Poldark: A Rare Time that I Read the Books Second

By Thursday, November 12, 2015 , , ,

{Caution: Poldark spoilers afoot below!

Recently, I finished reading the first two books in Winston Graham’s Poldark series, Ross Poldark and Demelza. I’ve mentioned that I’d never heard of these stories before Masterpiece’s new TV series based on the books aired this past summer, so this is one of the few instances in which I watched a screen version before reading the books! I didn’t realize there were books until after the show had started, so I was content to wait to read them and then compare. And oh, what fun it’s been! I’m thankful that the show led me to these books and that I now can enjoy the stories with so many others. Having now watched the show and read the books, I honestly recommend both more highly than ever. While there are differences, the books helped me to not only love the stories more, but also to appreciate the show more. Here are the biggest differences I noticed between the two, and whether you tend more towards screen adaptations or books, I hope they’ll encourage you to enjoy both where Poldark is concerned, because both are stunning works of art.  

1. Condensed Story (Obviously)
It’s understood that a screen adaptation will have to compress a book, but as I read Ross Poldark and Demelza, I was honestly surprised at how much the show trimmed down the story. Even though I knew it would have had to, it was still nice to see the slower timeline in the books, as it gives more time to understand and flesh out the characters. The most obvious consequence of this lacking in the show I think appears in Demelza’s growth. In the books, she’s thirteen when Ross rescues her, and it’s not until four years later that they’re married. It’s clear in the show that she has matured by the time they marry, but the development is more subtle, and the timeline isn’t always explicit. Another effect of having to compress the story is that some characters had to be left out completely – Reuben Clemmow, anyone? I understand why he was cut, as this storyline involving Jim and Jinny Carter doesn’t directly have to do with Ross and Demelza, but it was an exciting and engaging plot line to read and develops these supporting characters in fascinating ways in the book.

Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza Poldark at their wedding in Masterpiece's new TV series of Poldark. Despite the compressed storyline, they do get married about as quickly in the show as they do in the books.
{Photo Credit: Chapter 1-Take 1}

Gracee O'Brien and Alexander Arnold as Jinny and Jim Carter in Masterpiece's Poldark. Their storylines are perhaps cut down the most from the original novels.
{Photo Credit: Chapter 1-Take 1} 

2. Francis and Elizabeth’s Roles 
Perhaps what most surprised me as I read the books was how little you see of Francis and Elizabeth in them. Verity is certainly a major player in them as she is onscreen, but the TV series gives Francis and Elizabeth much more onstage time than the books do. The beginning storylines of Ross’ return and Francis and Elizabeth’s marriage match in both fairly well, but the show more strongly highlights Francis’ failures as a businessman and a husband. Many of the scenes between him and Ross in the show are not in the books, but I can see how they’re helpful, as it emphasizes the contrast between them and shows why Francis’ financial situation goes downhill. There are also many scenes in the show that bring Ross and Elizabeth together that aren’t in the books. Throughout, there are numerous small looks and comments between them that make you wonder whether they’ve moved on from one another, but that’s rarely a question in the books once Demelza comes in and Ross begins pouring himself into the copper mine. I think if I’d read the books first, I would have been surprised to see Ross struggling with lingering feelings for Elizabeth even after his marriage to Demelza. But I do appreciate how this aspect develops Elizabeth more. I read that the show’s writer, Debbie Horsfield, wanted to make the show first and foremost about Ross and Demelza obviously, but also about Elizabeth and Francis. The four of them are at the center of her scripts, and she rounds out all of them well. In the books, Elizabeth is much quieter and colder, so her increased screen time in the show helps us see her perspective more clearly. In the TV series, when Francis is failing to deliver as a husband, it’s easy to see that she understandably wonders what her life would be like if she had married Ross. Though we never exactly root for her, she does earn a bit more of our sympathy than she does in the books. 
Heida Reed as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark in Masterpiece's Poldark
{Photo Credit: Austenprose}

3. Amazing Narration in the Books, New Scenes in the Show 
Another obvious caveat of a screen adaptation is that you won’t have an outside narrator who “knows” all of the characters. This is what I really loved about the books. Winston Graham’s narration is absolutely brilliant. He was a wonderful storyteller, and his sketching of these characters and their inner dialogues gives such deep, personal understanding of them. It was really thrilling and moving to get inside the characters’ thoughts and emotions in ways that just aren’t possible onscreen. After reading the books, I now feel I know Ross and Demelza so much better, and I love them all the more for it! There are so many moments in the story that are more poignant in the books because of the narration surrounding them and the inner thoughts of the characters. A few include Demelza’s realization that she loves and belongs at Nampara as her father demands her return with him, Verity’s disappointment and hopelessness after Francis and Captain Blamey duel, and Ross’ first awakening to his love for Demelza after the big pilchard catch. That scene of Verity’s in the book is especially genius. Her crushing loss is felt deeply in the narration, and the description of her perspective is as raw as it’s believable.
Richard Harrington as Captain Andrew Blamey and Ruby Bentall as Verity Poldark in Masterpiece's Poldark
{Photo Credit: Poldarked}
But even so, as much as I loved this aspect of the books and wish more could have been captured onscreen, I still admire the screenplay writer, Debbie Horsfield, more than I did before I read the books. There were of course certain scenes that I wish were in the show – Ross and Demelza’s sweet moment during the pilchard catch, as mentioned above, is one. In the book, they share a tender interaction in a rowboat on the sea as they watch the catch hauled in, and it continues as they walk home together. In the show, this is changed to a relaxed, cliff-top walk after they’ve helped with the catch in the midst of excited, frenzied villagers. Both work, but it’s more touching and intimate in the book. But at the same time, upon reading the books, I found that many of my favorite scenes in the show were Debbie Horsfield’s original creations. Though the show doesn’t encompass all of the books and does change things, she did an amazing job of capturing their heart and emotion with her writing. One dialogue of her creation comes after Francis’ mine closes and Ross and Demelza talk of their future and their new daughter Julia as they look out to sea. Demelza teases Ross about whether he wishes he was
free as they see young girls eyeing the handsome Dr. Dwight Enys. Ross laughs and then grows serious saying, 

“You were right. The world is a harder place now, thanks to Julia. The stakes are higher, losses more painful. Yet I would not trade places with [Enys]. My life is more precious for being less certain, and richer for being poorer.” 

This was one of my favorite wisdom moments in the show, so I was quite impressed when I realized it was original to the screenplay! One of my favorite lines of Demelza’s is also the writer’s original creation:

“Ross, you cannot fight all the world. You can only make your own small corner a fairer place.”
Demelza and Ross at Jim Carter's funeral, where Demelza speaks the above line to Ross.
{Photo Credit: Ink Drops Reviews}
Demelza sure knows how to drop some good ones exactly when Ross needs to hear it, and I think we can all take a leaf from that one. These moments certainly benefit from those new dialogues, and I was so appreciative of the writer’s talent for pulling together different aspects of the book to convey the different events as well as the characters’ minds and personalities. Also worth noting: maybe the most heartbreaking moment of the show comes when Ross has to tell Demelza of Julia's death. This is summarized in just a few lines in the book, but I’m so glad it was written out and portrayed in the show. The scene is profound, and it could not be more convincing or painfully gut-wrenching if it were happening in actuality. I’m always amazed at the script and the acting when I see that scene. So, even though there is give and take in the TV series, I was overall so impressed with how the script and production captured the books. Both are so worthy of time and much love! :) 
Demelza: They like you just the same. Ross: And you? Do you like me? Demelza: I could learn to. :)
{Photo Credit: Poldarked}
So there’s my analysis! And so, even in this case, when I saw the TV show first, I still think you should read the books. ;) But both have shown me how beautiful and well-written these stories are and how wonderful the characters are. Highly recommend both, and I’m so excited for what’s ahead. I think I’ll likely read the next two books, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan, at the same time as show’s second season airs next year, just to change it up a little. 

P.S. One change the show made that I’m completely okay with – Demelza’s red hair as opposed to black in the book. I think she’ll always be a flame-haired beauty in my mind! ;) 

*Excepting the first one that appears, I do not own the rights to the photos in this post. All photos used, excepting the first one that appears, were retrieved from credited Internet sources*

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  1. I agree, both the books and the show complement each other. Inevitably there are changes, but I think Debbie has handled them really well, with respect for the spirit of the books. I think she handled particularly well Ross's gradual realisation of his feelings for Demelza. There's the bit at J&J's wedding when he's watching her dance (and the vicar mentions fornication!) And the way he looks at her when she's singing at Christmas. Of course it helps that Aidan Turner can convey a dozen emotions with a small flick of his eyelashes!

    1. Yes, exactly! They both complement each other so well. The characters and spirit of the stories are captured amazingly well! And yes, I agree about Aidan Turner... those dark, brooding eyes are so deep with feeling and I looove it! ;) I do love that part at the Carters' wedding; it's so cute when he joins in the dance circle! And the Christmas party scene is one of my favorites... you can literally see him realizing that he's in love with her as she sings! Just tugs at your heart! <3

  2. Though we never exactly root for her, she does earn a bit more of our sympathy than she does in the books.

    I had no problems with Elizabeth's character in the novels. Yet, I also like how Debbie Horsfield portrayed her in the TV series. My only real problem with Elizabeth's character was how the producers of the 1970s series had portrayed in the 1975 episodes.

    1. I've not seen the 1970s series, so I can't give many thoughts on that, haha! But I found her more sympathetic in this TV series than in the novels simply because you see more of her overall. I feel like the books are centered much more on Ross and Demelza, while the TV series, though still primarily about them, brought in Francis and Elizabeth much more. The show gives a far clearer view into Elizabeth's frustrations than the books, so that's why I feel more empathetic towards her when I watch the show than when I read the books. Both are excellent of course, just give different perspectives :)