The BBC, keen to maintain its reputation for kowtowing to PC agendas, has outdone itself by censoring a rape in Poldark. Pandering to the perception that modern audiences are quivering snowflakes, it has replaced an apparent rape scene — featured in the Poldark books and in the 1970s television adaptation — with a consensual clinch in the new series that begins next month. Diehard fans are mad that the cut, which was revealed last week, may meddle with the plot. I don’t care; I’m just patronised by it.
Poldark is fiction. Like all great fiction, it promises an opportunity to explore complex social issues. In the novel Ross Poldark carries his ex, Elizabeth, off to bed, telling her she should be treated like a slut. The reader is not told exactly what happens next. The BBC could have used this scene as an opportunity to explore nuances around sexual consent, at a time when the subject is pertinent. Instead Poldark’s nannying producers decreed that while the original work was “open to interpretation — ours is not”.
What a cop-out. Is this how all fiction must be sanitised now? Does this mean Oliver Twist will have to tone down his experience in the poorhouse in case working-class orphans get upset? Will the first Mrs Rochester have to be freed from her attic in case people with mental health issues complain? How un-thrilling will it be watching Titus Andronicus remade without any murders in it?
Is the BBC now so afraid of prompting a discussion about rape it has fallen for the culture of trigger warnings engulfing American campuses where they’re worried The Great Gatsby might give someone a panic attack?
Yet ultimately what the removal of this scene highlights isn’t the virtuousness of the BBC but just how limited its imagination is. For if, as a source suggests, the rape has been removed so Ross Poldark can maintain his romantic-hero status among women, then the scriptwriters could have done a hell of a lot more than this. In every other sense, as regards women, Poldark is a man of his time, stuck in 18th-century paternalism.
Poldark likes to keep women in their place. It is he who does most of the physical labour, he who controls the business and cash. If he’s such a moral hero why doesn’t he let his wife Demelza broker his business deals? Or why doesn’t he sit side saddle perched on his wife’s horse while they gallop around the cliffs — after all, she knows how to ride.
If the BBC really wants a romantic hero with a sense of gender equality why not go the whole hog and smash the patriarchy Angela Carter-style? Why not turn Poldark’s mine into a feminist co-operative? Or let Poldark fancy some women who are bigger than a size 10?
Instead Poldark is a “romantic hero” who is a bad-tempered drinker and who thinks it is OK to sleep with prostitutes. Aidan Turner, who plays the character, admits Ross has “a nasty side”, adding: “He’s heavily flawed . . . He seems quite real, very proud. We’d almost call him a control freak. He can be quite mean and callous, and single-minded and selfish.”
What rankles about the removal of this rape is it does Poldark too many favours. It whitewashes the reality of what men such as Poldark were like: men who were masters of their house, who ruled over women and thought nothing of dominating them as they did everyone else. Why not be honest? Or if what the BBC wants to give us is a Poldark who is a modern romantic hero, he could do better than just not committing rape.
‘T’ stands for typecast
It’s that time of the month again; another feminist row has ignited over supposedly sexist children’s T-shirts at Gap. Feminists are complaining that the chain’s new ad — which I thought was rather cute — is a dangerous promotion of gender stereotypes, because it shows a boy in an Einstein T-shirt and a girl in pink described as a “social butterfly”. Hair-trigger hysteria surrounds gender issues these days, so the outraged brigade quickly shouted “Sexism!”, ignorant of the facts.