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

Flickr/Alfred Grupstra
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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture