Poldark

How did you become involved with the project?

I was approached by Karen Thrussell and Damien Timmer at Mammoth Screen and asked to consider adapting the first two Poldark novels ('Ross Poldark' and 'Demelza'). I'd never done an adaptation before - and almost everything else I've written has been contemporary so my initial reaction was to think they'd asked the wrong person! Nevertheless I took the books away on holiday - and had read all of three pages before I was hooked. I came home and said yes without any hesitation.

How do you go about adapting a series of books such as these?

Sounds obvious, but the first task was to read all 12 books in order to get an idea of the journeys of the characters and the overall story arcs. Then the next task was to decide how many books to go for on the first series. Originally the BBC commissioned 6 episodes but I soon realised that this wouldn't be enough to do justice to the complexities of narrative and character so we asked for 8 episodes and the BBC agreed.

Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner), Elizabeth (Heida Reed) (Image: BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan)

Do you feel the weight of expectation? There are so many Poldark fans!

There are! Fans of the books and fans of the 1970s adaptation. My primary concern has always been to do justice to the source material. Winston Graham is a masterly story teller and his characters are wonderful creations. In a way I felt the same weight of expectation as I might have done if I'd adapted a Jane Austen or a Dickens novel - not because of the many other adaptations that might be compared to it but because of wanting to do justice to the original material. In terms of the 70s series, obviously we all hope the fans will enjoy a new adaptation (in the way Austen or Dickens fans can enjoy new adaptations of well-loved novels). I didn't watch the 70s series but obviously I remember what a massive hit it was. However, what's exciting is that there's a whole generation which has never seen - or in some cases even heard of - the first series - so for them we are starting with a clean slate.

Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner)(Image: BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan)

Can you describe the character of Ross Poldark?

Ross Poldark is one of literature's great heroes: a gentleman who is also a rebel, who has a keen sense of morality and social justice but without any priggishness or moralising. He's also a great romantic figure - caught between two women from two completely different backgrounds. A gentleman who marries his kitchen maid. A man who doesn't stand on ceremony, who doesn't play by the rules and often falls foul of authority. He has elements of Darcy, Heathcliffe, Rochester, Rhett Butler and Robin Hood - quite a combination!

Do you have a way of immersing yourself in the period?

I did a lot of background reading: the history of the period, both British and world history, I read books about mining and industry in Cornwall, about the Methodist movement, about pilchard fishing, the conditions which gave rise to smuggling, etc. I listened to the music of the period, both classical and folk, I talked a lot with our brilliant historical advisor Hannah Greig (Lecturer in History at York University, specialising in 18th century studies). It also helped that my degree is in English Literature so I was very familiar with literature of the period, and also with the vocabulary, idioms, phrases, manners, etiquette, traditions, etc.

Why are these stories so engrossing and addictive?

They are multi-stranded narratives with characters which are so beautifully drawn you feel they could actually walk into the room. The stories themselves are both epic in their sweep and exquisitely detailed in the creation of their world. They are set against a backdrop of great historic, social, economic turbulence - and they deal with compelling themes such as ambition, rivalry, betrayal, family and of course love. When I first read them I was reminded of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With the Wind' which is similarly a portrait of a society at a time of great change, with an epic love story at its heart and a series of unforgettable characters.

What additional research did you do? Anyone in particular help you with various elements?

Andrew Graham (the author's son) has been unfailingly supportive - and very hands on. Every key decision has to be run by him and we have been in constant contact from the script stage onwards. He reads all the scripts and gives feedback. He has said that this adaptation is much closer to his father's novels than the previous adaptation.

Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner)(Image: BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan)

How familiar were you with the Cornish landscape before embarking on this project?

I'd had several holidays in Cornwall and had always loved the wild elemental nature of its landscape and the extreme weather - the landscape and weather play a huge part in the novels and we've done our best to capture those extremes. This summer was one of the sunniest for many years and we were very lucky with the weather, Cornwall looks gorgeous. But the first scenes we shot in Cornwall were in March during the storms so we got some spectacular footage of waves.

What are the most important elements to get right?

I obviously want to make sure that what readers love so much about the books - the vividness of the characterisation, the complexity of the storytelling - is translated to the screen. This obviously means getting the casting and the creation of the Poldark 'world' right. We think we've assembled an amazing cast who will do justice to Winston Graham's characters. And we also hope the 'world' - (Catrin Mereddyd's design, Marianne Agertoft's costumes, Jacqui Fowler's hair and make-up) also has authenticity as well as beauty and style.

Poldark begins on BBC One on Sunday 8 March 2015 at 9pm - Find out more about Poldark and watch on BBC iPlayer

Five things Poldark taught me - Actor Aidan Turner on the BBC TV blog

Meet the Poldark characters

This interview was originally published on the BBC Media Centre - find out more and read more interviews with the cast, crew and the author's son and series consultant, Andrew Graham

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  • Comment number 30. Posted by Illuggan Maiden-up

    on 21 Jul 2015 03:31

    In grateful expectation of Season 2, I append a note to Ross. Like the summons of the veins of ore to the Cornish miners, advice-giving is very compelling, I find!

    Dear Captain Poldark,
    Quite understandably, when you married your kitchen wench, you continued ordering her about. Just habit, you likely reasoned. But be forewarned: your paternalistic attitudes run deep. You dearly like to stick an oar in with your tenants (and they do often need it). As for Demelza, when you insisted she perform in company at Christmas you were the classic pushy parent! Are you aware of that? I fear you’re exhibiting shades of Svengali. Do you truly seek a marriage based on manipulation and control? Demelza has surprised us all in her quickness to outgrow her teachers. Stop playing the father, Mister Ross, and be her partner.
    -A well-wisher
    P.S. When desire for Elizabeth overwhelms you, try another plunge in the sea, or some extra shifts down the mine, for everyone’s sakes (!).

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  • Comment number 29. Posted by Illuggan Maiden-up

    on 20 Jul 2015 20:34

    Thanks to Debbie Horsfield for the illuminating comments about the scriptwriting. Thanks to Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, and all at BBC One and Mammoth Screen, for a truly diverting drama. In anticipation of the filming of Season 2, here's an agony aunt's advice:

    Dearest Demelza,
    I fear that you are headed for tempestuous times with Ross. I do not wish to alarm you, but I entreat you to consider your actions. When you were Ross's kitchen maid, it was appropriate, but now, sadly, your relentless eagerness to please makes it clear that you are more invested in your relationship than he is. It grates on Ross to know you are a foregone conclusion. Where is the challenge in that? Could you, perhaps, find it in your heart to treat him a little badly? That may help. Elizabeth, you see, is less complicated. She was simply born to be admired. And Ross is quite obviously up for that (!). I do not want to see you hurt. All the best with the turnip harvest.
    -A well-wisher

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  • Comment number 28. Posted by Scinnamon

    on 29 Apr 2015 17:31

    I agree with previous that, for me, this has been the most addictive piece of television for a long time - congratulations to Debbie and all involved on such a great adaptation. As an existing fan of the books I thought most of the casting and characterisation was spot on, and that the blossoming of Demelza and the development of her relationship with Ross was particularly well done.
    As someone who has been turned off by the current bombardment of gritty, depressing contemporary T.V. drama I must admit that I am slightly apprehensive of the second series. I stopped reading the books after a certain event in 'Warleggan', and I think modern T.V. audiences would be equally put off if the wonderfully written and depicted Ross in this version did such a morally questionable thing, and equally so if the strong-minded Demelza forgave him. Please don't turn our romantic hero with a social conscience into something most modern women would consider not only out of character, but deplorable!!

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  • Comment number 27. Posted by Cornish resident

    on 27 Apr 2015 17:02

    Quite simply, this was the best piece of popular TV drama we've seen in a very, very long time. The production, sets, costumes, filming, and outstanding acting without exception are of a standard beyond praise. I am bereft until the next series! iPlayer is brilliant for watching again in close up - it's even possible to hear Aidan Turner's anguished breathing in the scene with Elizabeth when Ross describes Demelza as the love of his life. As for the sequence when Demelza is hallucinating - words actually spoken to her through the scene are muddled and mixed with her thoughts and memories - outstanding. Kyle Soller has given a remarkable performance as Francis - not a character to warm to but Kyle has made a fine job of creating him. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson became their two characters through and through. The adaptation deserves every credit to Debbie Horsfield. If there are no TV awards it will be an absolute travesty. Thank you all for agreeing to do a second series!

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  • Comment number 26. Posted by aguerro

    on 27 Apr 2015 11:23

    it was a rotten way to end series one

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  • Comment number 25. Posted by Sapphire

    on 26 Apr 2015 21:47

    TREMENDOUS.!!!!.......stunning production Debbie wow,beautifully written and totally compelling in every way

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by susanna

    on 20 Apr 2015 07:13

    I bought the original Poldark books in the early 70s and was ' hooked' ever after, reading them all. Although I watched the original series with Robin Ellis,it was often very frustrating and unsatisfactory as the story was distorted unnecessarily I felt. One of the worst things being that they made Demelza into some sort of child 'tramp' , offering to give her services to Ross '...for a penny ' .. And then making Ross marry her as she was pregnant! ....Which was miles away from the characters Winston Graham had created.
    When this new series began , I watched with trepidation to see what would be damaged this time...
    But happily the casting is just wonderful! Ross and Demelza are excellent as are the rest of the characters,Verity's story being very well portrayed.
    Just wanted to say WELL DONE and hope that the rest of the books will be dramatised in the same way!
    Congratulations for keeping to the story lines and dialogue!
    Ross is very close to the real character and the

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by Adey

    on 19 Apr 2015 22:06

    Debbie and all the production team - and everyone else involved - you bow to NO-ONE after this. Just gets better and better. Simply brilliant.

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by susan gill

    on 19 Apr 2015 15:51

    I think there has been a great deal of praise for this adaptation of a beautiful story, but I do wish people would NOT compare Ross to Mr. D'Arcy in any way at all, there is no comparison and both are very different characters, I hope Aidan Turner has broad shoulders to be able to carry some of the outlandish comments about his physique, Ross is not supposed to be a sex
    symbol just a captivating and compassionate man, and Aidan has played him perfectly, I think the people making these comments are probably watching it as a bodice ripping romp, but it is not, it is just a beautiful and sometimes very poignant story, and a bit of romance for us all, if you read the books you get totally submerged in them.....wonderful......thanks again

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by susan gill

    on 19 Apr 2015 15:34

    Thank you Debbie Horsfall and Producers and all involved, you've done a MAMMOTH JOB and I have enjoyed every single second of it.....so pleased there is to be another series and hopefully more after that. Thank You....

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