If you would like to imagine cuddling up with brooding heartthrob Ross Poldark – played by Aidan Turner in the BBC Sunday night hit – a range of cushions bearing his image is on sale and may help; should you fancy drying the dishes with a Demelza Poldark tea towel, one is available here. Poldark-themed key rings, calendars and fridge magnets are all up for grabs.
“Poldark is brilliant for us,” said owner Keven Ayres. “Anything that focuses attention on Cornwall and brings more people here has to be a good thing. People just love the series. It’s so exciting, so romantic.”
The Poldark effect is set to sweep the far south-west of Britain again this autumn as the second season of the romantic period drama set in Cornwall’s rugged 18th-century mining landscape gets under way.
At its peak almost 10 million people were watching the first series and its success led to a noticeable spike in Cornwall’s visitor numbers with half of those who took part in a tourism survey saying they had watched the series and a fifth confessing it actually prompted their visit.
Thousands of extra visitors have hiked along the cliffs near St Agnes, real-life setting for Poldark’s picturesque horseback gallops, and to Gunwalloe, where last season’s spectacular wreck scene was filmed. There has been a 50% increase in visitors to the National Trust’s Levant mine, which doubles as the rolling mill where copper from Poldark’s mine is processed.
It is now possible to take part in Poldark- themed kayak expeditions, viewing some of the settings. You can lead your pet on “Poldark-inspired dog walks” and even take a quiz to discover which Poldark character you most closely resemble.
But is the image it portrays of Cornwall fair, accurate or relevant?
Jon Mills, an academic and leading champion of the Cornish language, said the image of Cornwall in Poldark was highly romanticised – but accepted that such was the nature of many TV dramas.
He said: “It is popular with many Cornish people as it is with English people. Some, no doubt, find the romanticism cloying and over-sentimental and the phoney Cornish accents make many Cornish wince.”
However, he argued the series drew attention to social problems still being felt today. “Whilst set in the late 18th century, it serves as a metaphor for exploitation of the poor by the rich today; this is as relevant to present-day Cornwall as it was in the past.”
Joseph Crawford, a lecturer in English across the border at Exeter University, said Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open neatly represented the economic difficulties experienced by the region during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. “They’ve been fairly good on historical accuracy,” said Crawford. “Though the characters tend to be too clean, too healthy and their teeth are too good.”
Mike Chappell, chair of the campaign group Kernow [Cornwall] Matters To You, praised the programme makers for including some Cornish language while pointing out that it did not delve too deeply into the horrors of mining in the region. Two of Chappell’s ancestors perished in the Levant mine disaster of 1919 and a grandfather ran away to sea to escape the mines. “The truth of our mining heritage is brutal,” said Chappell.
Toni Carver, the long-serving editor of the St Ives Times and Echo, said he enjoyed the first series. “It’s nostalgia, but you’ve only got to visit a pub music session in Cadgwith Cove [on the Lizard Peninsula] or climb and walk through the old mining areas, or sail around the coast to realise a lot of the romance is still here. It’s a magical county, the ghosts of the past are everywhere.
“All these popular books by writers like Daphne du Maurier, Winston Graham [author of the Poldark series] and Rosamunde Pilcher and the TV spin-offs promote Cornwall as a tourist destination and are effective and valuable free promotion for the tourist industry.”
He sees disadvantages, too. “The downside is that by selling our souls to tourism we’ve encouraged over-development. In the current economic climate, with locally unaffordable, very high property values, the traditional Cornish communities, shops and business not related to tourism are failing fast. So, it’s a double-edged sword.”
The makers and cast emphasise how important it is that they film in Cornwall. Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays Demelza, said: “I love Cornwall; it’s glorious and so much the heart of this show. Sometimes you forget the part it plays until you get there and suddenly everything makes sense.”
Heida Reed – Elizabeth Poldark – said she believed the Cornish people were hugely proud of Poldark. “They feel like they own a piece of it, which they really do what with the landscape and having had so many Cornish people participate in the production. They have been the best supporting artists ever.”
The phenomenon will not end any time soon. The cast and crew will be back filming in Cornwall later this month for the third series.
Poldark returns on Sunday 4 September at 9pm on BBC1