The second series of Poldark had everything going for it to ensure the number one position in current dramas on TV. The first series was an enormous success, because of stunning scenery, a charismatic leading man who regularly rode a horse across the scenery, intrigue and plots, some violence and a good female supporting cast. The BBC used the summer Olympics schedules to advertise the upcoming new series heavily. So why has Victoria, ITV’s new historical drama series, beaten Poldark in the rating war?
With the catch up facilities available, everyone who wants to, can see both shows despite their sitting opposite each other on Sunday night prime time. Nevertheless, the actual live audience ratings matter because they often ensure good catch up figures due to word of mouth the morning after. See the TV ratings figures to date further down the page (“consolidated” means adding the catch up figures to the live night numbers).
Despite Poldark’s advantages there is no doubt Victoria is winning the ratings war. Why this is happening needs explaining.
Victoria has a woman in the lead role, up against a man lead in Poldark who has become a sex symbol, albeit largely stimulated by tabloid entertainment journalists rather than the serious critics. Jenna Coleman has come from touring the galaxy with Doctor Who to portraying a Queen of German descent who ruled for over 60 years. She is a rare phenomenon, a female as the leading actor
in a major TV series that is expected to sell well in dozens of markets. Apart from Helen Mirren as “DCI Tennyson”, we have had a number of our female actors playing police personnel, as “The Killing” encouraged a rush of leading ladies solving crimes on TV. However to have the show, which ITV is hoping will be the new Downton Abbey, firmly fronted by one beautiful young woman is a great gamble which is paying off.
Jenna Coleman is going to be a very big international star. Her ability to sound regal, intelligent, eager to learn, and vulnerable all at the same time is a real talent. She has an excellent supporting cast, and Tom Hughes as Albert is proving to be a sexy leading man even without taking his shirt off, whilst Rufus Sewell is equally attractive in a more mature way. Yet we have no doubt why these two fine men must be enchanted by the little queen. Alex Jennings also brings some classy acting to the role of the King of Belgium. Nevertheless Poldark also boasts good acting, especially
from Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson playing the part of his wife, Demelza.
What gives Victoria the edge both for the critics and the bulk of the middle class viewing public is the writing. Daisy Goodwin is a TV producer, but also a novelist of distinction whose books: “The American Heiress “and “The Fortune Hunter”, have been compared to Edith Wharton’s novels on Victorian society. She has managed something which largely eluded Julian Fellows with Downton Abbey: posh people speaking with style and wit.
Victoria to the King of Belgium: “I come from a line that stretches back 1000 years, while you are king of Belgium, a place that did not exist 10 years ago”- that told him. Or Victoria to Lord Melbourne “At least I know Albert doesn’t have any secrets…” Lord Melbourne answers: “No- well that usually comes later Ma’am”. Jenna Coleman was picked for Doctor Who’s companion because she could talk faster than Matt Smith. All she needed was a great script written for her, to keep up with top actors like Sewell and Jennings.
Poldark is written by Debbie Horsfield who has a number of successful series to her credit which were accurate depictions of working class life, as in the “Making Out” series based on a factory, and “Cutting It” set in a hair salon. However with Poldark, her talent for writing natural dialogue is handicapped by the original books and the influence of the original BBC series from 40 years ago. Despite having a much bigger budget and technical facilities beyond what could have been imagined back then, the writing is locked into a superior historical fantasy that cannot avoid plodding dialogue which one is tempted to say before hearing it from the actors. Of course there is a mass market for this, being familiar territory presented with plenty of verve, great scenery and a leading man with a nice body.
You will not see Victoria baring her bosom. Her expressive eyes looking at Albert, her warm suggestive voice, and her discrete touching, will provide enough for steamy imaginings. Remember this is only the first series. Sixty years to go- middle aged Victoria after a dozen births, will be needing her offspring to give us the sex appeal. Men usually age better in dramas but a middle aged Poldark is unthinkable. Victoria is winning now and will in the long term.
Poldark (TV ratings) Victoria (TV ratings)
August 28 (not aired) August 28 (5.7 million) (8.0million consolidated)
Aug 29 (not aired) August 29 (5.2 million) (7.4 million consolidated)
September 4 (5.1 million) (6.7 consolidated) September 4 (5.3million) (7.8 consolidated)
September 11 (4.8 million) September 11 (5.1 million.)