Sunday, 15 March 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 14th March 2015.

Poldark: Sunday, BBC One

Nurse: Tuesday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

It's oddly satisfying, humbling even, that one of Britain's biggest ever TV exports concerns a man in a tricorn-hat struggling to revive his tin mine. A massive hit in its 1970s heyday, the BBC's first adaptation of Winston Graham's Poldark novels cemented forever our worldwide reputation as stalwart purveyors of high-end period drama.

It's therefore fitting that this grand tradition continues with the latest version, which – mark my soothsaying words – will be an enormous hit. Why? Because it ticks all the right boxes in brazenly confident style.

Self-evidently, no expense has been spared in bringing this savagely romantic world to life. Set in Cornwall in the late 18th century, it mercilessly exploits the area's rugged coastlines and vast, God-fearing skies. While it doesn't quite match the almost docudrama feel of Wolf Hall, it does boast a fairly authentic sense of candle-lit time and place. Visually, it's a resplendently photographed treat.

But pretty pictures are all for naught without a sturdy mainframe to support them. Fortunately, this epic saga is told in rip-roaring style. Though played deadly straight by a fine ensemble cast, it benefits in execution from a kind of sly knowingness.

Scenes of Poldark on horseback galloping dramatically along the coastline, or removing his shirt for no earthly reason, flirt outrageously with barnstorming camp. Casting Aidan Turner from Being Human as Poldark is a master-stroke. A charismatic, handsome actor, he broods and twinkles most effectively. Artfully stubbled and tousled of barnet, this saturnine hunk spends much of his screen-time glowering intensely as clouds gather ominously, yet somehow sexily, overhead. It's a star-making performance.

A charming scoundrel with a sturdy moral core, he's ably supported by a rich cast of characters including Phil Davis in unabashed scowling mode as a ruddy-faced manservant, and the late Warren Clarke in his final screen role as Poldark's scheming uncle. Though she doesn't come into her own until later episodes, newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson is suitably feral yet delicate as Poldark's vulnerable peasant ward.

Normally I'd criticise a drama for leaning on blunt exposition - I lost count of the number of times a variation on “Cornwall is changing, these are difficult times” was uttered in episode one – but here it forms part of a slightly heightened, charming sense of melodrama. Subtlety is grabbed by the seat of its britches and hurled into the crashing briny. In the rampant world of Poldark, understatement is as welcome as a bout of scurvy.

The bold antithesis of a staid Sunday night period drama, it's tremendous fun.

A tender new vehicle for Paul Whitehouse, Nurse is as low-key as Poldark is bombastic. Essentially a series of bittersweet character sketches linked by a loose yet effective through-line, it follows a community psychiatric nurse as she visits her patients, most of whom are played by the heroically versatile Whitehouse. 

Stand-out characters include a depressed ex-con struggling with agoraphobia, and a delightfully ingratiating Jewish OAP. Whitehouse is an extraordinary actor, yet his multiple turns never feel like egocentric grand-standing. He's fully invested in these three-dimensional characters.

Though often very funny, ultimately Nurse is a sensitive and humane study of issues surrounding mental health and community care. I can't recommend it enough.

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