Poldark: can new adaptation rival the 1970s original?

Hobbit star Aidan Turner cast as Captain Ross Poldark in new BBC version of the novels

(Image credit: BBC)

Stars of the new adaptation of Poldark have admitted feeling nervous about taking on a drama that proved so successful in the 1970s.

Producers insist it is an adaptation of Winston Graham's novels rather than a remake of the popular 1970s series, but there is no doubt they have big shoes to fill.

The original series, starring Robin Ellis and the late Angharad Rees, attracted 15 million viewers per episode at its peak and became "such a phenomenon that some vicars cancelled or rescheduled church services to avoid a clash", says the Daily Express.

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Ellis returns for a cameo in the new adaptation, but the role of Captain Ross Poldark – the brooding Cornish hero – will be played by The Hobbit actor Aidan Turner.

Set in 1783, army officer Poldark returns to Cornwall from the American War of Independence to find that his great love Elizabeth (played by Heida Reed) is engaged to his cousin. The beginnings of a love triangle emerge after he takes on a new kitchen maid, Demelza, played by Eleanor Tomlinson, best known for The White Queen.

The new series is based on the first two of Graham's 12 novels, but its makers hope to adapt the rest if it proves to be a success.

Tara Conlan at The Guardian notes that its "Darcy-esque scenes of a semi-naked Turner in the surf" are already drawing comparisons to the BBC's Pride and Prejudice rather than the Poldark of 40 years ago. Others say the backdrops are likely to rival those of Broadchurch.

"Visit Cornwall couldn't pay for this sort of tourist enticement," says Lee Trewhela, arts editor for the Cornish Guardian, who watched the first episode at a screening in Truro. "Cornwall looks stunning – all galloping horses on sun-kissed clifftops, imposing mines and windswept moors."

Trewhela thinks fans of Robin Ellis "won't be disappointed" by Turner's portrayal, but says the actor risks being usurped by his co-star Tomlinson. "She is delightful as Demelza – less simpering than Angharad Rees in the 70s but with a similar porcelain beauty and feistiness. The screen loves her."

Emily Hourican at the Irish Independent thinks nothing can match the "intense appeal" of the original, but says the new version nevertheless looks set to be another hit for the BBC. "As demonstrated by Wolf Hall and The Casual Vacancy, BBC drama is having a moment right now," she says. "Will they score a hat trick with Poldark?"

The eight-part series begins on Sunday 8 March at 9.00pm on BBC One

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