Maybe public social functions aren’t where Ross Poldark shines, but his wife, Demelza, is the talk of the town at a fancy Warleggan ball. Not that we blame the morose Ross — his efforts to save Jim Carter from jail are for naught, and young Jim dies in his hands.
Blamey: Your sister is not to be commanded. And nor am I.
Francis: Then perhaps you’ll take this as an inducement. I forbid you ever to see him again.
Barrett: As pestilence plagues the Bodmin Jail, Ross and Dr. Enys ride in to try and save poor Jim Carter. But, because this is Cornwall in the late 18th Century, they fail.
Dwight: He might survive the fever, but this arm…
Ross: Is it gangrene? It must come off.
Dwight: He won’t survive.
Barrett: George Warleggan continues his relentless pursuit of financial and social dominance, hosting a fancy ball for all the well-to-dos and don’ts of the county. A stunning Demelza Poldark is the belle of the ball.
Mrs. Chynoweth: Who is that young person dancing with Sir Hugh? She’s quite lovely, don’t you think?
Elizabeth: That’s Demelza, mama. Ross’s wife.
Barrett: And Ross, being Ross, gambles it all away in a drunken card game with a cheat.
I’m Barrett Brountas, and this is Mining Poldark, a podcast from MASTERPIECE.
I’m joined, as always, by the indomitable Robin Ellis, the original Ross Poldark from the original 1970s MASTERPIECE adaptation of the series.
Hello Robin, it’s great to speak with you again!
Robin Ellis: Hi Barrett, good to speak to you too!
Barrett: And as always, Robin and I are going to try and break down the sixth episode of the series as fast as we both can.
Barrett: Episode six revolves around two scandalous events. The Bodmin breakout and the ball that show Ross growing into his role as the champion of the oppressed and the ruffler of very important feathers. He breaks Jim out of jail.
Robin: How will this go down with his fellow gentry magistrates?
Barrett: Exposes the cards sharp Sanson as a cheat but to what avail? Jim dies insensate and George Warleggan is only more vindictive after the humiliation of his affiliation with Sanson.
Robin: Keren Daniel recently married to Mark casts her roving eye in Dwight’s direction and sees a ladder to climb a dangerous liaison. Verity throws caution to the winds and decides to go for it with her seafarer but still doesn’t tell Francis. She’ll regret that. Ross embarks on a five day bender and risks losing reputation fortune and freedom. A course of action not entirely out of character. Demelza though finds her feet they are firmly on the ground reminds herself how to dance and emerges from her chrysalis. She can’t wait to go to the ball where she proves a match for Ruth Teague and social put downs, and impresses the leering local squires. The ball at the Warleggans is a grand affair with all Cornish high society parading to be noticed. And then there’s the Carnmore Copper Company which gets off to a good enough start to make George and Cary Warleggan very angry indeed. Danger writ large.
Barrett: It’s true danger is really the name of the game in this episode, you’re absolutely right. And we should get right into it, we should mine the gems of this episode.
Robin: Ah very nice. Yes.
Barrett: So one of the first things that delighted me about this episode and struck me was Francis wielding his very first scythe. Growing his very first blisters and having a big tantrum about it. Francis. It was so fun to see him sort of suffering in that way after he’s been such a big baby and so cruel to Elizabeth and Verity. But I think he also serves as a real counter to someone like Jim who has worked his whole life. And is now suffering for the consequences of struggling really.
Robin: No you’re right it’s a real contrast to see Francis take his shirt off he actually doesn’t take his shirt off. But if you know what I mean change his clothes and get down and dirty basically. I mean he’s in the fields and he’s scything and it doesn’t suit him. I mean he doesn’t enjoy it and it makes him in the end very angry. But I have a tremendous sympathy for Francis. You know it’s tricky his character doesn’t suit change I don’t think. He’s very stuck in his ways as we’ll see in this this episode and to see him like that is you have to have some sympathy for him. He does love Ross and it’s very tricky for him. A little sympathy for Francis.
Barrett: Yeah, a little sympathy for Francis…well, the jury’s still out on on that one for me.
Robin You’re struggling a bit. Okay, you may persuade me.
Barrett: One of the things that we learn about in this episode is that there is all kinds of rioting going on among the miners and the people of Cornwall who are suffering from hunger. So they’re rioting. Mines have been closing left and right and the jails are full to bursting with people who have been sent to prison for writing and with those full jails comes disease. And we’re hearing a lot about that. Ross starts to get worried about Jim. Remember Jim? I should hope you remember Jim. Because your character sent him to prison.
Robin: You know Ross is absolutely wracked with guilt about how he behaved in front of the magistrates. This thing that is so important to Ross it comes up in the first scene that when Ross arrives in the field where Francis is doing the scything and Francis says wryly with a little laugh, “You’ll never get it, Ross.” Ross says, “What? Justice for all?” And that’s really what Ross is after. And it’s with him all the time. The injustice. He’s with them all the time. He works with the miners. He goes down the mine. He builds the house that Mark Daniel’s built. He helped in that. He’s you know he’s this jacket off sleeves rolled up person and doesn’t care about social niceties in that sense. And it makes him very angry.
Barrett: He’s angry and he wants to take action. His character is one who takes action right. So he just decides that he’s going to get Jim out of prison. He’s going to take Dwight they’re going to ride over to the prison. He’s going to channel Obi Wan Kenobi with the prison guard…
Ross: Good evening to you, sir. Dr. Enys is here to attend on James Carter.
Jailer: Eh? What’s that?
Ross: James Carter, the typhus. Be so good as to let us in so we may show you our papers. There’s not a moment to lose, sir.
Barrett: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. He’s doing his Jedi force in order to get the the guard to open the prison door and they get in there and they take Jim out.
Robin: Without much problem, really. I mean it’s but it’s pretty gruesome and grim in there isn’t it. Golly.
Barrett: Oh it’s so terrible. Probably being an inmate at Bodmin Jail is no picnic to begin with but now there’s typhus. Poor Jim his arm has gangrene and they get the guy out. His suffering is unbearable. And when they discover that he has gangrene on his arm. Please remind me never to appoint Ross Poldark as my health care proxy. Ross says to Dr. Dwight take the arm off. Even though Dwight says he won’t survive it. Oh it’s just it’s just god awful.
Robin: Yeah. Again it’s it’s Ross’s horror and guilt at thinking God this guy is going to die and I’m going to be responsible and try anything but fortunately for us the audience we don’t actually see that happen. It’s a relief. But poor Jim, yeah it’s the end for him. So close to the end of his sentence too. That’s the the awful thing I think the time sequences is a bit difficult to follow but it seems like he’s only got weeks to go and then the fever attacks the jail and there it is the end.
Barrett: Oh no you’re right I didn’t realize that he had almost completely served his sentence. That makes it all the more tragic.
Robin: Yeah. Well you remember rather sweet scene with Ginny at the top. She’s marking off the weeks that he’s been in jail off that wall near the front door is covered and so he can’t have long to go.
Barrett: Right she asks Demelza, “Do you think he’ll be changed?”
Robin: Yeah. Yeah you’re right. Yeah.
Barrett: So sad. So Ross is in a very dark place a very very dark place after Jim’s death.
Robin: I could commit murder myself, he says.
Barrett: And he just gets drunk. He’s trying to not feel anything.
Robin: On the other hand, he gets drunk but he ordered a dress for Demelza, having heard about the ball. So he had time to order this dress which is delivered just at the time that he’s arrived back from the horror of the jail…
Prudie: Parcel come for mistress.
Demelza: ‘Tis from the dressmakers. ‘Tis a mistake.
Ross: I called on my way to Bodmin to order it. It seems like a hundred years ago now.
Demelza: Oh. Could I see it?
Ross: If you’ve the interest. It will do for some time in the future.
Demelza: Oh Ross.
Barrett: Demelza is doing a great job of you remaining empathetic and restraining herself with all of her will from just like pulling that dress out and trying it on right then and there. She’s doing the right thing but she really is excited about that. And one of the reasons why we love Demelza so much is that she is essentially all of us. You know we would be just as excited about the ball as she is and we would feel just as nervous and just as out of place and undeserving of being at the ball. That’s that’s why it works so well I think Demelza is us or at least she’s me. OK, maybe she’s just me.
Robin: That’s a lovely admission Barrett. Yes. Well you shall go to the ball. I promise you. I’ll order the tickets now.
Barrett: We all get to go to the ball. Although maybe nobody should have gone to the ball, but Verity comes and she tells Ross basically man up, Ross.
Verity: Your move in forcing the jail was reckless and unlawful. Your presence among these people tonight will remind them that you are one of them – a gentleman. It may make them think twice before moving against you.
Ross: Your arguments disgust me.
Verity: They disgust me, too — but you have more than yourself to consider now.
Ross: My wife and child…
Verity: Would suffer…
Robin She reads the riot act to to Ross. And she’s effective and all he can say as he goes off which doesn’t quite make sense to me says justice is a fine thing is it not? Justice is something that he’s on about all the time but that was his sort of parting remark before the ball. But she persuades him.
Barrett: Good old Verity. She’s the best. She is the direct descendent really of Aunt Agatha isn’t she because we have a wonderful moment with Aunt Agatha.
Francis: What is the matter with the women of this family?
Aunt Agatha: The men.
Francis: You think you could do better?
Robin: Such a great line. It’s the most wonderful moment of what! I love that little sequence.
Barrett: Let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors.
Barrett: So let’s get to this card game. And I want to hear from you, what fun was it? Was it so much fun? I mean I know it was probably hard work too. Of course it’s hard work. But tell me a little bit about being at that table and Ross is seething with fury at your character. The Reverend Halse. And Reverend Halse is just looking to play a nice game of cards at this ball.
Robin: Why is this person being so nasty to me? I’m just here for a ball. I mean give me a break. And he keeps his his temper just. And he’s attacked from all sides. I mean Ross is attacking him and Matthew Sanson accuses him of not playing the cards right and it’s all too much frankly you know for an old man. So in the end he just gets up and walks out but not before Ross has another go. And it almost comes to fisticuffs really.
Ross: Have you ever been in a jail, sir? It’s surprising the stench thirty or forty of God’s creatures can give off when confined to a squalid pit for months on end without drains, water or a physician’s care…
Reverend Dr. Halse: The matter of your performance at Bodmin Jail has not gone unnoticed, sir. There will shortly be a meeting of the justices – of whom, may I say, I am one…
Ross: Then pray convey this message: that it will give me great pleasure to meet any of you who can spare the time from your high offices and holy livings – especially those responsible for the upkeep of Bodmin Jail!
Reverend Dr. Halse: You offensive young drunkard! You will be hearing from us presently!
Robin: But dear old hero Reverend Halse knows that he holds so to speak most of the cards because.
Barrett: Oh yes.
Robin: Ross is taking a big risk by being rude like this because the magistrates in the light of day the next day could summon him to court. And very easily Halse could get his get his revenge. But it was very nice to play we had a very lovely director who was very sympathetic and we played it pretty intensely. We they also tried to teach us the game and I forget what the game was what the card game was. And they had an expert who was running us through all the moves and I shouldn’t speak for others but I must say the tension of just doing the scene was enough rather than having to learn an 18th century card game off the top of our heads. So I think quite wisely I think most of the scene is played on our heads not on the table really. I think later on the the card game goes on and you see more of the cards. But we didn’t really follow the card game at all. Can I just tell you, there’s an interesting difference in the two. In the end of our version when I discover that you know he’s been cheating I pick him up by his back by his coattails as it were. And I march him out of the house and throw him in the horse trough and there’s a huge splash so obviously it’s done in two parts because the the interiors were done in the studio in London and then some at some point in Cornwall we played this scene where I march him out of the house and throw him in the trough which I must say I really enjoyed very much. I’m not sure whether we only did it once or whether we had to repeat it but the actor was called Milton Johns and he was very understanding. Anyway, that doesn’t happen in this. This ball scene is so wonderful because it has all these little scenes in it you know and each of them has wonderful value and they all are building to something. Do you remember the scene between Ross who’s increasingly drunk and Demelza and it starts with a camera quite well back. If people look out for this it’s fun and the camera slowly rides in on this argument that they’re having in the room.
Demelza: Well, if you think all the stupid, fat, ignorants are in your class, then you’re mistook! I’ve lived long enough to know that they’re everywhere! And you’ll not right any wrongs by blaming just these folk for Jim dying!
Ross: Of course they are to blame! For their ignorance, their selfishness, their arrogance.
Demelza: And you’ll not right any wrongs by drinking and gaming and leaving me to fend for myself at my very first ball!
Ross: If you behave like this, you’ll not come to another.
Demelza: If you behave like this, I’ll not want to!
Robin: The camera reaches them by that point and it’s it’s it’s very effective and this the whole ballroom scene is one lovely little sequence after another which which adds to the enjoyment of the whole thing.
Barrett: Even the way the shot is set up with those two standing there and we’re looking at them in silhouette as they’re arguing, the way that that looks is normally a very romantic setup where these two are standing in the middle of of a dance floor at a ball facing one another. So the expectation of that shot is that that’s it that it’s deeply romantic upset of course. Here they are arguing like that.
Robin: As you approach realize it’s not a love scene it’s actually a big argument. Yeah you’re quite right. That’s good. Yeah.
Barrett: Yeah. And you’re absolutely right that there are so many so many sort of plots swirling around among the different characters you have Elizabeth, the pressure that she’s receiving from her mother her mother is still not satisfied. Still wishes that her daughter had climbed higher. You know you have her mother noticing the beautiful Belle of the ball Demelza and the complicated situation that this puts poor Elizabeth in with her mother and all those dynamics. That was another good one wasn’t it?
Robin: Absolutely right. It’s a terrific scene that. With the payoff with Demelza. When Ruth Teague says we haven’t seen much of your father recently I mean Demelza says in a very nice way so he’s very particular about the company he keeps these days and the put down is so effective and just wonderful very enjoyable indeed. And then another confrontation which is quite short between Blamey and Francis is so real and raw and you know truthful somehow that comes winging over I thought that was tremendously powerful.
Barrett: Robin I got to tell you I worry about Blamey. I know that Verity’s in love with him but I don’t know if I endorse this match entirely. I want her to be happy but he just goes storming into that ball.
Verity: Andrew, I beg you to leave. Francis will see you.
Blamey: That’s exactly what I wish. To have it all out in the open. I will not be ashamed of our love.
Verity: Nor I, but if we’re seen together, it will be a disaster.
Blamey: Who’s to say Francis would make difficulties? Has he not grown up? Might he not have mellowed?
Verity: Let him once catch sight of you and you will see how much he’s mellowed!
Barrett: She’s telling him don’t talk to Francis. But he does anyway. He should trust Verity that Francis is not ready to hear this now is not the right moment.
Robin: Well I think you’re absolutely right. I think he’s a complex character who’s trying to keep his anger down and he’s the captain of the ship. He’s used to being in charge on this packet that goes between Falmouth and Lisbon very often he commands his crew.
Barrett: Okay, fair enough.
Robin: I sort of count on Verity’s instinct in a sense. Verity is a very wise person and obviously she understands that he has this violent past and this tendency. And she’s shown in this scene with Ross where she comes over and ticks him off. She’s shown that maybe she is capable of of dealing with Blamey and what you’re saying to me is that this little confrontation is worrying because it demonstrates perhaps that that instinct is still there and you may you may be right. I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of that. But you are right although I do think that Francis provokes him.
Blamey: I hope you will do me the honour of allowing me to…
Francis: How dare you address me!
Blamey: Your sister deserves better. I beg you, let us resolve this peaceably.
Francis: Step aside.
Blamey: Your sister is not to be commanded. Nor am I.
Francis: Then perhaps you’ll take this as an inducement.
Robin: I mean so horribly so terribly and so consistently. You know he’s just fed up with it. He’s fed up with waiting. Yeah. He wants to be with with the person he loves basically so we could we could say that the jury’s out on that if you like. I take your point.
Barrett: Yeah I do think you’re right though in Verity’s instincts are good. She has very good instincts. I’m willing to give him a real chance unlike Francis.
Robin: Well maybe I should review my I think Francis is a spoiled brat frankly. I’m not exonerating him for that. But he did have a very dominating dad you know who is much better at putting him down than you know encouraging him. And he always had Ross. Yeah. As you know his dad saying well you know Ross would do it this way Ross would do it that way. And if you have that for the first 15 years of your life it creates some kind of resentment in you and Francis hasn’t been able to get over that, I think.
Barrett: I love you’re telling me about how they were trying to teach you all that that card game because as I watched that climactic card game where the stakes kept growing and growing between Ross and Sanson I was sort of laughing to myself at the same time. I have literally no idea what’s going on and yet I’m feeling every bit of the tension.
Sanson: I propose.
Ross: How many?
Sanson: The book.
Ross: I’ll take two.
Robin: And I love the atmosphere at this very early morning. Yeah it’s early morning they’ve been there for hours frankly you know they’re all exhausted and this game’s going on and then suddenly Francis, Ross says well I’ll put up my shares in Wheal Leisure and the tension in the room. When they say Oh my God what’s he doing. What on earth does he think he’s doing. And it just draws you in doesn’t it. It’s just tremendous moment that you don’t need to know about the card game.
Barrett: Didn’t Francis just lose his mine to this guy? No Ross no no no no
Robin: I loved that though.
Barrett: That’s what this episode should be called the No Ross No episode.
Robin: Ross No. Yeah. Well actually the whole series really is no Ross. No think twice. Ross. Actually that should be his nickname. Think Twice. Well the fun is that he doesn’t think twice. That’s the thing.
Barrett: That’s the thing it’s his character it’s in his character. We understand that he has to grow but Demelza volunteers her brand new necklace. She’s had it on her neck for probably about three hours. This beautiful necklace. And it goes into the pile Ross loses it right away. And then he goes back again with his shares of his mine. He’s going to lose everything. Then boom. Even though he’s really drunk. He’s able to. Snatch the hand of the cheating Sanson and reveal the hidden card.
Robin: He’s known about it so he says anyway. For really some time and he’s just waiting his moment to to reveal the villainy of this man is tremendously effective. I think that the drunkenness you’re on another level of concentration and it’s it’s terribly well done it’s stunning really.
Ross: Can you explain how you come to have a card in your hand before you drew one from the pack?
Sanson: You’re mistaken! I’d already drawn…
George: I rather think he had, Ross.
Dwight: Oh no he had not.
Francis: Most certainly had not!
Robin: This card game it’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful climax to that very long ball scene. It goes on for over 20 minutes actually. I think the ball scene it’s a really central part of the episode.
Barrett: It is really good. And then he can be good and bad and he can throw him across the table so that the guy’s wig falls off which I imagine in 18th century society that’s probably one of the most embarrassing and humility things that can happen to you is your wig goes flying off.
Robin: I would have personally as Halse being quite happy to lose my wig. But that’s another story.
Barrett: So with all this with all that Ross did with his prison break with his exposing Sanson with his success at the auction with the dress buying surprise. What do you think this week hero or hater?
Robin: I think it’s tricky to say. I mean I think he’s sort of saved by other people so I’m not sure that he’s a hero in this. I mean he did he did go to Bodmin jail and he did you know take a risk with that. And I think though that obviously for the very best of motives he did in the end agree to go to the ball which was pretty difficult for him. So I wouldn’t call him a hero but I wouldn’t call him a villain in this. In this case I think right in the next two episodes we see a slightly different Ross which is not so hero like as it were. And that’s to do with the whole business of Blamey and Francis and Demelza and all that. But that’s to come in the next episode. What do you think Barrett?
Barrett: I think that he is on his hero’s journey. Seeing him vulnerable. It’s it’s part of his character as hero. I think that he was devastated and he was in his dark dark place. So he is on his his hero’s journey. I feel like he was the hero in this episode. Provided that he learns from his mistakes which he probably won’t do.
Robin: I think I think you’re right. Do you remember right at the end at the grave when they gather round Jim’s grave and Demelza says this rather extraordinary thing.
Ross: I wish Jim could’ve seen his child grow up.
Demelza: You did what you could
Ross: I wonder.
Demelza: Ross — you cannot fight for all the world. You can only make your own small corner a fairer place.
Robin: She recognizes that his heart is absolutely in the right place but it’s sort of for her to be his guide in a way and tell him like Verity has done that he needs he needs wise words whispered in his ear. Basically.
Barrett: I love the way you put that I’m so glad that you mentioned that because you’re right that is a wonderful role for her. That she helps to temper this instinct that he has but he wouldn’t be Ross if he accepted that small place right. No. And the world needs people who the world does need people who aren’t satisfied to try to just make the small place better. So we need heroes like Ross however flawed they may be.
Robin: Just like to add that I think it’s nice that Demelza through this episode has developed into this moral force in a sense her wonderful instinctive natural quality come through in this episode and it’s very strong and it’s a wonderful contrast to to Ross. I mean not that he’s not a moral force but they both have an equal part to play in this this saga in a sense.
Barrett: Yes. Robin are you thinking of her conversation with that vixen Keren? Is that what you’re thinking of right now?
Robin: Absolutely. She very quietly says you know I just offer this this advice without any finger wagging as it were she’s saying she’s saying be careful. She has this quiet authority which is impressive.
Barrett: She does and it’s it’s generous and kind. Always
Robin: It is. It’s not carping. Yeah it’s generous.
Barrett: You’re absolutely right. And that’s that’s just another of her beautiful virtues that I hope we get to see more of as time goes on.
Barrett Well this has been fun. Thank you so much for talking about Episode Six with me. I love it and again I thank you for bringing context and depth to these characters drawing out these things that we see that that are there on the screen and helping me to be more like Demelza which is really one of my goals in life to be more kind and generous. Toward these characters and not just see them as villains.
Robin: Well that’s great. It’s a very very interesting episode, we’re on the way to something slightly darker I think which is interesting.
Barrett: Oh boy hang on to your tricorn hat.
Robin: I tip mine to you.
Barrett And I to you. Thank you Robin.
Robin: Thanks Barrett. Speak soon. Bye bye.
Barrett: In the upcoming penultimate episode of the first season of Poldark, a neighborhood dalliance has tragic results.
Dwight: I have work to do. My purpose here is…
Keren: Kiss me.
Keren: Just the once?
Dwight: Keren — you and I know it would not be just the once.
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 MASTERPIECE Amazon Prime Channel, available as a part of 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. Thanks to Meredith Wheeler for off-site recording. 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 and The MASTERPIECE Trust.
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