BBC is returning to the well with its latest miniseries Poldark; they already made a TV series out of Winston Graham’s novels back in the ’70s, and now it’s being updated for a new generation. Which basically means more shirtlessness from the titular hero. I’m watching the series with my friend and flatmate Liz, and after the first episode we agreed that it’s not really good enough to love wholeheartedly. But if you make it a drinking game, it is utterly delightful. It’s just about finished its run in the UK but is still available online, and it’s going to be broadcast in the US in June. So you still have time to enjoy your own Poldark Imbibe & Jibe experience.
The main thing to keep in mind is that this miniseries is primarily a love letter to the Cornwall countryside, and to Aidan Turner’s smoldering good looks. Lingering shots of both the landscape and Turner’s impressive eyebrows make up a significant percentage of the show. This is not a bad thing.
Dramatic landscape and even more dramatic eyebrows. Image.
A quick synopsis: Ross Poldark (played by Turner) returns to Cornwall in southwestern England after fighting for the redcoats in the American Revolutionary War. He was only fighting because it was either that or prison after bad gambling debts–this is the kind of ne’er-do-well our hero used to be, and who everyone back home remembers. But he’s grown up a bit since losing a war and he’s ready to return home and get to work.
Surprise! His father’s dead and the small estate he owns has fallen into ruin, including the copper mine that used to be how they made money. Everyone thought he was dead, so the love of his life (Elizabeth) is engaged to his cousin (Francis). Things are not looking good for ol’ Ross.
Now that you have the basic premise, here are the rules to the game:
Commuter cliffs: Ross does a lot of galloping along the cliff edge on his horse, to and from his home. We see shots of this more often than strictly necessary for continuity or comprehension of the passage of time, so we must conclude the director figured a few more shots of stunning Cornish countryside wouldn’t do any harm. He’s not wrong. When you see Ross racing along the cliff edge on his horse, yell “commuter!”, drink, and then make clopping noises with your hands until the scene’s over.
Mines: Mining was the major moneymaker in Cornwall for a while, but it was drying up in the late 18th century. Ross takes a big gamble on reopening his father’s copper mine, and mining talk makes up a good portion of the dialogue of the show. Any time someone says “mine” or “mining,” yell “mine!” and take a drink.
Repression: One of the problems with taking this show seriously is that there’s very little chemistry between the actors playing Ross and Elizabeth, our star-crossed lovers. Ross is largely motivated by his desire to remain close to Elizabeth, even if he can’t marry her, and we’re meant to see her torment at having to marry another man because her love returned to her too late. But all they do is stare at each other with slightly pained expressions on their faces. It is unconvincing. Still, they do enough pained expression staring to give us a sense that there are repressed! feelings! going on, so when you sense repression bubbling underneath the surface, yell “stop repressing!” and take a drink. You also get to do this when you notice repression in other situations, like when Francis’s excellent but mistreated sister Verity gets her own bittersweet taste of romance or when Ross’s kitchenmaid Demelza looks adoringly at her employer.
Flashbacks: There aren’t many flashbacks after the first couple episodes, but it’s worth having this category for those few times, because you take a drink and yell “flashback!” then do the wiggly hands and noises they do on Wayne’s World.
Frog man: Francis and Verity’s father is an unpleasant old man who tries various ways to get Ross out of the picture and his own son into top position in the region. He also looks a little like a frog, with protruding eyes and a wide mouth. So whenever he arrives on the scene, do your best “ribbit!” frog impression and take a drink. Don’t do this for the duration of the scene or you will pass out.
Cornish specialty: There are several things specific to Cornwall, or things that we think might be, so any time you see something Cornish, yell “that’s Cornish!” and take a drink. This may include unintelligible accents, a certain kind of wedding dance, or a particular costume. We keep waiting for Cornish pasties to be shown, but sadly haven’t seen one yet. (There was a pie once and we debated whether it was small enough to be a pasty. These are the kind of important intellectual discussions you’ll get into while watching Poldark.)
Soulful cliff stare: Another opportunity to appreciate how gorgeous the landscape is, and also to FEEL your FEELINGS. Any time one of the characters stands at the cliff’s edge and stares out to the far horizon, as the waves of the Atlantic lap upon the shore, yell “that’s soulful!” and take a drink.
Layabout servants: Easily one of our favorite criteria, and the most reliable. Ross’s father had two old servants who prove to be utterly useless, but out of a misguided sense of loyalty and protectionism, Ross keeps them on. Even though they do freakin’ NOTHING. Almost every time a scene opens in the Poldark house, those two are sitting on their butts, or having a quickie in the corner, or drinking their boss’s rum. The one thing you can be sure they’re not doing is working. So when you see them, yell (incredulously and gleefully) “get to work!” and take a drink.
There you have it. Provided you’re just making your way through a glass of wine or beer, you won’t be wasted, but you will be a little tipsy by the end of an episode. What’s more, the often stilted writing and barely fleshed-out characters won’t bother you. That’s how you do the Poldark Imbibe & Jibe. Enjoy!