that it really strikes each of them —Ross is transfixed and just filled with the wonder of her but also Francis hears Demelza singing about love. And it sort of breaks into Francis a little, he’s become so brittle and bitter. We have a moment of his vulnerability, and then Elizabeth, also reacting to Demelza singing about love. It’s an important moment for all four of them, as Demelza, you know, first she’s nervous she’s not looking at anyone, and then she fixes her gaze on Ross and sings about love to Ross, and so there’s that communication through their gazes and then Francis, and then Elizabeth. It’s sad for those two, even though it’s really sort of magical for Ross and just so vulnerable and truthful or Demelza. It certainly is telling us a lot.
Robin It certainly is. And it’s the moment that Ross really falls in love with her, I think. She’s she’s impressed him enormously with the dress. You know, he’s stunned, really, when when she walks in the room. It’s, ‘My word, my word, my word.’ And then just listening to her, on the various levels, listening to her sing which he enjoys and admires and is astonished by, but then he certainly gets the vibe that everybody else is stunned. And so it does the trick on many levels and it just pushes him over into, I think, ‘I do love this girl I really do. She is something special.’ And there’s the other one, right by her side, that’s the wonderful thing, there’s Elizabeth, who he thought he was destined for. And he finds himself a changed man, in a sense, and it’s a great moment, and it’s through a very positive thing that Demelza does, a very brave thing.
Barrett It is, but as you say, there is Elizabeth, right there by her side, and buckle up viewers, because this is not entirely resolved. Right. He does love Demelza. Does that mean that this whole thing is resolved now? Sadly no. His struggles aren’t over.
Robin I don’t think his emotional struggles are over, no. His business struggle certainly aren’t over.
Barrett Right! His business struggles may just be beginning. What does it mean that they’ve struck copper?
Robin It means that they’ve gone through the iron, the thing that was really holding them up, and they found a very rich seam of copper, but they are the producers, they are the people who dig it out, and they still have to sell it, basically, and they don’t control the price. So they do that the hard bit and then they then the difficult bit happens, which is the trading of it the the selling of it. And that is very difficult as we will discover in future in future episodes.
Barrett: Before we wrap up, in this episode — Ross Poldark: hero or hater?
Robin: Well I think he’s still a hero because of you know he does the right thing thing by Elizabeth.But as you said early on in this chat we’re having, there are some fairly shocking moments where he displays a sort of very macho kind of male thing, which isn’t very attractive really. And so one does feel that he has, he’s got he’s still got a bit of a journey to make. But I think he ends up a hero.
Barrett: Me too. one thing I like about him is that he admits he admits when he’s wrong.
Robin: He does he does he’s a three dimensional character. Yeah, he does, he can eat his words.
Barrett: Well he’d better open wide for eating his words. ‘Is she beautiful? ‘In a way.’ Oh Ross
Robin: ‘In a way.’ What a terrible thing to say! I mean, appalling. ‘We get on.’
Barett I’ll never get over it. You and I will be talking about like, season five episode seven and I’ll still probably be referring to him saying to the prostitute, ‘In a way yeah she’s beautiful, in a way.’ Oh no.What can we expect on our next episode. I think that we can expect a christening party, and a Warleggan house party. I’m expecting Andrew Blamey to sail back into the picture and for Francis to risk everything
Robin: Yes, it becomes extremely dramatic in a very short space of time, and very entertainingly so in the next episode. very much looking forward to discussing that with you.
Barrett: Well it’s been so so nice to discuss this beautiful episode, that is, as you say just all about love. And I can’t wait to speak again about Poldark season one, episode five when next we speak.
Robin Me. Me too. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to it.
Barrett In the next episode of Poldark’s first season, a new daughter, a new county doctor and the return of Verity’s sea captain sweetheart…
Andrew: All these years I’ve thought of none but you – I’ve waited – in the hope that one day.
Verity: I cannot bear it, Andrew. Are we to endure it all again? The parting – and the heartache?
Andrew: No, no the parting. I swear to you — never the parting.
Barrett That’s next time on Mining Poldark.
And you can join us in our rewatching adventure here on Mining Poldark by watching the entire series on PBS Passport — a new member benefit from your local PBS station. You can watch select MASTERPIECE titles like Poldark, Downton Abbey or Victoria as a part of the Passport experience. To learn more, visit pbs.org/getpassport.
You can also follow along with us on the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel, available as an add-on service to your Amazon Prime membership.
Mining Poldark is hosted by me, Barrett Brountas, with co-host Robin Ellis. We’re produced by Nick Andersen, with help from Robyn Bissette. Meredith Wheeler is our field producer. Tina Tobey-Mack is our sound designer. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises, Raymond James and The MASTERPIECE Trust.
Poldark is a Mammoth Screen production for BBC, co-produced with MASTERPIECE.
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