Updated: Jun 7, 2020
Those who know me best, know I am a shameless addict to PBS’ Masterpiece. The addiction began in my parents’ living room when I was a child of about ten years old. To be fair, my predilection to this long-standing entertainment pastime is not limited to one show on PBS, but to everything on the public broadcasting network.
“Poldark” has had us red-blooded ladies and gentlemen swooning for five seasons now. I joke with dear girlfriends back home in the South about how we long for his next swashbuckling episode, preferably wherein he will be tastefully shirtless. All jokes aside, I have come nevertheless to realize that, despite Mr. Poldark’s beguiling physical charms and alpha male appeal, the real hero of the current Poldark Series is Mistress Poldark. We revel in Ross’ desire to be steadfastly committed to justice and trustworthiness, but truth be told, he also spends more than equal time making hasty, immature choices which wreak havoc upon those closest to him. Demelza acts as his foil, counterbalancing his insufficiencies with her unrelenting goodness and loyalty.
Had the makers of Poldark decided to remain true to the actual “Poldark” series of twelve novels, begun by Winston Graham in 1947, the trope-like character of the long-suffering, but unyieldingly admirable Demelza would be the character with whom we have spent our Poldark Season Sundays since 2015. The show’s writer Debbie Horsfield announced, however, prior to the UK launch of the fifth season on BBC One this past summer, that the plot would not remain true to Graham’s twelve-volume storyline. I consider this a wonderfully audacious creative decision on her part. She chose to use writing, in this instance script writing, to do what literature can do best, which is to allow for nuanced characters which are multi-layered, evolving over the expanse of the tale, and often of history itself.
Mistress Poldark has long since stolen the show, connecting viscerally with every wife deceived by her husband whilst she stayed at home dutifully to care for his children, and every human being underestimated due to the way in which they speak, their “inferior” socioeconomic class, or their unwanted labeling as “different” as defined by a provincial, narrow-minded mindset. I wager that Demelza is compelling for all the sexes, not only for her stunning physical beauty and genuine kindheartedness, but for her refusal to limit herself to current norms or external expectations of her. In that sense, she is a thoroughly modern heroine, who navigates Cornish tides and tyrannical Londoners with equal aplomb and grit. She is not afraid to differ from her husband when her moral compass deviates from his, nor is she afraid to risk losing him by demanding that she not be taken for granted, or treated as the lesser.
Of course, to get too wonky regarding the iconoclastic shunning of timeworn tropes would be to miss the central most important aspect of this nearly five-year ‘Cornwallian’ joyride.
The roller coaster of an epic is just plain exciting and quintessentially romantic. It reminds us that although the line between good and evil, right and wrong can often appear blurred and irrelevant, those that put forth the effort to define such personal ethical boundaries for themselves remain timeless in literature and lore of all kinds. PBS’s latest iteration of Poldark establishes that certain human desires for truth, justice and unconditional love remain constant regardless of the nationality of the audience, or the year in which that audience tunes in to be entertained.
And lastly, can there be a cooler name than DEMELZA?