In keeping with my posts on the companionship of visual imagery and deeply-layered story, I’m talking today on the Poldark series by Winston Graham.
Both the reading and the viewing are giving me that punch in the face so important in the synthesis between visual imagery and the written word. If you don’t understand what I mean by artistic punch in the face aside from the Poldarks I direct you to the art of Vincent Van Gogh, and especially his self-portraits.
The story of Vincent steps off his canvas as surely as the story of Ross Poldark steps outside the words of Winston Graham into the PBS series.
So what is the Punch?
There was a development in this week’s episode that would have disturbed me a lot unless I’d read what happens much later in time. It’s one of those moments heroic Ross does something you think would never happen and it shows him up as a hero who is suddenly terribly, unbelievably flawed. Thus, the punch in the face to wake him (and us) up to what he’s done. As a result of reading the books I completely understand why that development had to come about both plot-wise and character-wise. I was still punched in the face along with the main character, but I knew why it happened and that says a lot.
Winston Graham is an amazing writer able to submerge his reader in the depth of setting, history and character of Cornwall during the Eighteenth Century and weave all three together seamlessly. The PBS series is the cover to the text and going deeper into that text adds another dimension to one’s enjoyment of the story. The cliffhanger at the end of this week’s episode ended in a visual ‘punch’ (one character actually hits the other in the face.) This gave me a hint of what’s yet to come. It let me move as a viewer from Ross’s impulsive and regrettable action to the consequences and the very real conflicts that beset him.
Yet I was so very glad I have read on in the books. The visual punch was deepened by the literary one. Being possessed of the knowledge of what happens later helped me understand that the volatility and idealism that gives Ross his charm also leads him into deep error to the point where he is willing to sacrifice love, honesty and his very future in the face of his ideals, his love and beliefs. This is a breaking point for him but I can only see this having read what comes later. Read the books! It helps, honest. The visual and scripted brilliance of the series on TV is given greater depth and greater insight by the text.
Only when we read the developments that accrue through Ross’s impulsive and passionate decisions—developments that only increase the tensions and the conflicts in the plot do we understand why the shocking flaws were woven there by author Winston Graham. Elements of Ross’s passion have been shown in other impulsive actions before this but this is the first time where Graham seems to deliberately break our trust in Ross. Only by having our trust broken so severely can we understand how it feels for the ones he loves to be disillusioned by him. The punch in the face at the end of episode 7 is visceral and deeply felt. It provoked a gut response in me that had to be there.
Graham’s series is brilliant and the PBS versions are equally so. The books are a wonderful look at the licentious yet honorable mores of eighteenth century Cornwall, and while the PBS series can’t possibly portray the written depth of information the imagery and the acting are gloriously rich in the series.
To watch and read both provide one with the perfect synthesis between visual dynamic and authorial genius. In fact I think this is the hidden quality that makes a cover assist the content of a book, and this ‘Punch’ is what I’m going to have various guest artist/authors talk about very soon.
In my opinion cover art needs to be about the reader and about the reader’s eye. Just as in film the visuals have to enlarge on the text. The difficulty here is that cover art or cinematic art needs to influence someone who may not know anything about ‘art’ at all.
A book’s cover art provides an element that the reader responds to with an emotional gut reaction but may not have the words at all to define. The reader knows what they like but not why they like it. The viewer of Poldarks may love the imagery but not wholly know the elements that enrapture them.
A potential reader will reach for the book without knowing what’s inside because the cover teases them to do so.
Yet what amount of skill does it take to deliver that ‘tease’? What kind of punch in the face do you need to keep going?
What do you think? If you have read and watched this series I’d love to hear from you which elements seem to stand out. What attracts you to a film or book and what makes you want to take it off the shelf?