Passion and turmoil mark filming of new 'Poldark'

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The Independent Online

Arts Reporter

Winston Graham's Poldark, presently being dramatised by HTV, is a saga of love and hatred, loyalty and betrayal, tragedy and passion. Unfortunately the film itself has aroused exactly the same emotions.

Set among the Cornish tin mines at the end of the 18th century, the saga tells the story of Ross Poldark, an impoverished squire who marries his servant, Demelza, after being jilted by Elizabeth, his well-bred fiancee.

Problems started after HTV decided to film The Stranger From The Sea, one of the last four Poldark books, 20 years after the BBC's wildly popular adaptation of the early novels. This had starred Robin Ellis as Ross and Angharad Rees as Demelza.

On the principle "if it's not broke, don't fix it", HTV asked Ellis and Rees early this year to ask them to recreate the roles. Both were delighted to agree, asking for a pounds 60,000 fee for a two-hour film.

They were told filming would start this April, but the date was put back to June, then September. In August HTV unexpectedly cut their fees by half.

Passions started to mount. "I contacted my agent and told him I didn't think it was right, having waited six months and done a lot of work on the script," says Ellis. He was told that unless he accepted by Monday he would lose the part.

However, by the time both had agreed to accept the fee, Ellis was told the roles had been given to Mel Martin and John Bowe. They are filming in Cornwall, with the result to be screened over Christmas or the New Year.

Rees has now put the matter in the hands of her solicitor.

In other circumstances - or sagas - this would have been an unpleasant but relatively minor incident. But HTV had reckoned without the might of the 5,000-strong Poldark Appreciation Society.

Val Adams, the founder, has received an extraordinary 7,000 letters of complaint about the issue. Members have picketed HTV's offices and promise to boycott the film - clearly rattling HTV to the extent that Geraint Morris, Poldark's executive producer, recently met Ms Adams for a 45-minute meeting.

"It wouldn't have mattered if they'd cast Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The point is that no one else can play Ross and Demelza," Ms Adams said. HTV merely comments that "negotiations with the original cast broke down".

One thing is clear: the saga - on and off screen - looks set to run and run.