Visual Analysis

Poldark is a BBC One new show that tells a fictional story from lives of the wealthy and the poor in the 18th century. At the end of the 18th century, the main character goes to war against American colonies and unexpectedly returns. Being a member of a respected wealthy family, Ross entertains himself in a high-class society which he despises. At the same time, he makes friends with common people and servants, working in fields and mines with them. This paper is going to discuss dress practices in the show, create a chart detailing the main characters of the show and describe one of the main characters in terms of his dressing habits and their connection to his personality. I will also create a new character for the show, detailing his dressing practices and personality traits.


Part 1

Ross Poldark comes home from the war and finds out that his father is dead and he is left with his unpayable debts and an estate in ruins. His beloved thinks he has died at war; thus, she marries another man (Hale). One of the biggest conflicts of the story is the struggle between the wealthy and the poor. At the beginning of the show, the audience can see Ross’s inner fight against his feelings for Elizabeth. The Poldarks represent a big and respected family. Ross’s cousin Francis lives in a mansion with his father, aunt, and sister Verity.

In the 18th century England, it was typical for large families to inherit estates and wealth generation after generation. Ross’s father used to own a copper mine until it got shut down because of the unprofitability of the copper business. The money issue is the main problem of Poldark’s family.

The main characters of the show are depicted in the chart below (see Table 1).

Table 1.

 Ross Poldark

Name: Ross Poldark

Age: early twenties (exact age is unknown)

Gender: Male

Income: Comes from a rich family; however, his estate is in debts. Income status is low, but bearable.

Dress practices: Ross always wears a tricorn hat as it is the main attribute of his image. He also wears a shirt, a vest, and a long cloak, mostly in brown color. His face is not always clean shaven and has a bristle.

Personality traits: He is an honorable man who takes responsibility for his actions. Ross always treats women with respect and is not afraid of hard and dirty labor despite his status.

 Francis Poldark

Name: Francis Poldark

Age: early twenties (exact age is unknown)

Gender: Male

Income: Comes from a rich family. Inherits a fortune from his father, but gambles it away in the game of cards.

Dress practices: He wears a tall top hat, which makes him look taller than he really is. He also wears fine clothes of bright colors appropriate for his status.

Personality traits: Francis is a young man who can be easily influenced by others and has not decided yet what he wants in life. He tries to do the right thing; however, he often makes mistakes.

 Verity Poldark

Name: Verity Poldark

Age: 25

Gender: Female

Income: A member of a rich family, a sister of Francis Poldark, and a cousin of Ross Poldark. Has a sustainable income and living.

Dress practices: Usually wears elegant, but not very bright dresses. Due to her high status, she has to dress in fine clothes, but she does not overuse accessories and jewels.

Personality traits: Verity is a kindhearted young woman. She has been unlucky to remain unmarried until 25 (which was considered too late for marriage in the 18th century). However, she does not lose hope and fights for her love.


 Elizabeth Poldark

Name: Elizabeth Poldark

Age: early twenties (exact age is unknown)

Gender: Female

Income: A member of a rich family. Her mother did everything to have her married to a Poldark as this family’s name guarantees a prosperous future.

Dress practices: Her style of clothes is quite exquisite as she prefers gloves and small hats, modest, but luxurious dresses, and her hair is always up.

Personality traits: A balanced and well-mannered lady who can win the heart of any man. She agrees to marry Francis when she thinks Ross is dead. However, she is being torn between the two men throughout the entire story.

 Demelza Poldark

Name: Demelza Poldark

Age: under 20 (exact age is unknown)

Gender: Female

Income: A miner’s daughter. Grew up in a poor family. Does not have inheritance or income.

Dress practices: Demelza always wears her red hair loose, feeling awkward in expensive dresses and shoes. Her first clothes on the show were rags and a poor dress of a kitchen maid.

Personality traits: She is hardworking and strong. Demelza has a firm character and knows how to defend herself. She gives Ross inspiration and makes him love his life again after he marries her.

Part 2

Demelza Poldark is a bright example of the use of dress in character development. When she first appears on screen, she wears rags which do not have anything in common with clothes. Her face is in bruises and her skin is dirty. However, after Ross takes her to his home, she acquires more femininity and grace. She had never worn fine clothes before Ross married her. Before that, she worked as Ross’s servant, cooking and cleaning for him. She is younger than Ross as she was just a child when he saved her from the beating. However, she grows up and becomes a real woman, kind and caring for other people.

In episode two, Demelza’s wardrobe acquires two more looks. The first one is a dark red skirt and a beige shirt that look quite poor and dirty, but better than her previous rags. Her second look is a long yellow dress and an apron that are still poor, but more elegant.

From the first episodes the audience can see that Demelza is a girl from the lower class who does not behave like a lady, does not know how to read and write, and steps into fights with other servants. In that way, the first impression she makes coincides with the way she is dressed.

Nevertheless, in episode three she sneaks into Ross’s library and finds a fancy dress in one of the chests. She decides to try it on and when Ross finds out, he becomes angry with her. This is a specific example of when character traits and the way she is dressed do not match. The dark green fancy dress looks elegant on her though she feels uncomfortable wearing it. “You are employed as a maid, and you’ve been a good one. And for that, you are allowed certain liberties, but dressing up in fine close is not one of them”, says Ross (“Episode 3”).

Demelza is trying hard to become a lady of the higher society. There is no disaccord between her personality traits and her looks as a lady. In fact, being a lady of the higher society suits her more than being a kitchen maid and a miner’s daughter. In episode four, she says, “Miners are my own kind, but I’d not be so kindly received by yours” (“Episode 4”).

As a historical show, Poldark educates its audience about manners, traditions, and hardships of the 18th century. In her first scene, Demelza does not resemble a girl as even Elizabeth thinks she is a boy. The rags she is wearing are so dirty and shapeless that most representatives of the higher class society would be disgusted by their look.

Part 3

If I were a screenplay writer, I would add another character to the show who would be Demelza’s older brother. His name would be Oliver, a young and handsome red-haired man. He would work in the mine with all other workers, but also he would be a welcomed guest at the Poldark’s house. Oliver is 26 years old and he happens to fall in love with Ross’s cousin Verity who is 25 and unmarried. In the original story, Verity falls in love with Captain Andrew Blamey, a man with the dark past. However, I would add young Oliver to the story whose feelings for Verity cannot be mutual. Her brother Francis would never allow her to marry a peasant with no future. However, Oliver is a hardworking and kindhearted man who is ready to do everything to win his lady’s heart. The below actor would perfectly fit into this role as he is tall and handsome, as well as having the Irish accent (see Pic.1).

From my perspective, Demelza’s brother Oliver would have a beard and long red hair, like on the picture above. He would wear simple miner’s clothes, a vest and heavy boots like Ross’s friend Jim Carter (see pic.2).

Oliver is the man who would never learn courtesy, as he comes from a peasant family. The miner’s garments in Picture 2 would be perfect to identify Oliver’s character and personality. He is a rural man of hard work and he does not belong to the Poldark family as an equal.

Below is the chart detailing a new character for the show (see Table 2).

Table 2.

Oliver Carne  

Name: Oliver Carne

Age: 26

Gender: Male

Income: works as a miner. His income is very low, but he is ready to work harder to earn more.

Dress practices: dresses like most miners. He does not have expensive clothes and cannot afford to be fashionable.

Personal traits: a kind and generous man of honor. He is a rural peasant, but willing to work hard and fight for a good living and his love.


The new character would perfectly fit into the plotline as his image would resemble an 18th century rural man. Oliver’s clothes are modest and poor, but his heart is big and his mind is firm. Unlike wealthy members of the society, peasants cannot afford to be fashionable. In all ages, fashion has depended on money. Therefore, Oliver can afford to buy neither a new cloak nor a new hat. Ross wears the tricorn hat, while Francis wears the top head, but both of them are men of the higher society. Rural people are not supposed to wear accessories like hats and gloves.

Being a historical show, Poldark uses dresses to emphasize the spirit of the epoch. The 18th century England is often associated with ball gowns for women and tail coats for men. However, stereotyping past centuries, people receive a limited image of the epoch. TV-shows also tend to use stereotypes to depict lives of ordinary people. Stereotypes help the audience have a better understanding of the epoch. Looking at gowns and dresses of the people of the 18th century, the people of the 21st century can compare the level of comfort and practicality of their own clothes with the clothes which were popular 200 years ago.

Dressing a miner into poor clothes makes it more realistic for the audience and helps to immerse into the plotline. Dirty hair, dirty nails, and shapeless rags also make the story more vivid and realistic. Poldark show would not be that interesting if all the characters wore fancy dresses, hats, and necklaces and knew courtesies and etiquette.

Apr 28, 2020 in Communications
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