The BBC drama series Poldark has just begun its fourth series this month, starring Aidan Turner as Captain Ross Poldark, a British Army officer who returns home from war to his native Cornwall – only to find there have been some unwelcome changes.
His father has died and his first love, Elizabeth, is marrying his cousin, Francis – as Ross has been missing in action for some time and is presumed dead. The joyous home-coming he had hoped for doesn’t happen and this is the start of a tumultuous period in the Poldark family’s life – and all who are involved with them.
All four series of the drama, set in 18th century England, have been filmed on the beautiful Cornish coastline, with the opening credits showing breathtaking views over the ocean, set to a score composed by Anne Dudley.
How Poldark began
The BBC series is based on the 12 novels of Winston Graham, published between 1945 and 1953 and continued between 1973 and 2002. His epic series begins in the 18th century and follows the lives of the original characters and their descendants through to the early 19th century.
The novels were originally made into a TV series in 1975, starring Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark. In the current series, Ellis, now 73, appears as Judge Halse, who presides over the court case when Poldark is accused of poaching.
The author (who died at the age of 95 in 2003) said he had based the character of Ross on an injured flying officer, whom he had met during the Second World War. Graham had moved to Perranporth in Cornwall at the age of 17, where he lived for 34 years.
Plot and cast
When Ross returns home, he is stunned to discover his first love, Elizabeth Chynoweth (played by Heida Reed) is engaged to his cousin, Francis Poldark, as she believed Ross to be dead.
This leads to awkwardness and friction between the cousins, which continues for many years – even after Ross falls in love with and marries miner’s daughter Demelza Carne (Eleanor Tomlinson).
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is widowed and goes on to marry the rich but obnoxious George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) because she needs the money and enjoys the social status – although she still has feelings for Ross.
Demelza and Elizabeth couldn’t be more different, as Demelza (who has six brothers) had a tough and impoverished upbringing, making her sparky and forthright, while Elizabeth was raised as a rich young lady who wanted for nothing, making her less resourceful in times of trouble.
Against the backdrop of picturesque 18th century Cornwall, the mammoth television production is packed with action, romance and adventure as it follows the lives of Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth and their family and friends, and the social problems of poorer communities of the era .
Extensive filming for the series is done at Charlestown, near St Austell. Famous for its charming traditional ambience and its collection of tall ships, it has been a popular choice for film and television crews’ location managers over the years. In Poldark, it represents the city of Truro in the 18th century – an ideal representation, thanks to the tall ships moored in the harbour.
Some of the beach scenes were filmed at the former fishing cove of Porthgwarra, in the heart of the St Aubyn Estates. Today, it is a peaceful and tranquil location, with plenty of wild flowers and birdlife. It boasts a tunnel cut through the rock, which became the location of the illicit meetings between Demelza’s younger brother Drake Carne (Harry Richardson) and Elizabeth’s cousin Morwenna Chynoweth (Ellise Chapell).
Some of the cliff-top scenes were filmed in the Padstow area, including the Camel Estuary, Tregirls beach and Porthcothan beach, with its clean, white, soft sand. The smuggling scenes were filmed at the National Trust site of Gunwalloe on The Lizard – reliving its real-life smuggling past, including the night-time shipwreck scenes.
Kynance Cove also represented Poldark’s beloved home and surrounding land, with its sea caves and islands visible at low tide, while the cliff tops at Park Head at the Bedruthan Steps offered the stunning views that so appealed to the show’s creative team – particularly as a backdrop to Poldark galloping on his horse.
Much of the filming was done on breathtaking Bodmin Moor, including the exterior shots of Ross and Demelza’s cottage, Nampara. Shots of the cast on horseback were also filmed as they galloped across the moor, which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The moor is a vast expanse of lush green grass and heather, interspersed with granite and boulders. Rivers such as the Powey run through its marshy hollows, while ancient oak trees grow in hidden valleys. It is the perfect remote and haunting setting for Poldark.
The scenes depicting Ross Poldark’s mining business were filmed on the coast between Botallack and Levant. The real-life Levant Mine became Poldark’s Tressiders Rolling Mill, while Owles and Crowns near Botallack became Ross’s Wheal Leisure. The National Trust owns Levant Mine today, high on the lofty cliffs of Cornwall’s Tin Coast.
It is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and among the highlights is a restored 1840s beam engine, powered by steam. The old Crowns’ engine houses are also part of the World Heritage Site. Engine houses on top of the cliffs at St Agnes Head were used as part of the Poldark family estate, the Nampara Valley.
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