Interview: Aidan Turner on the fifth and final series of Poldark.
The fifth and final series of Poldark will air on BBC One this summer, and writer Debbie Horsfield has delved into history - as well as taking inspiration from Winston Graham's novels - to write an action-packed eight-part series.
With a new century comes the promise of a hopeful future, but the past casts a long shadow over Cornwall. Following the death of Elizabeth, Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) resolves to put Westminster behind him and spend more time with the people he loves. However, when an old friend needs help, Ross is compelled to challenge the establishment and question his own loyalties to king and country.
As the Enyses (Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde) rally to join the cause, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) must contend with dangers close to home, while George (Jack Farthing) courts corrupt powers whose influence spans the Empire.
Aidan Turner reflects on the past five years playing Ross Poldark, the emotional journey he has taken with the character, and how it felt to film the final series of this much loved BBC drama.
"When we started Poldark we aimed to complete the majority of the books that we could, which would likely take us up to series five. So during filming for this series there was a sense of completion and relief that we made it this far, that the show has been successful and that people enjoy watching it. Hitting that mark and returning for the fifth series was always the goal and we are proud to have achieved that. Walking on to set this year was different; when we would visit a specific location knowing that it would be the final time it was crazy, the whole series was emotional in that sense.
There is a lot going on this series; there is an influx of exciting new characters, there’s a lot of tension. There is a great pace to the show this year that feels different and overall it feels slightly more grown up. That is something I believe people have loved about Poldark, that it does change every series and there are always new and interesting characters that alter the feel of the show. Ross is a dynamic character; he is not the same person year after year.
It has been incredible taking him on this journey. I was watching some clips of scenes from series one and one of them was when Eleanor was singing in the parlour and we all look so young. It is when I reflect on moments like those that all the emotions come in, and it makes me think about how much Ross has grown, and how much I have grown and learned and what these characters have been through.
It is especially funny to see how Ross may have reacted to certain scenes in the first series in comparison to how he would react in a similar scene in series five. That is not something you think about at the time but through the evolution of character it is interesting to see. For someone who is naturally impulsive and flippant and very much wore his heart on his sleeve it is nice to see Ross grow up and learn responsibilities in the right way and to the right people."
Whilst Ross may have grown up he still wears his heart on his sleeve, which is clear when he jumps to the aid of an old friend this series, despite the mission being incredibly treacherous.
"Ned Despard and Ross were soldiers together in Virginia during the war and Ned is someone Ross has always looked up to and used as a template for his own life in a lot of ways. Ned is impulsive and has a real sense of adventure and fearlessness to him. He has a sense of pride, courage and a sense of justice and is everything Ross tries to be. Ross has grown up by this stage and he is surprised to find that Ned hasn’t. Ned still has that burning flame that can get him into a lot of trouble, and when he meets Ross he is in a world of trouble. But there is a great sense of friendship, this bond of loyalty that they have with each other.
Vincent (Regan) who plays Ned is great and such a lovely guy, he was perfect for this character. It was strange because Ned is Irish and I am playing British in this and I was worried about someone pulling off the accent, but Vincent’s accent is brilliant. I actually don’t know any other actor who has quite nailed it in the same way. That helped us on set because I really believed his character, Ross and Ned have a great chemistry."
Ned leads Ross into all sorts of swashbuckling scenarios including a sword fight that Aidan relished.
"I love doing all of the different stunts, and sword fighting is a lot of fun. You learn the choreography for the fights and you’re safe in rehearsals, but on the day there is this unsaid thing with actors who are doing fight scenes - that you have to pull it off, and so you really lean into it. Also if you use plastic swords they tend to wobble a little, so we had to use the real things. It was our first week in Cornwall and Vincent and I were rehearsing on the beach in the sunshine which was pretty cool."
With Ross fighting for Ned’s freedom in London, Demelza takes on his responsibilities in Cornwall. Aidan reveals he was sad to spend less time this series with his on-screen wife and discusses their emotional, final day on set together.
"Demelza and Ross are spending less time together, which makes sense for the story and is good because it gives us both different directions to go. Ross goes to London and Demelza takes the driver's seat in Cornwall - running the mine and trying to find work for people. I have always really enjoyed filming my scenes with Eleanor because she is such a brilliant actress and we get on so well, so it was strange not to film as much together.
Demelza and Ross are in a good place, they have been through so much together and they have found common ground; both of them are trying to be better people and make it work for their family and they’ve got to a place where for now it works, and there is a sense of contentment or peace in their relationship that they’ve never really had before. They make this pact early on to be good to each other and it is an important one. But I did miss doing as many scenes with Eleanor this year. However, on the very last day it was just myself and Eleanor filming bedroom scenes in Nampara and it was poignant to spend that last day with Eleanor in quite an intimate situation, it made sense."
Aidan discusses Ross’s relationship with Poldark’s beloved doctor, Dwight Enys (Luke Norris), and the difficulties their friendship faces this series.
"Just when Ross is beginning to grow up, find his feet and level out his temperament, Ned Despard comes into his world again and, in the eyes of Dwight, sets out to disrupt that, as he sees Ned as a red flag. There is a small amount of jealousy as well with Dwight, he and Ross are best friends and with this new enigmatic and interesting guy coming back into their lives he feels slightly shunned.
These two characters jar slightly and you can tell from Dwight that he doesn’t find Ned funny and he definitely doesn’t trust him. Dwight is that moral sense of reason that Ross really needs. He is Ross’s wingman and he always steps up to help despite his better judgment. Dwight reluctantly joins Ross on a mission this year where, if found, they could be executed."
With the stakes higher than ever this series, Aidan discusses what it was like to film some momentous and shocking scenes in parliament.
"Ross continues pushing the campaign for the abolition of slavery and supporting Pitt and Wilberforce in that action this series. These were all very real events that were happening around the time and the way Debbie (Horsfield) has weaved these historical figures like Ned and Kitty Despard (Kerri McLean) into our drama is quite brilliant. We spent four days in parliament shooting and it still feels eerie but also amazing to stand up and speak there. It is such a joy to speak the words Debbie has written.
It seems so archaic now because some of these arguments that we’re supposed to believe are plausible from the other side of the House are so shocking. The way they would talk about slaves like they were chattel, a work force, not even human and the fact that that notion was even being argued is unbelievable. People were writing manifestos to try to convince people of that idea, and when you hear it you have to pinch yourself, as it is difficult to understand that this is something people actually used to believe.
That said, being on the right side of the House to these arguments was really fun to play, especially as we have Ross and George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) going at it from across the room. It is always fun to play moments where Ross and George go at it from opposing sides because Jack is such a brilliant actor. George has this ability to convince anyone of even the most horrendous things and so even though his argument is horrific he does it in such a convincing way. Jack and I get on really well, I respect him so much and think he is a phenomenal actor, so it was fun despite the horrific content we had to deliver."
Aidan may be leaving Poldark but the heart of the show will be going with him… specifically in his kitchen.
"I sent a text to Karen Thrussell, our executive producer, asking if I could possibly have the kitchen table and benches from Nampara as it is this beautiful, vintage French table and they said yes, so I am very excited to put them in my house. That will be a cool memento because it was at the middle of all of the big scenes we had in Nampara and where a lot of things went down. Obviously I am also taking the tricorn hat..."