Note, I have seen all eight episodes of Poldark. This review does not have spoilers.
Did the world need a new Poldark adaptation? Given the success of the original, which aired two series in the 70s as well as the failure of the recent Upstairs, Downstairs remake (though to be fair, the failure falls on the second season which lacked Eileen Atkins), I’d say that’s a no. Fortunately, we got one anyway.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Poldark is about Ross Poldark, a man who returns to run his late father’s copper mines after serving for three years in the British Army during the American Revolution. Poldark finds his estate in near ruin and his sweetheart about to be married off to his cousin. Rather than pout about the changing times, Poldark goes to work putting the pieces of his life back together.
What is it about Polark that makes it such great television? Two words, Aidan Turner. In just about every scene, Turner captivates the audience, making you forget about the books and the previous series. It’s rare that you have a leading man who seems equally appealing to both genders. Men want to be Ross Poldark, women want to be with Ross Poldark. It’s hard to believe that TV’s most captivating leading man was a supporting character in all three Hobbit movies, but that’s Aidan Turner for you.
The production quality is also top notch. From the costumes to the scenery, Poldark impresses on just about every level. In what’s up and away the best era for visually stunning period television, Poldark manages to separate itself from the pack.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Poldark is that it feels fresh. Like Downton Abbey before it, the series waded into well trodden territory without feeling derivative. Comparisons are inevitable, but Poldark succeeds on its own merits and not just as an updated nostalgic romp through 18th century Cornwall.
Though Poldark deserves consideration as one of the best shows on television, its status as the best costume drama is unquestionable thanks to subpar showings from Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones (while I wouldn’t call the second half of Outlander’s first season a failure, it definitely didn’t raise the bar). Aside from Hannibal, I’m not sure there’s a show more deserving of the label, though True Detective will likely be a contender when it returns. With DA’s swan song only a few months away, Poldark’s timing couldn’t have been much better.
The comparisons to Downton are inevitable and certainly not misguided, but it’s important to note that Poldark is more than just the next placeholder for the label of “favorite costume drama.” It’s more than that. It’s a great show in its own right and certainly surpasses DA’s last two seasons by a wide margin.
It’s also hard to imagine the comparisons being particularly beneficial to Poldark besides the publicity boost. Though the past two seasons haven’t been top notch, Downton Abbey remains a worldwide phenomenon, a claim that very few shows can rightfully make. As good as it is, it’s fairly unlikely that Poldark will join that exclusive club and be watched by hundreds of millions of people and that’s okay.
Poldark doesn’t need to come close to DA’s viewership to be one of the best shows currently airing on television. The summer doesn’t look too great for original programming. There are worse things you could be watching than a shirtless Aidan Turner. I’m not entirely sure there’s anything better.