Television: Heaving bosoms and scarred faces – the Poldark romp returns

Review: ‘Poldark’; ‘Cumann na mBan: Mná na Réabhlóide’; ‘The Consumer Show’; and ‘Spicing Up Britain: How Eating Out Went Exotic’

What I like most about Poldark (BBC One, Sunday) is that you don't have to think too hard. There are the good guys – Ross Poldark, his poor but loyal tenants and his new housemaid, Demelza – and then there's everyone else. The slimy money-lender Warleggans, his anything-for-a-quiet-life uncle and a couple of waspish old ladies aren't baddies, but as they don't have the best interests of Poldark (Aidan Turner) at heart we can't like them.

Turner's Poldark is dreamy in the way of a Barbara Cartland hero, and although the setting is 18th-century England we're not overburdened with historical detail. This isn't the BBC passing the hard-history baton from Wolf Hall to Cornwall; it's a gorgeous-looking, entertaining romp, with faultless ensemble acting – including, as the uncle, the late Warren Clarke, acing his last role – and a tight script with some zinging dialogue.

The brief opening scene sees Poldark, in his sparkling red coat, taking a break from the American War of Independence when his regiment is attacked.

When he returns home, two years later, everyone thinks he has been killed. In the meantime his father has died, the family home has been remortgaged, his mines are derelict and his beautiful girlfriend, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), is engaged to his mousey-haired cousin – although the showy heaving of her bosom every time she even thinks of the (artfully) scar-faced Poldark suggests that all is not lost.

And so the plot is set: he must make everything in his world right again by the sweat of his brow. He lifts a lot of heavy things, sometimes with his top off. This is interspersed with scenes of him galloping across fields.

I don't think I saw much of the hugely popular first Poldark, based on Winston Graham's novels – there are 12, so this eight-parter could, and should, run and run – but it became such a landmark series that I have a clear image of the first Demelza. Angharad Rees was feisty and bawdy; here Eleanor Tomlinson is more of a stroppy teenager, although now Poldark has deloused her – not a euphemism – we can see where this relationship is heading.

And cancel that holiday booking for Dorset you made after the stunning scenery in Broadchurch. Head for the even more photogenic Cornwall instead.

Setting out with the premise that the women in this revolutionary grassroots organisation have been airbrushed from history, Cumann na mBan: Mná na Réabhlóide (TG4, Sunday) sets itself the task of putting them centre stage, "to examine how their activities, sacrifices and achievements have been overlooked in discussions of Irish history since the formation of the Irish State".

It proves too big an ask. The documentary covers events between 1914 and 1922 – a long, complex, action-filled time in Irish history – and, inevitably, ends up brushing too lightly over the women’s contributions and revealing too little that people interested enough to watch – let’s be realistic, it’s in Irish and it’s history – don’t already know.

The film really comes alive – or, more importantly, brings the story of Cumann na mBan alive – only when it talks to two women whose mothers were in the revolutionary organisation. Their vivid personal contributions makes me wonder why the programme’s director, Gerry McColgan, relies on so many academics. There are six; most are passionate historians of the subject, but that’s a lot of academics in an hour, especially when there are more personal routes into the story. They are interviewed in gloomy Georgian rooms, speaking to a point just off camera – an earnest, energy-sapping style that works against viewer engagement and features too often in TG4 documentaries.

There's good information, and tantalising hints of interesting stories, and we see some good archive footage and re-enactments. But, disappointingly, we don't come away from Cumann na mBan with a deeper, more personal knowledge of many of the women involved.

Anyone who sees The Consumer Show (RTÉ One, Wednesday) will look at all those goosepimply chickens in the supermarket in quite a different way. Last week's series opener saw Ella McSweeney report that a bug in chicken, campylobacter, causes an estimated 100,000 cases of food poisoning each year – and that the scale of campylobacter at processing level here is the highest in Europe.

The most startling image shows thousands of plucked chickens hanging from an overhead conveyor belt in a factory, naked to the world, ready for their trussing. So many chickens: that’s all you can think.

The bug contamination is a big subject. Last week laid out the problem; this week looks at how shops are trying to protect consumers – although the underlying message is whether consumers should be sold potentially illness-inducing food in the first place and how wrong it is that the onus is on us to keep the bug at bay.

Then the magazine programme, with its lead presenter, Keelin Shanley, moves on to composting, having dealt with premium-rate phone numbers – all confidently handled with an authoritative voice.

The chicken in the fascinating Timeshift documentary Spicing Up Britain: How Eating Out Went Exotic (Wednesday, BBC Four) is in a basket – at a Berni Inn in the 1960s. (Prawn cocktail for starters, Black Forest gateau for dessert: there's posh.)

This entertaining documentary – I’m wishing for an Irish version, it’s such a brilliant subject – has hilarious archive footage, including a 1950s programme explaining how to eat spaghetti and an eating-with-chopsticks competition at a 1960s Butlin’s.

It’s a long way from today’s foodie culture, as fetishised in MasterChef (BBC One, Tuesday and Wednesday), back for a new run but already looking if not a little stale then predictable.

Seeing, in Spicing Up Britain, quite how new and mysterious Italian food was in the days when a raffia-covered bottle of Chianti was the height of sophistication goes a long way to explaining why that famous BBC April Fool's film of 1957 – shown again here – about the spaghetti harvest took in so many viewers.

British TV is on election footing, and although this is not part of pre-election coverage, a film that joyously celebrates migrant restaurateurs who brought interesting food from India, China and Italy and democratised eating out in Britain – by the 1960s a third of Britons surveyed had tasted Chinese food – might just be a subtle reminder of the benefits of multiculturalism to those Ukip supporters who like a curry on a Friday night. tvreview@irishtimes.com