'Poldark': Steamy PBS Period Piece or Rape Fantasy?

This dispute centers on the moment Ross pins Elizabeth to her bed. That action alone seems to constitute critics’ rape accusations. However, what they fail to take into account is the rest of the scene (and season) leading up to that infamous moment. Critics make no mention of the fact that Elizabeth clearly knew Ross was the one kicking in her front door in the middle of the night; that she intentionally did not lock her bedroom door; that she willingly escorted him into her bedroom. No 18th century woman would ever consider doing such things, knowing full well what the implication would be, rumored or otherwise. Critics also ignore the moment when Elizabeth approaches Ross, practically planting herself onto him while asking, “What do you expect of me, 30 years of widowhood and loneliness? Can you offer me anything else? Do you?

Actress Heida Reed who portrays Elizabeth explained that the writers consulted with both she and Aidan Turner, who plays Ross Poldark, on how the scene should be portrayed. They mutually agreed that the scene would be motivated by Ross and Elizabeth’s unrequited love, a feeling Elizabeth directly expressed to Ross earlier in the season. They also ignore the many times the newly widowed Elizabeth clings to Ross to the point that she is warned by her own sister-in-law to stay away from the married man. An observation from Madame de Stael, a real-life contemporary to the fictional Poldark clan, explains Elizabeth precisely: “The desire of the man,” she opined, “is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.”

Modern critics, swathed in fifty shades of dialogue about violent sex, fraternity rapes and redefining the meaning of “consensual” were so quick to defend the woman in the scene that they managed to completely ignore her. The round character of Elizabeth was flattened under the weight of impersonal, theoretical, trendy critique. Asserting that she was raped makes her the fictional equivalent of an inanimate blow up doll. The real insult of these supposedly well-meaning critics isn’t that they accused Ross Poldark, the show’s hero, of being a rapist; it is that they ignored the powerful role Elizabeth plays altogether. Where is the feminism in that?