A more modest view of Aidan Turner.
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Second helpings: even with its sea vistas and a firm, pink bottom, Poldark fails to shine

The new Poldark looks like a tourist board campaign for Cornwall, only with stagecoaches where there should be surfboards.

When the original Poldark went out in the 1970s, it was said that some Church of England vicars rescheduled their services so as not to have to compete with Ross and Demelza for the loyalty of their congregations. That speaks loudly of how much Britain has changed in the decades since. Hardly anyone goes to church now, and those who do can easily record the stuff they’ll miss. More to the point, it seems pretty unlikely that even a whizzy new version of Poldark (Sundays, 9pm), adapted for the BBC by Debbie Horsfield (Cutting It, True Dare Kiss), will bring in 14 million viewers and have them hanging on its every tricorn hat today. I mean, it’s quite good fun as 18th-century Cornish tin-mining and smuggling dramas go but I wouldn’t miss evensong for it. Whatever will the BBC dish up next? A rebooted Onedin Line? A sexed-up When the Boat Comes In? The mind boggles.

The new Poldark looks like a tourist board campaign for Cornwall, only with stagecoaches where there should be surfboards. On the plus side, you can hear every word, even over the roar of the waves, which will come as a relief to anyone who endured the recent mumblefest that was Jamaica Inn. On the downside, Aidan Turner makes for only a moderately attractive Ross Poldark, back from the American war of independence to reclaim his motley inheritance. At the end of the first episode, a trailer showed his firm, pink bottom cresting the azure sea, an aerial shot that suggested the BBC is hoping for Colin Firth-style traction with the ladies in the matter of Mr Turner. But I can’t say I was in a fever of excitement. He’s too bland, too cut-out-and-keep. Somehow you know in your bones that up close he’d smell not of sweat, horses, woodsmoke and pheromones, but of Badedas and quiet ambition. Yes, Eleanor Tomlinson will do fine as Demelza, the maidservant he’ll soon marry, but his true love, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), has the most laughably non-18th-century teeth I’ve ever seen – incisors that seem all the more ludicrous next to those of Poldark’s servant Jud Paynter (Phil Davis), which look like half-sucked offcuts of liquorice.

The Poldark trailer.

I had higher hopes of In and Out of the Kitchen (Wednesdays, 10pm), a new BBC4 comedy written by and starring Miles Jupp, which aims to take the piss out of Damien Trench, a certain kind of food writer: the kind that stares mournfully at their rosemary bush in the morning frost, thinks a few poetic thoughts about roast chicken and remembrance, and then picks up the phone to their high-powered agent to chase their next TV series. Alas, it falls flatter than your average artisanal spinach-and-ricotta pancake, mainly because its “jokes” feel so familiar. For one thing, Damien’s agent is always being hassled by Salman Rushdie (a gag that might have been lifted straight from W1A). And if it wasn’t bad enough that the agent takes Damien to lunch at a hip new place called Zeitgeist – this is satire by numbers – his client then orders a dish called “fizzy beef”, which turns out to be steak with a bottle of Coke poured over it.

It’s impossible to believe in the relationship between Damien and his partner, Anthony (Justin Edwards). They just aren’t a pair. In the first episode Anthony embarked on a courgette soup diet, of which Damien disapproved on the grounds of its faddishness and the stink it made. “It’s like you’re cooking a pond,” he yelped. There followed much rushing by Anthony to the downstairs loo, which soon became so whiffy that Damien’s builders refused to use it. Now, wind jokes have their place in life but mainly I wondered: why wouldn’t Damien just take over? He’s the cook. And why did the soup smell so awful? Courgettes are unassuming vegetables, gentle and mild. Verisimilitude is vital to comedy, whether we’re talking The League of Gentlemen (however grotesque the people of Royston Vasey are, we still recognise them, on some level) or a show that goes after types who obsess about warm salads and larder staples.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit