The fall weather brings with it a lot of cozy activities: Apple picking, pumpkin carving—and curling up on chilly nights with a comfy blanket, a steaming cup of tea, and a good British period drama. If you’re a fan of that last activity, it probably means you’ve been spending your Sunday evenings watching Poldark, which is ready to return to its coveted Sunday-at-9 p.m. slot on PBS’s long-running Masterpiece program for its fifth and final season.
Poldark is story of one Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner): an 18th-century gentleman-turned-social-justice-warrior juggling a love triangle, a gig as a member of Parliament, and a ripped set of abs. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the breathtaking BBC series.
1. Poldark is based on a series of books by British author Winston Graham.
Between 1945 and 2002, Winston Graham penned a total of 12 novels about Ross Poldark and his cherished community in the southwest of England. Although the Manchester-born writer also had a prolific portfolio of non-Poldark published works, it was the saga of Cap’n Ross that brought him fame and fortune. The final book in the series, Bella Poldark, was published in 2002—just a year before the author’s death.
2. This is the second TV adaptation of Poldark.
Forty years before Aidan Turner’s brooding portrayal of Ross Poldark resulted in a barrage of online marriage proposals, fans across the globe were swooning over the BBC’s first television adaptation of the Cornwall-set drama. The 1975 version of Poldark—which was also broadcast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre—starred Robin Ellis as Ross and the late Angharad Rees as Demelza.
Although, in recent years, Ellis has turned his attention to his second career as a cookbook author, he occasionally cameos on the new Poldark as one of Ross’s adversaries: the irascible Reverend Halse.
Though the original Poldark was a hit, famed Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke hated it. “I was bored stiff," Cooke said in 1982, when asked about his least favorite program featured on the long-running series. "It seemed to be a bunch of cardboard figures going through the motions of love and hate.”
3. Aidan Turner is a former amateur ballroom dancer.
Before he was melting hearts with his luscious brown locks and chiseled pectorals, the Poldark star spent a decade competing in amateur ballroom dancing competitions, representing his home country of Ireland. In 2018, while appearing on The Graham Norton Show, Turner sheepishly downplayed his skills as a teenage tango expert, claiming he wasn’t disciplined enough to “go pro.”
Fortunately for fans who are craving a taste of Turner’s not-so-hidden talent, there is the above behind-the-scenes video from the Poldark set, in which Turner—decked out in Ross’s 1700s finery—can be seen cutting a rug to the decidedly 20th-century track “Mas Que Nada.”
4. Tourism in Cornwall spiked following Poldark's success.
Whenever location is considered a character in a film or TV show, it’s inevitable that the tour buses will start rolling in. It’s no different for Poldark, which shoots in the southwest England county of Cornwall, and regularly enhances its narrative with sweeping vistas of its rugged coastline.
According to The Guardian, there was an uptick in Cornwall’s visitor numbers after the show’s first season, with one-fifth of the people who took part in a tourism survey admitting that Poldark was the reason behind their trip to the area. Even the official Cornwall tourist board has jumped on the Poldark bandwagon.
5. Two Poldark actresses appeared in iconic films from the 1980s.
Ever hear of a couple of little films called Return of the Jedi and Highlander (1986)? While most of the younger actresses featured in Poldark weren’t even born yet when those movies were in theaters, their senior colleagues were upgrading their resumes with parts in some of the most memorable movies of the '80s. Caroline Blakiston, best known to Poldark fans as the feisty family matriarch Aunt Agatha, appeared as Mon Mothma in 1983’s Jedi. Beatie Edney, who plays Ross and Demelza’s curmudgeonly maid, Prudie, broke hearts in 1986’s Highlander as Heather MacLeod, the Scottish lass who succumbed to old age in her immortal husband’s arms.
6. Several of Poldark's characters are portrayed by non-Brits.
This is hardly a new thing: A Welsh guy played a Russian pretending to be an American on The Americans, after all. But it still can be shocking to learn that Poldark employed overseas talent considering its distinctively English pedigree (then again, that just goes to show the actors’s skill level).
As mentioned earlier, the man who embodies Ross Poldark, the epitome of British land-owning gentry, Aidan Turner, is Irish. Adding to the series’ international cast is the Connecticut-born Kyle Soller, who played Francis Poldark, Ross’s cousin and romantic rival in the first two seasons. The biggest surprise, however, has got to be Heida Reed, a.k.a. the genteel Elizabeth Warleggan, who is originally from Iceland; her given name is Heiða Rún Sigurðardóttir. But don’t expect to hear Reed sound terribly different from Elizabeth in interviews; she deliberately speaks with an English accent now.
7. Pulling off that Cornish accent is hard.
Accents are different all over, whether you’re from the north of England, like Eleanor Tomlinson, or Cornwall, like the fiery Demelza, her character on Poldark. So, Tomlinson, who was determined to get Demelza’s Cornish mannerisms right, adopted a distinctive technique to get the job done: Speaking with a clenched jaw.
“I learned about how [the Cornish people’s] jaws were a lot tighter because of the wind, and living so close to the sea, the salt makes you speak in a different way,” Tomlinson told The Telegraph in 2015. “They clench their jaw tightly so you get a completely different sound.” But even with two seasons playing Demelza under her belt, Tomlinson still found it impossible to slip into the character when prompted during a Masterpiece podcast in 2016: “It’s not something I can just immediately pick up,” she said. “I have to really work hard at it.”
8. Season 2 of Poldark featured a problematic sex scene.
In a scene that came from Warleggan, the fourth novel in the Poldark series, Ross angrily barges into Elizabeth’s bedchamber upon learning that she intends to marry his mortal enemy, George Warleggan. Although she tells him to leave and resists his forceful advances, Elizabeth eventually submits to Ross’s will—and appears to enjoy it. Their one night of passion resulted in Ross receiving a much-deserved decking courtesy of Demelza, and Elizabeth delivering a son, Valentine, less than nine months after her marriage to George.
This scene also resulted in a barrage of criticism toward Poldark, accusing the series of “prettifying” sexual assault and blurring the lines of consent. Andrew Graham, son of Winston Graham and a consultant on Poldark, defended the show’s portrayal of the scene, claiming “there is no ‘shock rape’ storyline in the novels,” explaining that “what then actually happens is not described but is left entirely to one’s imagination.”
9. The actor who plays the revolting Reverend Ossie Whitworth is far from revolting in real life.
One scroll through Christian Brassington’s Instagram is a double-take waiting to happen. The actor plays the villainous minister Ossie Whitworth on Poldark. But if you’re expecting pics of a rotund dude with a self-righteous gleam in his eye, you’ll have to make do with someone who looks like he walked off the cover of GQ instead. As Brassington recently revealed in a Masterpiece Instagram Story Q&A, he put on 40 pounds to play the loathsome Ossie.
10. The fifth season of Poldark will also be its last.
All good things must come to an end, including Poldark. Shortly before season four's U.S. premiere, it was announced that Poldark's fifth season would be its final season.
“In The Stranger from the Sea, Winston Graham made many references to developments that happened in the gap years," Poldark creator Debbie Horsfield, who has written every episode of the first four seasons, said in discussing the final season. "Much can also be inferred. There are, of course, also historical events and people of the time, both in Cornwall and in London. Series five will draw on all of these to follow the lives of the Poldarks, George Warleggan, the Enyses, and the Carnes in this intervening period."
This story has been updated for 2019.