Both Ross Poldark and Kitty Trevelyan are running from something. For Poldark, it’s a violent past that has led him to the gallows. For Kitty Trevelyan, it’s a difficult relationship with her family that has led to her mother completely disowning her. To escape, both of them go to war. Poldark, in a last-minute plea agreement, joins the British army and goes off to America to fight the colonists. Kitty Trevelyan heads off to France to become a volunteer nurse in the great war. Both run, but find they ultimately can’t hide.
Poldark, based on the book series by Winston Graham and debuting June 21st on PBS, tells the story of Captain Ross Poldark, who returns from the war in America to go home to his native Cornwall. He finds his father dead, his inheritance in shambles, and his beloved now engaged to his cousin. He has to rebuild a life, re-opening his father’s long-dormant mine even though he has no money and can get credit from no one but what passes for the 18th century version of loan sharks. Aidan Turner, formerly John the vampire on BBC’s Being Human stars, with Eleanor Tomlinson of Jack the Giant Slayer and Death Comes to Pemberly as Demelza, the young woman Poldark saves from a mob then gives a place in his house.
Poldark is a moody drama, benefitting greatly from having been shot on location in Cornwall and Bristol. It’s a world divided between the gentry and the common people, and Poldark straddles the line between them. He’s a tortured hero, with a heart for the underdog, but whose temper can sometimes run away with him. We’re not always certain of what he’s going to do, whom he’s going to hurt or defend. There’s a moment when his cousin falls in a cavern full of water. After he’s pulled out, he tells him “I wasn’t sure your weren’t going to let me drown.” The tension plays on Turner’s face. Poldark didn’t know either.
The Crimson Field, created and written by Sarah Phelps and also debuting on June 21st, takes us to another war, this one on the fields of France. It follows Kitty, Rosalie, and Flora, three young British women who’ve joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment to work in a field hospital near Boulonge in 1915. It stars Oona Chaplin, formerly of Game of Thrones as Kitty, with Kevin Doyle and Jeremy Swift, from Downton Abbey as the commander and the quartermaster, respectively.
It’s much more of an ensemble piece, with a large cast of characters. We are introduced to the world of The Crimson Field through the eyes of the three volunteers, but we also follow the professional nurses, who aren’t necessarily welcoming of the newcomers, as well as the surgeons, orderlies, and military officers populating the camp. It’s a moving story, driving home the horrors of war, yet not without moments of morbid humor, such as when Flora, cleaning bandages, finds several amputated toes and struggles to know what she’s supposed to do with them.
Both series introduce us to compelling characters who go to war to deal with difficult pasts. Poldark gives us the aftermath, when the running is over and the time comes to deal with what can no longer be avoided. The Crimson Field shows us how the past chases us, even while we try to distract ourselves with other struggles. Each series transports us, showing other times and other lives long forgotten.
Poldark and The Crimson Field debut Sunday, June 21 st at 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. respectively, on KIXE Channel 9.
Chad Grayson has been a gas station attendant, sold video games over the phone, and even was the person who cuts the mold off the cheese in the cheese factory, but spent most of his career as a middle school Language Arts and History teacher. He is now a full-time stay at home dad and writer. You can find him on twitter at @chadgrayson and on his blog at cegrayson.wordpress.com.