Poldark scene slammed by women’s rights campaigners as “romanticising rape”

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Kayleigh Dray
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The BBC has been attacked over a controversial Poldark scene in last night’s eighth episode, in which Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) broke into Elizabeth (Heida Reed)’s home in the middle of the night.

He ignored her repeated requests to leave her bedroom, choosing instead force the woman he had long been obsessed with into an emotionally-charged conversation about her decision to marry George Warleggan (Jack Farthing).

As tempers flared, Poldark grew physically aggressive, eventually grabbing Elizabeth by the neck and kissing her twice against her will.

She continued to fight him off, telling him that she hated and despised him, until he shoved her backwards onto the bed.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she said.

He responded: “Oh yes I will, Elizabeth, and you will too.”

Despite producers describing the scene as a “fiery encounter that concludes with a consensual act”, many were left shaken by the scene.

And countless viewers have since taken to Twitter to slam the show for perpetuating rape myths.

“So just to recap - when a woman says no, she really means yes?” asked one.

Another added: “Horrified that they claimed Ross and Elizabeth would be ‘consensual’ and ‘romantic’ tonight, when we saw her struggle and say ‘no’.”

Others slammed the BBC for “perpetuating this culture”, insisting that they “really need to clue themselves up on what is and what isn’t considered rape”.

“I feel sad for victims of rape going on Twitter after this episode,” added another social media user.

Another added: “Romanticising rape is disgusting, no means no, not convince me. Absolutely appalling.”

Their concerns were echoed by Sarah Green, the co-director for campaign group End Violence Against Women.

Speaking to The Telegraph, she said: “This is the worst possible way they could have come up with to handle the scene and far more damaging than if it had clearly been portrayed as non-consensual throughout.

“They have dodged the problem of sullying the main character by portraying him as an outright rapist by making the scene ambiguous. It’s an irresponsible portrayal. In the beginning, he is forceful and she is clearly rejecting him and it’s disturbing to watch.

“Then there is ambiguity when she appears to give in to him and that’s a massive manipulation on the part of the directors. It’s worse than if it had been a straightforward rape scene.”

She added that the episode was particularly “damaging” in how they handled the morning-after scene, as Elizabeth was perversely shown to have enjoyed the sexual advances which she had so strenuously fought against.

“[It] sends out the message that even though she said no she really meant yes,” she said.

Green added: “They have made it seem normal and OK and minimised the potential after-effects of such an attack on the victim.”

However Andrew Graham, the son of Poldark novelist Winston Graham, who was a consultant on the BBC’s screen adaptation, has defended the scenes.

“There is no ‘shock rape’ storyline in the novels,” he told us. “To say so is to misconstrue my father’s text. 

“The BBC has cut nothing and Mammoth Screen’s portrayal of these scenes is entirely true to my father’s writing.”

He continued: “To be more precise – in the novel Warleggan the point of departure for the relevant scene is indeed consistent with the potential for rape.  But what then actually happens is not described but is left entirely to one’s imagination.  The only way to judge what my father intended is to read the novels as a whole.  Doing so it becomes clear, from earlier scenes as well as from Elizabeth’s immediate reactions and later mixed emotions that what finally happened was  consensual sex born of long-term love and longing. 

“It was, as Aidan Turner has put it, ‘unfinished business emotionally.”

Poldark writer Debbie Horsfield added: “One of the first things you learn when you’re adapting a novel is that no two readers imagine a scene the same way! This is even more acute when a scene ends abruptly, as is the case in Book 3 Chapter 6 of Warleggan, when the action cuts out and the rest is left entirely to the reader’s imagination.

“However, as programme makers, we needed to decide what the audience would actually see!  And, as far as possible, to bring to life what the original author intended the scene to depict. We were fortunate to have Winston Graham’s son Andrew as our consultant on the series so we were able to clarify with him what his father’s intentions for this scene were. What you saw onscreen is consistent with what we believe those intentions to have been.”

The BBC have confirmed that they have so far received 17 complaints about the episode.