In a media climate full of hotly debated adaptations, remakes, and reinterpretations, here is a reminder—in the form of a major spoiler from the TV show Poldark—that not only can you deviate from the source material, but sometimes you should, if you don’t want to completely derail the story for a modern audience.
Poldark blew up thanks in no small part to the dashing Aidan Turner, getting lots of press off his character’s shirtless threshing. Ross Poldark is a bit of an ass, but he stayed largely appealing to a female audience through season one. But those who’ve read the original novels, published in the 40s and 50, have pointed out that there is a serious problem for today’s viewers waiting in the book three of the source material. The Independent explains:
Graham’s 1953 novel, Warleggan, sees Poldark break into Elizabeth’s home and kiss her without her consent. Elizabeth, who left him for her cousin earlier in the story, accuses Poldark of treating her “like a slut”, before he replies “It’s time you were so treated” and rapes her. Elizabeth, played by Heida Reed in the TV series, falls pregnant.
Elizabeth is the woman who loved and left Ross, who marries and falls for Demelza (though he still has feelings for Elizabeth). Maybe this scene played differently for readers at the time, but today, it would be a great way to destroy the current audience they’ve built, who are not going to like Ross morphing into a rapist. The good news is, it sounds like they’re planning to do this plot twist differently.
Aidan Turner told the Sun that in their version: “It seems consensual, and it just seems right. He goes to talk. He doesn’t go to commit a crime. They talk and it seems like there is still this spark between them, this unfinished business emotionally. Certainly, that’s how Ross feels. He doesn’t force himself upon her.”
A “source” told the Sun that, “Ross is a hero and times have changed since the 1950s and 1970s,” and “The new series reflects that in a way that keeps Ross Poldark as the romantic hero that fans want.” A spokesperson for the show’s producers said: “Winston Graham’s version of events is open to interpretation. Ours is not. Many fans haven’t read the books and don’t appreciate spoilers, so we invite all viewers to watch the episode when it comes out and then make up their own mind.”
The wording of both Turner’s and the spokesperson’s remarks leaves some room to worry about how exactly the scene will be played—“seems consensual”?—but it seems they’re at last going to try to fix the scene.
Of course, this still means that—best case scenario—Ross is going to act like a complete dipshit. Better a dipshit than a rapist, though.