Country of origin
First episode date
5 October 1975
Final episode date
4 December 1977
Paul WheelerJack RussellJack PulmanAlexander BaronJohn Wiles
Christopher BarryPaul AnnettKenneth IvesPhilip DudleyRoger Jenkins
Robin EllisAngharad ReesJill TownsendPaul CurranRalph BatesMary WimbushJudy Geeson
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics
Vanity Fair (1998 TV serial), Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV series), Lady Chatterley (TV serial)
Poldark is the original version of the BBC television series adaptation of the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham. The adaptation was first transmitted in the UK between 1975 and 1977.
The romantic saga follows Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) as he loses his fiancée, the well-bred beauty, Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), to his cousin Francis (Clive Francis). Ross ends up marrying his servant, the unlikely-looking Demelza (Angharad Rees), but his passion for Elizabeth simmers on for years. Set in late 18th century Cornwall, the plot follows Ross Poldark's attempts to make his derelict tin mines a success. Life is hard, smuggling is rife and Ross Poldark finds himself taking the side of the underclass against the ruthless behaviour of his enemies, the greedy Warleggan clan including George Warleggan (Ralph Bates).
Although the emphasis is primarily on Ross and Demelza, there are many other characters with their own stories. In the first series we encounter Dr. Dwight Enys (Richard Morant in the first series, Michael Cadman in the second series), a young man with progressive ideas who prefers to serve the poor communities rather than the rich. Enys has a brief affair with a married actress, Keren Daniel, which results in her murder by her husband. By the end of the first series, Dwight has become involved with heiress Caroline Penvenen (Judy Geeson). In the second series, they marry following Ross's rescue of Dwight from a French prison.
In the second series we get to see much of Geoffrey Charles Poldark (Stefan Gates), the son of Elizabeth and Francis Poldark. Francis drowns in a subterranean lake while investigating a putative new lode of copper in a mine in which he is invested with Ross. Elizabeth eventually marries Ross's great enemy George Warleggan. Geoffrey Charles resembles his father, and at times comes into conflict with his new stepfather George Warleggan, though Warleggan shows him certain kindnesses and pays for his education. Geoffrey Charles begins a friendship with Demelza's brother Drake Carne (Kevin McNally), whom he and his governess, Elizabeth's cousin Morwenna (Jane Wymark), meet in the woods on the Warleggan estate. Geoffrey Charles plays an instrumental role in the development of Drake and Morwenna's romance.
Drake is Ross Poldark's brother-in-law and has a working-class background: therefore George considers him an unsuitable marriage partner for Morwenna. George marries Morwenna off to Reverend Osborne Whitworth (Christopher Biggins), whom she despises. Pining for Morwenna, Drake emphasizes building his blacksmith business and spending time with his brother Sam (David Delve), a devout Methodist.
Morwenna and Osborne have a son, John Conan, whom Morwenna cannot bring herself to love. Eventually Morwenna tells Osborne she will kill his son if he forces his attentions on her one more time. Osborne has an affair with Morwenna's younger sister Rowella (Julie Dawn Cole). Rowella's husband Arthur Solway (Stephen Reynolds) discovers his wife's adultery and attacks Osborne, who is dragged to death by his frightened horse. Despite being traumatized by her marriage to Osborne, Morwenna eventually marries Drake.
Sam becomes enamoured of Emma Tregirls (Trudie Styler), who refuses to marry him because she knows that his Methodist congregation will never approve of her. She loves Sam, but knows that her lack of religion and her bad reputation will eventually cause conflict between him and his faith.
However, the emphasis remains with Ross and Demelza, and the series concludes with the death of Elizabeth Warleggan after the birth of her and George's daughter Ursula. Elizabeth takes a potion to bring on labor early so Warleggan will be led to think that she habitually delivers her children a few weeks pre-term; Elizabeth had delivered Valentine, born eight (8) months after her wedding to George, after she took a supposed accidental fall on the stairs, which, it is implied only, was intentional on her part because she felt the labor coming on. Valentine is Ross's son, conceived a month before Elizabeth and George's wedding, but George is long deceived as to Valentine's parentage. Agatha Poldark and Prudie Paynter, Ross and Demelza's housekeeper, both realize that Valentine is Ross's son, and Agatha tells George of her conclusion just before her death, that occurs under George's abuse of her in his anger over her revelation. Elizabeth dies of gangrene due to the potion. When the doctor asks her if she has taken anything to bring on the labor, she denies it because Warleggan is sitting beside her. George later reveals his knowledge of what Elizabeth has done when he says to Ross, "This is what we have brought her to."
Broadcast and legacy
The BBC adaptation of the first four books of the Poldark novels was broadcast by the BBC during 1975 and 1976. This included eight weeks' location filming in Cornwall. The second series was broadcast in the UK in the autumn of 1977, from the next three books. The series in total ran to 29 episodes.
Poldark is one of the most successful British television adaptations of all time. Poldark series have since been sold in over forty countries. They are particularly popular in the United States, Spain, Italy, Greece and Israel. On video, Poldark outsold every costume drama except for the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation of Jane Austen's novel.
The two series were shown to American audiences in 1977–78, as part of Masterpiece Theatre on the Public Broadcasting System. In 2007, a PBS viewer poll ranked it seventh in best-loved series from the last 35 years.
A version of the eighth Poldark novel The Stranger from the Sea was made by HTV for the ITV network in 1996, but was not continued. In 2008 the BBC made a half-hour programme entitled "The Making of Poldark" as part of its series called The Cult of Sunday Night. Many of the original cast were interviewed, including Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and Richard Morant.
The series was referenced by Reeves and Mortimer, presenting Poldark on Mopeds as a rejected comedy programme in an advert for TV Licensing.
In February 2014, the BBC announced a new adaptation of the series, also called Poldark, to be broadcast in 2015. The series, starring Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, commenced transmission on Saturday, 7 March 2015, on the BBC's flagship channel, BBC1. Robin Ellis was cast in a small recurring role as Reverend Dr Halse.