Wow. One thing I didn't expect to encounter in Poldark, which I've now finally started watching, was villain totty. True, at the back of the DVD cover, there's a picture of someone I thought looked quite tasty, but I didn't imagine that he would turn out to be the villain. I assumed, with my luck, that it was probably the hero's ninny of a cousin. It was not. It was George Warleggan.
I'd two reasons not to be optimistic about the baddie fare in Poldark. First, I somehow don't expect smouldering heroes of the unkempt, unshaven kind to co-exist in the same fictional universe as tip-top villains (this is probably just a prejudice - Wuthering Heights has a lot to answer for). Second, I did read some of the reviews and hype surrounding Poldark, but did anyone mention Gorgeous George? Well, "The Warleggans" - always in plural - flitted past now and again, but only to the extent that you realised that they were bankers and no great admirers of Ross Poldark, the hero. To tell the truth, I expected them to be fat, maybe with a wart or two. Well, listen to it: Warleggans. It sounds like a pair of goblins. I also assumed that their only function in the plot would be to put a few spokes in Ross's business wheels.
Instead, we have George: an absolute peach in exactly the right pale, slender, bankery way. I could watch him pensively weighing coins all day. And it's not just his looks either. The hot villain trend - which I'm surely not just imagining - will come to an end one day, so a villain-lover shouldn't become too fixated by such shallow matters as, say, well-dressed curls (though they're very welcome for all that). Unlike Pretty Ralph in Indian Summers - a show I'm constantly thinking of giving up on - Gorgeous George knuckles down to some impressive, traditional villainous plotting. He takes a keen interest in the hero's affairs, the better to be able to ruin him. He engages same hero in vaguely menacing banter and keeps his end up commendably. He's deliciously insinuating and manipulative with poor Francis, the aforementioned Poldark cousin. His motive is shadowy but not unconvincing: it's still a pleasing mystery whether he wants to force the cool kid from his school days (Ross) to finally become friends with him, or whether he has some old scores to settle (we remember what the cool kids in school were like, don't we?). Either way, it's not just business, it's personal.
The other Warleggan, incidentally, George's grumpy uncle (they seem to be quite common in 1780s Cornwall: Ross has one too) isn't a goblin either, though he continously looks fed up. His part in the plot is to bring George back to business earth when the latter becomes a little too fond of playing the gentleman. Compared to his nephew, though, Warleggan senior is a mere bit-part player.
Admittedly, it's early days, but right now - after three episodes - George looks a very promising candidate indeed for a villain crush, and the prospect of more Poldark will, I suspect, be a great comfort to me when Downton stops airing this Christmas. But how come no-one mentioned this crumpet in the Poldark features I've read?
Because, as is traditionally the case, what interests most viewers is the hero. Now, to be fair, for those who like that sort of thing, Ross Poldark is the sort of thing they like. And as smouldering heroes go, he's not half annoying as I thought he would be (if still rather annoying sometimes - well, he is the hero). Though a bit rough around the edges - designer stubble is a modern folly: I'm pretty certain it wasn't a thing in the 1780s - he's not plain rude, and perfectly able to string a sentence together without an insult in it. He does the decent thing when it's required, as a hero should but doesn't always. He also occasionally displays more rueful self-knowledge than smoulderers usually do. For instance, he's not indignant about the semi-hostility of his family. One has the feeling that Ross considers it a fair cop - they imagine that he still carries a torch for his old flame, who's now hitched to luckless Francis, and they're quite right. As for the famous scything scene, at least the commotion about it is not such a mystery as the still inexplicable Darcy Wet Shirt Business. If you fancy Ross Poldark, you'll like this scene. It just so happens I don't, much.
It took Poldark to remind me of how things usually are: generally speaking, I'm just not that into hunks, and the general public is just not that into villains. As long as Downton runs, I and a sizeable part of the costume-drama viewing audience will be singing from the same hymn sheet (I assure you I'm far from being the only Thomas fan around, as only a little irresponsible net trawling will show). Come the new year, however, and we will go our separate ways again, not having learned much by the experience. To them the scything hunks: to me the coin-weighing bankers.