Although Winston Graham wrote more than thirty novels over his long career, he will always be remembered for the Poldark series which began with Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall in 1945 and ended with Bella Poldark in 2002, albeit with a twenty year gap between the fourth and fifth volumes.
The series, set in the eighteenth century, follows the story of Ross Poldark, a young soldier who returns to Cornwall after fighting in the American War of Independence only to discover his father has died and the woman he loves is about to marry his cousin, Francis, having heard Ross had been killed. Despondent, Ross tries to restore his family’s fortunes by reopening a derelict tin mine on his land, but war has changed his perspective and he has a hard time fitting in with the local gentry. Ross eventually marries Demelza, a poor servant girl, with whom he starts to find some measure of happiness.
The first seven books were adapted into a BBC series in the Seventies, starring Robin Ellis as Ross and Angharad Rees as Demelza, becoming one of the most successful historical adaptations in British television history. Shot on location in Cornwall, the series was spread over two seasons with a total of 29 episodes which began with Ross’s return from America and ended with the death of Elizabeth Warleggan in childbirth. The series was sold in over forty countries worldwide, catapulting Ellis and Rees into stardom and making them household names. By the time the source material had run out, the BBC approached Graham to continue writing but the author refused as he wasn’t entirely happy with the liberties the production had taken with his original novels so the series came to an end.
Graham did continue to write the Poldark novels, however an attempt by ITV to repeat the success of the early series failed when their version of the eighth novel, The Stranger from the Sea, failed in 1996. Part of the problem was down to the company reneging on their promise to cast Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees in the new production, prompting angry outbursts from fans of the original series.
In February 2014, the BBC announced it was remaking the Poldark series with Aidan Turner in the lead role with the intention of staying as close to the source material as possible. When the show finally began airing in March 2015, it seemed history was about to repeat itself as thousands of new admirers fell in love with the brooding Ross Poldark. There was even a guest role for the original Ross as Robin Ellis was cast as Reverend Halse.
The Cornish Influence
Winston Graham lived at Perranporth for more than thirty years and he wrote the Poldark books in a wooden beach bungalow overlooking the sea. The amazing views along that stretch of coast contributed greatly to the setting of the novels and the television series, such as Porthgwarra Cove, where Demelza spies on Ross while he takes his morning swim in the buff, and St. Agnes with its rich heritage in mining, including the famous Wheal Coates perched right on the edge of the cliff. Other areas used in the filming of the most recent show, include the wild landscape of Bodmin Moor where Nampara can be found; and the harbour at Charlestown, home to square-rigged sailing ships, which portrays the town of Truro.
Trenwith was inspired by Trerice House, an Elizabethan manor, once the home of the Arundell family dynasty, located at Kestle Mill, near Newquay. Now owned by The National Trust, the house and gardens are open to the public.
You can take some of the guess work out of where the most recent series was filmed in 2015 by taking a Poldark inspired tour with Cornwall Discovery or Cornish Welcome Tours. No guarantees you will witness any filming though!
As a result of the popularity of both TV series, there has been an upsurge in the number of visitors coming to Cornwall and many local business have taken advantage by incorporating the Poldark name into their businesses.
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