“Poldark” made a considerable splash with “Masterpiece” viewers in the mid-1970s, and those who remember — along with their more discriminating children — should find much to like in this sumptuous remake. Aidan Turner (of “Being Human” and “The Hobbit”) takes over the title role in this sweeping period drama, whose picturesque landscapes and glorious soundtrack will make many linger to book passage to Cornwall. Much in the vein of “Wuthering Heights,” the series mixes class distinctions and romance, offering the kind of classy soap that should help keep Anglophiles’ cockles happily warmed between now and more “Downton Abbey.”
Based on the books by Winston Graham, the eight-part series (half of which was previewed) introduces Turner’s Captain Ross Poldark in the wilds of Virginia in 1781, sporting a red coat and battling the Americans. Flash forward two years, and he’s back in his native Cornwall, sporting a wicked scar that somehow only renders him more dashing, and eager to reunite with the lovely Elizabeth (Heida Reed).
Alas, Elizabeth, having assumed he was killed in battle, has, with prodding from her parents, moved on, and a stricken Ross finds her engaged to his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller), who is clearly half the man he is — a fact hardly lost on Francis’ father, Charles (Warren Clarke). So with Ross’ inheritance having evaporated, and his own father’s estate in tatters, his uncle encourages the lad to seek his fortune elsewhere. “What possible reason is there to stay?” he asks.
Quite a lot, as it turns out, and not just because of the gorgeous photography (by Cinders Forshaw) and Anne Dudley’s haunting, wonderfully romantic score. For starters, Ross seeks to bring on old copper mine back to life, which will potentially employ plenty of needy workers, but which also puts him in conflict with the ruthless bankers who lord over the county. Then there’s the little matter of rescuing miner’s daughter Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson, last seen sporting period frocks in “Death Comes to Pemberley”), from her abusive father, which eventually leads to the gossip and threat of scandal the upper classes so dread.
Adapted by Debbie Horsfield and directed by Ed Bazalgette and William McGregor, “Poldark” even throws in a nod to the original by casting its star, Robin Ellis, in a minor role. While this is extremely familiar territory for “Masterpiece,” it’s still the kind of fix fans of such fare can find only sparingly, even with the heady proliferation of British drama now reaching U.S. shores via content-hungry networks and streaming services.
Turner brings the necessary swoon-worthy qualities to the emotionally wounded lead (who knew there were ab exercises back in the 18th century?), but the cast is uniformly good, including Ruby Bentall as Ross’ cousin and Phil Davis and Beatie Edney as his father’s servants, who Ross keeps around even though they don’t do much work.
Even the preoccupation with mining, as it turns out, seems rather appropriate. Because for anyone thinking the genre was beginning to be played out, “Masterpiece” has once again dug into its vault, and unearthed another gem.