One of the most magical things about Poldark (2015) is Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza Carne–how at home she looks in the vast, cliff-laden Cornwall landscape, how her warmth shines directly through the screen to touch the heart of the viewer, how strong, independent, and proud she is, yet at the same time, how her tentativeness simmers beneath the surface. When Tomlinson has the greatest chance to shine is in Poldark season 1, episode 4, as Demelza and Ross (Aidan Turner) are invited to Trenwith estate to celebrate Christmas with Ross’s wealthier Poldark cousin, Francis, his wife, Elizabeth, and other members of Cornwall high society.
It’s clear that Ross intends this visit with his family to be an official introduction of his wife Demelza, who was previously only known by his family (and the rest of society) as his maid. Ross sees Demelza for who she is–a creative, intelligent, kind, steadfast, and caring woman–and wants others to see her the same way he does instead of assuming that coming from a poor family means that she does not belong. He knows she does, that people from a humble upbringing have just as much, if not more, to offer, and he wants Demelza to show them.
But Demelza, despite knowing her own worth, isn’t sure that Ross really loves her, and crucially, wonders if he thinks he made a mistake when he married her. Ordinarily confident and indifferent to the way others look down on her, Demelza finds it an entirely different experience in front of Ross’s family–especially Elizabeth, who Ross was in love with prior to the start of the series. She feels an uncharacteristic nervousness to be not only in front of Ross’s family, but also in front of the other wealthy people invited.
When Demelza enters the scene, Elizabeth has just finished playing the harp for their guests. Ruth Treneglos, who resents Demelza since she had hoped to marry Ross herself, seeks to embarrass Demelza by asking her to play an instrument for everyone to hear. To make matters worse, she asks Demelza if her governess neglected to teach her anything about music, even though she well knows Demelza grew up without anything resembling a governess or even an education. Ross, of course, despite knowing Demelza is uncomfortable, makes it known that she sings, and the look Demelza gives him after Ruth insists Demelza sings at Trenwith for them is absolutely murderous.
But Demelza goes to the harp to get her pitch (can we talk about how boss it is for her to walk up to it and pluck the correct string immediately, especially since the company was just insinuating that she knows nothing about music?), and she sings.
I’d a pluck a fair rose for my love
I’d a pluck a red rose blowin’
Love’s in my heart,
I’m tryin’ so to prove
What your heart’s knowin’
I’d a pluck a finger on a thorn
I’d a pluck a finger bleedin’
Red is my heart, wounded and forlorn
And your heart needin’
I’d a hold a finger to my tongue
I’d a hold a finger waitin’
My heart is sore, until it joins in song
With your heart matin’
Everything about this scene as Demelza sings at Trenwith is tender, loving, and comforting. Demelza watches Ross, her true feelings fully visible in her eyes. There is no background noise at first, allowing the sweetness of her voice to carry the viewer through the soft melody. Her nerves are there, but so is her passion, her sincerity. The words are brimming with something everyone in that room wishes they had: love.
And as the background music slowly and very softly swells, the viewer sees Ross realizing this, as well. He knew he wanted to show everyone how wonderful his wife is, but he didn’t realize he’d learn something about her then, too. He didn’t recognize that showing others why he feels affection for her would cause him to realize the extent of that affection.
This heavy moment, as Demelza looks up shyly through her eyelashes and Ross looks back at her, is the moment when he realizes he is truly in love with her. The moment he realizes no mistake was made–in fact, he ended up with someone far more kind and good than even he imagined. Without saying anything, just the look that passes between the two is so tangible that everyone in the room realizes how wrong they were about Demelza, and even that they may be jealous of Ross because of what he and Demelza have. Francis in particular looks regretful (as he should).
And what better gift could Demelza receive than to know she is as loved as she deserves to be?
(By Ross, that is. If she knew how much I love her, she’d be all set.)