Though Eleanor Tomlinson is the leading beauty of PBS’s Poldark series, as Ross Poldark’s (Aidan Turner) unexpected bride Demelza, “Episode 5” really highlighted another character who too easily gets lost behind Demelza’s charm and radiance, and Ross’s rugged handsomeness and goodness: Ross’s cousin Verity Poldark, played by Ruby Bentall. (And yes, I did put the lead character under second billing to Demelza — she’s that great).
In the wrong hands, the character of Verity could be saccharine or little more than a plot device. But Bentall grounds Poldark with a special kind of warmth and familiarity with her character. She’s your favorite cousin, your childhood friend, and your incredibly kind aunt all rolled into one. She acts as a voice of reason for Ross, and as a comfort to Demelza and the rest of her family. And though she’s often literally muted in neutral tones, walking behind the show’s leads, Poldark would feel empty without her.
Verity is also a character who is level-headed and exceedingly kind, never using her position in society to make herself superior, and yet, always comporting herself with a genuine air of effortless gentility. It’s not a splashy part, but it’s essential, and Bentall plays her with an incredible amount of compassion that always feels natural and knowing.
Bentall, Coraline-esque, has big button eyes and a tiny mouth that sometimes seems to get lost, augmenting her uncertain and retiring roles, or parts as the friend who acts as a buffer between the leading lady and some threat. Bentall doesn’t even have a picture on IMDB, and often plays characters who are overlooked, dismissed as silly, or forgotten (to sum it up perfectly, she played Mary Bennett in Lost in Austen), but she deserves much more than to just be relegated as the “plain Jane.” Supporting roles can often seem like an afterthought, but when it comes to Bentall and Verity, she’s an integral part of the Poldark story.
And that’s one of the reasons why Poldark’s “Episode 5” was so moving, because Verity’s one hope of love in Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington) finally resurfaces. (It’s also an interesting pairing for fans of Bentall’s former series Lark Rise to Candleford, where Harrington also made an appearance as a love interest … for Bentall’s mistress of the house). Blamey is the only person on the series so far who instantly recognized Verity as the treasure she is.
It’s a small moment in an episode that was overall a showcase for the women of Poldark, including not just Demelza but also Elizabeth (Heida Reed). (Those three truly make the story what it is, and are the perfect complements to Ross/Aidan Turner). But because of how Bentall makes us care so much about Verity, it was also devastating. She didn’t just run to Captain Blamey and seek his embrace, even though her father who opposed the marriage is gone. Instead she rebuffs him, embodying even in just a few very short scenes her inner conflict and heartache on the matter.
Love and duty on Poldark are often opposites, and it can be so satisfying if they can come together. But more often, Poldark is full of heartache and complicated emotions. A viewer’s hope for Verity cannot be anything but a desire for happiness, though. Like both Elizabeth and Demelza, Verity earns a special place in Ross’ heart, as a familial confident and support. And for us, Bentall has such a natural likability onscreen that even in bit supporting parts like on Lark Rise or on The Paradise (another Masterpiece series), she steals her scenes and shines. Verity’s family may not treasure her as she should be, but we can do so instead. And the same is doubly true for Bentall.
Poldark airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on PBS. You can see previous picks for TV Performer of the Week here.