Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander)
Dear friends and readers,
I had thought to make one more blog for this year comparing the 1975 to the 2015 Poldark mini-series, this one in response to Anibundel on the male hats and wigs and women’s hats, wigs, hair ribbons of another survey of the earlier series.
But I’ve discovered true to its origin in the progressive earlier seventies, hats are often eschewed or most often “simply historical accurate” in the plainest of ways. When the actors have hats on, they are tricornes
Male wigs are the expected historically accurate ones for older males in the series, and they wear their own hair (or wigs made to look like their own), modified for the younger “hero” leads, except for Francis when gambling, and on the prowl for women (something of a rake and not to be wholly admired). Brief ponytails with ribbons holding the hair tight at the nape of the neck or just curled tight natural hair around their heads.
Frank Middlemas as Charles Poldark and Clive Francis as Francis at home, at his best
This is the convention of historical costume drama until recently: the older and less than admirable males wear wigs, the rest natural hair approximating a compromise between the era dramatized and what is admired, popular, fashionable, in the year the film was made.
As to women’s wigs, the model is the 1940s Gainsborough costume dramas, subdued by attention to the poverty of Cornwall and its distance from London, and modified by local realistic Edwardian painting of Cornwall in the 1890s. This combines with we might call “big” hair for four of the women (Demelza grown up, Elizabeth, Verity at parties and Keren). We see alluring cascades of hair, except for Elizabeth whose wig is helmet-like and is a miniature modest version of the piled-up tight curl on the shoulder bone fashion seen in London.
Angharad Rees and Sheila White as Demelza and Keren wear headscarves but are often bare-headed and boast the curly abundant sexualized flourish of the 1940s minus hats (remember the movie Kitty with Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland; and still influential as in Keira Knightley’s wigs in The Duchess), though Keren can be found to have braided and ornamented hers:
Not that the 2015 movie has altogether eschewed the 1940s Gainsborough model: it’s the origin for one of Margaret’s most pleasing extravaganzas:
So I take this last opportunity and fallow time of late summer (no new brilliant costume dramas or film adaptations on the US PBS channels) to offer a handy list of the Poldark blogs I’ve done this season comparing the two mini-series with Graham’s historical fictions set in the later 18th century in the context of 21st century norms for historical fiction and film.
My favorite hat and male hair from the 2015 series: Verity (Ruby Bentall) in lovely hat with pink flowers and Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington in his own hair or wig to look like his own, with naval hat and ribbon too) upon marrying (Episode 7)
I have a right to choose my own life … Verity, (Ross Poldark, Bk 1, Ch 13)
A Winston Graham Reader: links to other sites
Poldark: studying the novels, the new film adaptation, upon re-reading
The Poldark novels in context: a syllabus
Winston Graham: the writer and his A Forgotten Story
Historical Fiction: Graham’s Poldark, the first phase
Ross Poldark: Ends restoratively; concluding notes
Demelza, the novel: Developing an Eighteenth Century World
Graham’s fiction: haunting gothics and a Che Guevara slant
Consuming costume historical adaptations: Poldark and Wolf Hall
Mining and smuggling in Cornwall, with especial reference to the Poldark novels
The Poldark novels: Doctors and poachers, scavengers & elections aka property wars
Rape in the Poldark narratives: from Upstairs and Downstairs, British Costume Drama, Forsyte to Downton
The new incarnation:
” …. to give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil-minded … It would be a mistake for you to give life to the story by taking notice of it …” Ross to Jinny, Bk 1, Chapter 14, p 118 in Sourcebook ed
Poldark 1: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s Post WW2 novel
Poldark 2: novel reconceived as mining and proto-feminist story
Poldark 3: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s novel: recasting class & injustice
Poldark 4: lyric (2105 and 1945) and theatric (1975): the problem in evaluating a beloved vision
Poldark 5: transition and contradictory characterization
Poldark 6: between book (Graham’s Demelza) & films (1975 & 2015): the audiences and screenplay writers
Poldark 7: Betrayal of the group; or A Higher Fidelity of the Heart, 3 versions
Poldark 8: how to make new mythic matter, Poldark re-booted 40 years on
Jeux d’esprit: the state of the millinery, 1975 Poldark.
I will be teaching Ross Poldark and Demelza in the fall term of the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at George Mason University this coming semester, and hope to deal with more 18th century historical topics and watch and blog on the new 10 episodes (again scripted by Debbie Horsfield), and to top it all off, have sent off a proposal to a coming 18th century conference on the 18th century on film:
A proposal for a paper for the panel, Eighteenth Century on Film, at the coming ASECS meeting, March 31-April 3, 2016
Poldark re-booted, 40 years on
The new Poldark mini-series (2015-2016) is being watched as an entertainment and historical construction of an on-going national British culture and past. Its surging popularity suggests it has overcome its status as a sequel to the previous immensely popular Poldark (filmed 1975-76, 1977-78), watched yet again (re-digitalized and selling) as a regional Cornish romance adaptation of a specific set of seven historical-regional novels by Winston Graham (written 1945-53,1973-77). Since this first Poldark TV series aired, Graham concluded his cycle of historical fiction with five more books (written 1981-84, 1990, 2003), so the new film-makers have twelve novels, four dramatizing the reactionary and colonialist politics of the 1980s into the 1990s, and a twelfth, recent concerns with animal rights, and disability. They may also take advantage of a transformation of TV dramaturgy and screenplay writing in the last 40 years, and audience tolerance for film intertextuality and self-reflexivity.
Using just the first two books, Ross Poldark and Demelza, I will follow one actuating line of argument. We will contrast dramas meant to be historically accurate and novelistic (1975, eight episodes), with pictorial cinematic montages meant to display a new mythic British matter (2015, a comparable eight). We will see how Graham’s novels’ recreation of a progressive and proto-feminist usable past (for an economically depressed and conflicted post World War Two world and a 1970s generation), fit the perspective and art of the previous film adaption, a typical product of in the mid-1970s era of progressive BBC films. Then we will turn to the present films, products of a complacent sensibility catering to anger and distress in a reactionary era, within the confines of a Thatcherized BBC film industry where ratings and profits are incessantly monitored. By contrast we will observe head-on clashes with the materials of the same two books, often kept to more literally but overturned or reversed when it comes to underlying message.
There is no one reason for the last couple of years’ re-booting of quite a number of 40 year old BBC series. But in this case we can see one reason has been an important change in the way film-makers see their films functioning and we can observe different problematic aporia in each kind (romantic film as history, romantic film as myth)
I’ve only followed the devices and desires of my own heart …. Demelza, Bk 2, Ch 14, p 341