Ross Poldark is a dashing British captain who returns home from the American Revolutionary War to Cornwall to discover that his father is dead, his true love is marrying his cousin and his inheritance consists of a run-down house, two lazy servants and a copper mine that hasn't produced in decades. Ross' misfortune is your good luck because "Poldark" is a production worth spending your time with this summer. It's filled with interesting plotlines and well-drawn characters whose experiences are foreign enough to be entertaining but familiar enough to feel authentic.
Based on a series of novels by Winston Graham, the show is a new adaptation of the "Masterpiece Theatre" series originally screened on PBS in 1977. The story follows the Poldarks, an 18th century mine-owning family. Ross (Aidan Turner) belongs to the less prosperous side of the Poldarks while his cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) is the wealthier land owner who inherits a successful mining operation. Francis' marriage to Elizabeth (Heida Reed) causes a strain between them but Francis is cast as the insecure rich son rather than the villain. As the series progresses, he becomes his own worst enemy.
Ross returns to a changing Cornwall. Britain is turning to Wales for its mining needs, leaving the Cornish coast with high unemployment and falling fortunes for its landed classes. But one thing that remains the same is the strict social rules that guide upper-class life where the slightest impropriety can ruin the family name.
Like "Downton Abbey," much of the tension on "Poldark" comes from characters who stray outside the social boundaries of their class. The primary target of disapproval is Ross, an unconventional hero who works alongside his miners, pays them fair wages, speaks out against social injustice, fights the local banking family's iron grip on his business and risks social banishment by marrying his kitchen maid. Turner plays him with swagger and charm but keeps both in check so Ross stays relatable.
The female characters, while not as rebellious as those on "Downton" have their own appeal. Francis' sister Verity (Ruby Bentall), the most interesting one, is in love with an "unsuitable" man and risks losing her family and reputation to be with him. Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), Ross' maid turned wife, struggles with her new social position and while she charms some of the upper class, she will never be fully accepted by them. Elizabeth endures her disappointing marriage to Francis with grace but as a character has little to do as the series goes on.
Visually, the show makes good use of the scenic Cornish landscape. If Ross isn't pictured standing or riding on a path alongside the windswept cliffs, wavy hair blowing in the wind, then Elizabeth is there as he remembers her during their last rendezvous before he left for war: gazing serenely at the vast ocean as her long hair billows behind her. Or it could be Demelza, her fiery red hair picked up by the breeze as she stares across the water. The scenes are meant to convey isolation, despair, hope and promise. It's romance imagery at its best but underneath all the hair and occasional shirtless scenes, "Poldark" has much to offer.
"Poldark" is on Sundays on PBS. The original version is also being screened on Acorn TV.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.