The World of Poldark

The World of Poldark

by Emma Marriott


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The World of Poldark explores the characters, the compelling stories and the era that Winston Graham's Poldark novels- and the television series - set out to recreate, the England that Ross Poldark returned to from the American War of Independence. England, and especially Cornwall, was then marked by social unrest and a deep division between rich and poor. It was a place of tin mines and shipwrecks, of new money versus old, of harsh justice and great kindness.

Amid the turmoil of eighteenth-century Cornwall, Ross comes back to a home in ruins, his father dead and his childhood sweetheart engaged to another - his own heart as battered as the country around him.

Experience the great houses and the glorious landscapes and follow the cast of characters as their stories play out against the backdrop of Cornwall's wild beauty, through interviews with the actors, behind the scenes insights and in-depth information on costumes, props and locations. Packed full of behind the scenes photographs, The World of Poldark is the ultimate guide to the popular series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250102713
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 163,325
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 9.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

EMMA MARRIOTT is a writer and editor, and author of several popular history books, including the bestselling seriesI Used to Know That: History and The History of the World in Bite-Sized Chunks. As a former in-house senior editor at Macmillan UK, she also has extensive experience editing a wide range of television and film tie-in books.Emma lives in Bedfordshire, England with her husband and three children.

Read an Excerpt

The World of Poldak

By Emma Marriott

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Pan Macmillan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10272-0


The year is 1783 and Ross Poldark returns from the American War of Independence to his beloved Cornwall. Drained from funding costly wars overseas, Britain is in the grip of a recession, with rising prices and high taxes, falling wages, and a bubbling of social unrest. Cornwall is hit particularly hard, and only the bankers seem to be making money as once-booming mines close and debts rise. Amid this turmoil, Ross comes back to a home in ruins: his father dead and his childhood sweetheart engaged to his cousin and best friend – his own heart as battered as the country around him.

* * *

The world of the Poldarks is not an easy one to inhabit. Life expectancy in the eighteenth century is just thirty-seven years – even less in many Cornish mining communities – and a third of children never see their fifth birthday. It's a brutal world: petty criminals are publicly flogged, hanged or left to rot in prison; blood sports remain a popular pastime amongst every class; and animals and the poor are worked into the ground. The cogs of the industrial revolution, oiled by the growth in banking, are on the turn, and there is money to be made, lots of it. A few do well, rising up the social ladder, but the bulk of the population remain in poverty, many simply scratching a living on the edge of starvation. Social hierarchy, bolstered by an intricate system of custom, deference, and local and family loyalties, is the natural order of the day – and the gulf between the haves and have-nots, the propertied and unpropertied, is still vast.

Out of this complex and difficult world emerges Ross Poldark, a character who seems to exemplify the resilience of the human spirit, a man able to fight back at all that is thrown at him. Limping and bearing a scar to his face, Ross returns from three years of fighting in a war, during which we learn of his reckless past, escaping the gallows despite 'brawling, free trading and assaulting a customs official'. Though born a gentleman, there is a rebellious side to Ross's nature – but at heart he has integrity, a belief in moral justice and contempt for the petty rules of law. And it is the flouting of these rules and the rigid conventions of society that so often leads him into trouble.

When Ross returns to his ancestral home, Nampara, he discovers his father's house has fallen into ruin and his inherited land is barren. He is appalled also to discover that villagers living on Poldark land have been left destitute and hungry as a result.

'When we first meet Ross he is in turmoil,' says Aidan Turner, who plays Ross Poldark. 'He went away to war a young, cocky, confident character with a carefree attitude, who was running away from a lot of things. In America he was faced with death on a daily basis and then when he returns to England he doesn't really know who is he is any more.

'When he arrives back in Cornwall everything's changed for him: his father has died, his land is barren, the local tin mines are going through a hard time and laying off workers, leaving the region on its knees, and he's lost Elizabeth, his childhood sweetheart who he expected to marry on his return.

'Ross knows he needs to pick himself up and try and find who he is and where he is in this new world. He's strong – that's what I love about him – he's someone who can get on with things; he doesn't wallow in self-pity or despair. He sees a situation for what it is and drags himself through it. He admires hard-working people and treats people with respect if they earn it – no matter what their position in life. He is an original class warrior!'


'It's a poor Cornwall you return to. Taxes sky high, wages in the gutter ...'

Of Ross's disregard for class and the conventions of society, screenwriter Debbie Horsfield agrees: 'He straddles two different backgrounds. He's a gentleman so he's from the landed gentry but he has huge, not just sympathy, but love for the common man, for his tenants, his miners that he employs. He's in love with a girl who's a gentlewoman's daughter, a girl from his own class, but he ends up marrying his kitchen maid. He has a strong sense of justice without in any way being sanctimonious. He's a rebel and everybody loves a rebel.'

The American War:

Revolution and Taxation

The era of the Poldarks is marked by turbulence both at home and abroad. Growing rebellion in the American colonies (initially sparked by opposition to heavy taxes imposed by Britain) has, by 1776, led to the Declaration of Independence, all-out war and the sending of thousands of British troops to fight on American soil. Two years later, the French, Spanish and Dutch have allied with America against Britain, turning a colonial uprising into a global conflict.

In the television adaptation of Poldark, we first meet our hero Ross in a wooded glade in Virginia in 1781 where, sitting amidst a group of bedraggled soldiers, he is playing cards. Suddenly a musket shot rings out and they are under attack, Ross's opponent falling to the ground, dead. As all hell breaks loose, Ross seizes four muskets and dispatches two attacking soldiers, before receiving a glancing wound to his face from a tomahawk.

The war limps on until 1783, ending in defeat for the British and continued independence for the Americans. Ross returns home a changed man, three years of fighting having worn down much of his youthful swagger. The defeat also reveals the weakness of Britain as a nation without significant allies. And many, like Ross, sympathize with the American cause and its revolutionary ideas of liberty.

Funding such a costly war has a direct effect on the whole country, especially in Cornwall. Servicing the soaring National Debt costs the British government some £9 million a year. As a result, the government introduces a range of taxes, raising duties on such consumables as salt, beer and even candles, much of which weighs heaviest on the poor. This in turn leads to increased poverty, hardship and a rising incidence of social unrest.

With troops overseas, there is little monitoring of the British coast and smuggling is rife. As this illicit trade continues, 'strange whiffs of volcanic unrest' are felt across the Channel, which ultimately lead to revolution in France in 1789 and aristocrats losing their heads. Whilst this doesn't happen in Britain, recurring bread riots and outbreaks of violence leads to an increasing feeling of insecurity and, amongst the propertied classes, an almost universal dread of insurrection.

Aidan Turner is Ross Poldark

The man behind the unconventional but captivating hero of Poldark is Irish actor Aidan Turner. Having starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Being Human and Desperate Romantics, Aidan was thrilled to land the role of Ross Poldark.

He was also immediately taken by the characters of the Poldark stories and by the breadth of the role of Ross Poldark in the new adaptation. 'It's fantastic as an actor to have the chance to play such a wide range in one series,' he says. 'Every step of the way there is something new. When I first read Debbie Horsfield's script I knew there was huge scope there with Ross.'

The decision to cast Aidan as Ross was a crucial one for the Poldark production team, as Debbie Horsfield explains: 'I loved Aidan in Desperate Romantics and Being Human and I thought he had that blend of charisma but he was able to play vulnerableyet tough. Ross is a man of contradictions and I'd seen that in Aidan's work. Ross is an outsider, he's a rebel and I just thought that Aidan was the person to play him.'

Aidan, who's in his early thirties, had never heard of Poldark prior to making the series, 'but when I told my parents I was going to play Ross they nearly had a fit! Apparently the previous 1970s series was popular in Ireland, I guess because people could relate to it – the farming, the scenery, the horses ... it is continually surprising meeting people who are so excited to hear we are making a new adaptation.'

Aidan's strong physical presence was also key to his portrayal of Ross, as director Ed Bazalgette remarks: 'Ross Poldark has that raw power and energy. He'll say what he thinks and do what he wants. Those fundamental attributes are things that you could really see Aidan carrying. Aidan also has an extraordinary relationship with the camera and a physicality that makes him incredibly watchable. There's also a fun, mischievous side to him, and a warmth. He's not a stern person in any way, he's just very much a man of the people.'

Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays Demelza, can see why Aidan was chosen for the role, too: 'He gives the character Ross an edge – he makes him unpredictable. And that's interesting with your leading man because sometimes you don't know if you hate him and that for me is fascinating.'

From the outset, Ross is faced with tough decisions and is forced to overcome huge challenges. 'Ross is twenty-three when he comes home and you can see he changes quite fast,' says Aidan Turner. 'When he realizes that Elizabeth is out of the picture, he changes his frame of mind and concentrates more on getting his land back together, looking after his tenants, and resolves to revive the ruined mine on his estate.'

And soon after Ross meets a woman who will change the course of his life, an urchin who he at first takes to be a young boy: Demelza Carne.

'Taking on Demelza as his kitchen maid and understanding how that whole relationship develops is a huge moment for Ross. He doesn't care what people think, but he's taken a huge punt bringing her into the house and having her as a kitchen maid. Eventually he takes charge, doesn't quite know what he's got himself in for but very quickly he realizes he's got to do something about it. Ross just grabs everything by the horns and runs with it!

'He is continually facing something new; his changing relationship with his cousin Francis, his uncle Charles who he has looked up to all his life and who is a rock for him, and the feud with George Warleggan.'


When Ross is confronted with the choice either to remain in Cornwall and cope with the devastation around him or take his uncle's money, move away and start afresh, he decides to stay, knowing that he can make a difference to the people he loves. As he discovers, everything that matters to him is in Cornwall.

Cornwall is at the very heart of Poldark, its rugged beauty and wild landscape a constant, powerful presence. In the 1780s, Cornwall is a sparsely populated, far-flung region of Britain jutting dangerously out into the Atlantic Ocean, very much on its own. Its landscape is of wild open moorland, savage cliffs tumbling into angry sea and weather that can in an instant change from swirling sea mists and squally gales to (just occasionally) brilliantly clear skies. Out of this robust and dangerously beautiful terrain emerges our hero Ross Poldark, a character who seemingly embodies the tempestuous nature of Cornwall.

Winston Graham's Cornwall

The inspiration for the Poldark novels was drawn from the creator Winston Graham's love of Cornwall; many of the series' storylines were borne out of real events in Cornish history, its characters inspired by the people he had met there.

Graham lived much of his life on the North Cornish coast and during the Second World War worked as a coastguard overlooking the beach at Perranporth. It was during long nights and solitary walks patrolling the beaches that he conceived the Poldark novels, with Hendrawna beach based on Perranporth, and Nampara and its surrounding area a composite of several places on the north coast of Cornwall, including the headland of West Pentire. Here he spent much of his time 'watching the flickering colours in the water; the white flash of gulls' wings, angular and sharp, against slanting skies; the sea pinks clinging perpendicularly to the gentler rocks like close-cropped pink beards, the thump of waves forcing their way through a blow hole and turning spume into mist; the welter of wild flowers in the unspoiled fields ... the endless procession of cloud and sun against the background of wide skies.'

Winston Graham's son Andrew Graham was also very much involved in the making of the television adaptation. From very early on he looked at scripts, was involved in casting and location finding, and was often on set during filming. As he adds: 'There were all sorts of things with which we [Andrew and his wife Peggotty] helped out, from smaller details, such as specifics on the geography of Cornwall, which I know well, to the bigger picture. I kept asking whether things would make sense from my father's point of view. We had a really productive relationship with Mammoth Screen and it was clear right from the start that the production team wanted to create something that was authentic to the novels.'

For the television adaptation, Cornwall provided a crucial backdrop and setting, with the filming of the series largely based in or around the North Cornish coast. 'Cornwall is a massive part of the book and our adaptation,' says executive producer Karen Thrussell. 'Nowhere else looks like it: the huge skies, four-seasons-in-one-day climate, the quality of light, its rugged beauty scarred with mines, the powerful surging sea and the wind-beaten moors. The elemental passion of the landscape and changeable nature of the place have echoes of Ross Poldark's personality.'

The cast also relished their time filming in Cornwall, not least Aidan Turner: 'It was simply stunning, we had the best weather there over the summer. We filmed at so many gorgeous locations but the weather really made it work. People know Poldark so well down there and are proud of it so we were welcomed all the time. It was surprising getting fans turning up to the set and people travelling to show their support and see what was going on. It reminded me of home in Ireland, and it was great to be able to film there so much.'

War hero

The inspiration for Ross's physical appearance came from a chance acquaintance Winston Graham made in a railway station just after the Second World War. A young flying officer, with a couple of ribs and a leg broken and bearing a scratch to his face, sat opposite him. To Graham he seemed withdrawn but pleasant, while also purposeful with 'a sort of high-strung disquiet'. On seeing him, the novelist immediately knew that this man was to be the model for his hero. Ross's own scar, inflicted dangerously close to his eye, provides a constant reminder of the war and his near brush with death.

The first Poldark novel was published in 1945, just as British troops were returning from the Second World War. Many came back to confront shattered homes, their families and loved ones torn apart. Ross Poldark similarly returns from fighting overseas to discover his father dead, and his house, means of livelihood and former love in ruins.

Eleanor Tomlinson was similarly enchanted by the county: 'So much of it came alive when we were filming in Cornwall and everyone found their character in the outdoors, particularly with Demelza as she is very connected to the landscape.' Heida Reed, who played Elizabeth, also instantly loved the wide-open spaces of Cornwall: 'I felt like when we were down in Cornwall the whole story came together in my head. The landscape is so vital in the storytelling and when we were there it all fitted together. That Cornish vista is such a part of the story and people's inner lives and it is an incredible place.'

Heida Reed is Elizabeth Chynoweth

Heida Reed plays Ross's childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Chynoweth. Whilst Ross endures the miseries of war, he clings to the memories of Elizabeth, cherishing the ring she has given him as a memento of their love. He is away, however, for a long three years and rumours circulate about his death. Convinced that this is the case, Elizabeth agrees to marry Ross's cousin and old friend Francis Poldark.

Ross's unexpected return shocks Elizabeth to her very core and she is clearly tormented by her still-deep feelings for Ross. All too aware of her elevated standing in society, however, she attempts to bury those feelings and remain true to her prospective husband, a pretence that soon wears away at her sham of a marriage.

'I think Elizabeth is very much a lady of her time, trapped in her own world,' says Heida Reed. 'It is important for Elizabeth to know her place in society and be respected by those around her. She could follow her heart more but she feels morally she must do the right thing even if she suffers for it. Elizabeth never voices regret but I think her predicament will strike a chord with people today.

'It was an awful miscommunication and Elizabeth is the type of person who will do the right thing and stick with her decision because that is what she thinks a good person does – and that still stands in modern society.'

Soon after their wedding, Francis begins to absent himself from the family home, his behaviour spiralling out of control. Throughout it all Elizabeth maintains composure and strength, whilst also showing a real generosity of spirit by welcoming Ross's new wife Demelza into her home. Whilst Ross's attachment to Demelza deepens, he still clearly retains feelings for his first love Elizabeth, a woman whose elegance, social standing and deportment make her the polar opposite of the untamed Demelza.


Excerpted from The World of Poldak by Emma Marriott. Copyright © 2015 Pan Macmillan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by screenwriter and executive producer Debbie Horsfield 8

Chapter 1 Ross Poldark returns to his beloved Cornwall 16

Chapter 2 The closure of Wheal Reath puts hundreds of miners out of work 44

Chapter 3 Ross reopens Wheal Leisure; Jim Carter is arrested 72

Chapter 4 Ross and Demelza's marriage shocks Trenwith 96

Chapter 5 Dr Enys arrives; Demelza gives birth to Julia; Francis loses the family mine 120

Chapter 6 Ross makes an enemy of George Warleggan; Jim dies in prison 158

Chapter 7 Verify, etopes with Captain Blarney; Francis blames Ross 176

Chapter 8 Tragedy strikes the Poldarks 192

Afterword 220

Key Cast and Crew 221

Acknowledgements 224

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