Broadcaster: BBC One
Review by: Emily Kelsey
This episode of the recent BBC drama series Poldark sets the scene for the series to continue. The programme is based on the book by Winston Graham. It follows the life of Ross Poldark who returned from fighting in the American Civil War to find his father dead and an inheritance of debt. What remained of his father’s estate and business was either non-existent or left to ruin. Furthermore, on an emotional level, Poldark comes home to find Elizabeth (his former lover) engaged to his cousin Francis. After being faced with financial ruin and becoming an outsider to his remaining family, Poldark throws himself in to the creation of a new life for himself in the form of investing in the remaining working mines in Cornwall. He also finds himself a new love in the form of a village girl called Demelza and creates a family with her.
Due to the nature of this story making comment on a highly born man who refuses his ‘rightful’ station and works alongside his employees as well as handling his own capital, the story questions class and makes comparisons between working men’s masculinity and highly born men’s masculinity. For this reason, I will be focusing and commenting upon Ross Poldark’s masculinity and in what ways the traditional forms of working men’s and highly born men’s masculinity coincides with his actions in episode 1. Furthermore, Poldark’s military experience invites the audience to view him as a masculine war hero. In addition, Poldark could also be viewed as a provider or father figure to many characters filling a traditional role of the masculine breadwinner. To exemplify the notion that Ross Poldark’s masculinity fits with that of a man who does not fear violence and is experienced in combat comes with the fact that the first time we see Ross he is laughing and joking with his military comrades showing that he seems to be at ease with being at war. Furthermore, throughout the series Poldark has a scar down his face which he sustained in battle; the camera angles deliberately show off this scar which suggests that the director is keen to exemplify his masculinity in this way.
This idea that Ross’ masculinity is in line with that of a traditional and dated view that all men who are masculine favour violence in order to gain respect from peers can also be seen when one examines the side of Poldark’s masculinity that associates with the masculinity of working men. In the following scene Poldark fights Demelza’s father when he comes to reclaim his daughter as he is not happy with the fact she is employed elsewhere (at Poldark’s residence).
In this clip we see Poldark appear to be a gentleman addressing the violent thugs in a polite way asking how he can help them. The scene then escalates to reveal that when push comes to shove Poldark is more than happy to ‘lower’ himself to the status of violent working man who settles an argument with his fists. One can also see that Poldark is respected by the thugs after the fight is over and he is victorious when his hand is shaken. In this scene we also see that his working class peers also turn to violence in order to represent him, showing they respect him. Poldark’s masculinity is also associated with that of a working man’s masculinity when he begins to rebuild his life and instead of employing people to work his land for him and rebuild his home, he picks up the tools himself; he is not afraid to perform traditionally ‘manly’ work which many men of his status of the time would avoid further demonstrating that Poldark’s masculinity is not fixed to a traditional view of what a working or upper class man’s masculinity should be defined as.
It must not be ignored that Poldark’s masculinity is also intertwined with that of a traditional father figure’s or provider’s masculinity. The fact that Poldark is of noble birth and that his name carries weight enables him to be this father figure to many of the characters. Poldark uses his name and financial abilities to create jobs for those who are of a poorer background (notably Demelza and Jim who he employs to work in his house even though their presence isn’t essential or affordable). It is illustrated in the following clip how Poldark is prepared to step in and protect those who are less fortunate than him.
Here we see Poldark use his status to step in and save Demelza’s dog. However, he does not just use his status he also uses violence which could again, be linked with the notion that masculinity is traditionally linked with violence. Be that as it may, this clip exemplifies the idea that Poldark is the protective father figure to many of the working class characters. As we can see from this analysis of Poldark’s masculinity in episode 1 there is not one ridid definition which can be applied to him. He is both traditionally working and upper class in his actions as a man. He gains the respect of his male peers by being both violent and gentle. As is demonstrated, Poldark’s character is not unique in the way that his masculinity is defined by both traditionally working class and upper class masculinity norms but also the definition of him being respected as a man is formed by both traditionally masculine and feminine actions. This therefore could lead us to conclude that masculinity for Poldark and other men is not so easily defined and is broad in its meaning crossing class and gender traditions.