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“Appalling” Poldark Scene Sparks Fury

The word “consent” isn’t a buzz word. It isn’t a word to be used lightly, to be used in the context of a joke or a topic in which to create entertainment for an audience. However, the BBC has come under fire for doing just that – airing a controversial Poldark scene that campaigners say depicts “rape,” amid claims that it was handled “in the worst way” possible.

It started out as a quarrel between two former lovers before it escalated and soon viewers saw one of the main female characters, Elizabeth Poldark, pushing main protagonist Ross Poldark away and telling him “you will not dare” before he throws her onto a bed and proceeds to have sex with her. The outrage was understandable; she says no (more than once) but soon ends up saying yes and viewers soon protested the inappropriate and irresponsible message this was sending out about the issue of consent.

Some of the IMAGE team watched the scene and we agreed that if that was deemed a “consensual and romantic act” between the pair (as was the series explanation of the turn of events), the Poldark writers should go back to the drawing board. The scene was awkward to watch as it was but watching a woman struggle, say “no” and essentially be coerced into a sexual act was quite disturbing. The scene clearly emphasises a grey area around the issue, which as Sarah Green, co-director of the campaign group End Violence Against Women, said was  “worse than a straightforward rape” because it showed the woman resisting a former lover before apparently enjoying being overpowered by him.

“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, 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.”

 “What can I say? It was something I cannot explain. You must see I had no choice,” said Poldark at one point. But as many pointed out, he did have a choice.

Aidan Turner (who plays Ross Poldark) objected to the rape claims saying his character “doesn’t force himself” on Elizabeth, played by Heida Reed but if this is how consent is depicted on a show watched by millions, it is a major problem. In this day and age (or ever) you simply cannot be dramatising or depicting a potential act of rape, when so many women continue to be victims of sexual assault and so many young people in Ireland are still confused as to what exactly constitutes as consent. A video from the Irish Times revealed that as a society, we have a very unclear picture of what consent looks like with one male even admitting, he “couldn’t explain fully what consent was.”

What did you make of the scene? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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