It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Sunday evening must be in want of a period drama

Poldark off piste

Poldark off piste

*Spoilers about Poldark series one – four*

I recently read (on British Period Dramas) that Poldark Series Five will be ‘making up its own story’ rather than relying on the books. This was always likely to be the case as Winston Graham put a decade gap between ‘The Angry Tide’ and ‘The Stranger From the Sea’. Indeed, book eight focusses as much on the Poldark Children as on the Ross/George generation. While I understand the decision not to age Demelza et. al too much, I can’t help but be afeared that this off piste storyline will be weaker than previous series with a tendency for melodrama!

As a book purist I would say that, but to me the bits where the story strays wildly from the book in previous series are glaringly obvious. Series Four, Episode One’s hanging scene is a perfect example: Sam and Drake are reprieved at the 11th hour, nooses around their necks, while Jago Martin is hanged. It is dramatic but unnecessary. In the book there is a hanging but it’s a different peripheral person who works with Sam and he comforts the family.

For me, this noose-round-neck nonsense jars you out of the absorbing escapism and fascination that the series generally achieves. It’s a shame because Debbie Horsfield’s writing is generally rich, compelling, funny, heartbreaking and brilliant. The over-dramatisation of the plot breaks into the ‘realness’ that makes Poldark so relatable and fascinating. The ‘hero’ is stubborn, difficult and (arguably) a rapist! But he’s compelling, strong, loyal and devoid of trumpery. Demelza is, in my mind, almost untouchable but even she has her flaws (tragic, dreamy poets notwithstanding). I watch period drama and read historical fiction for myriad different reasons from escapism to a fascination with history, a love of the characters to my deep, abiding love for coast and countryside (most especially of Cornwall). My concern is that by not following the original story there will be more ‘unrealistic’ moments that don’t allow you to remain ‘drawn in’ to the story.

Of course, there is (almost always, more on that another time) reason for hope. This decision to cover the gap between the books does at least bring us a fifth series and hopefully the plot will remain more understated. There will be original material to cover – the latter books allude to things that happened in the intervening decade, and showrunner Horsfield stated that much of that will form the framework for this story: ‘In “The Stranger from the Sea”, Winston Graham made many references to developments that happened in the “gap” years. Much can also be inferred.’ She also intimated that the series will use historical people (such as George Canning who has already appeared in the series) and events to shape the story. The greatest benefit must be that we will see more of Drake and Morwenna, who are barely mentioned in the eighth book but seem set to feature in this fifth series.

Winston Graham’s son Andrew has stated that he approves of the plans for series five due to the ‘extraordinary affinity’ between Horsfield and Graham’s original works. I would agree that she has been most faithful and demonstrated her incredible skill in writing this much loved series. However, to me that writing shines brightest when she follows the original plots as set out in the books.