Gentleman Jack: A Look at Episode 1

Like any true fan of Sally Wainwright’s writing, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the series Gentleman Jack. Episode 1 aired last night: I’ll take a look at a few of the things that struck me about the first episode.

The choice of Suranne Jones to play the brash, self-assured, and brilliant lesbian Anne Lister was perfect. She’s tall. She can wear the costumes. She sweeps swiftly about everywhere, coattails flying, top hat making her even more imposing. Suranne Jones pitched her voice down, and brought enough swagger and bravado to make her intimidating to any man foolish enough to face her down.

The Business Woman

Timothy West and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
I’m not renewing your lease. Bang. Just like that.

The first part of the episode explores Anne’s business acumen, and her no nonsense approach to running her ancestral home, Shibden Hall. First she collects the rents from her tenants, something a woman has never done.

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
Coal, you say?

When she learns that there might be money in the coal on her land, she doesn’t waste a minute.

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
I sit like a man, I talk like a man, and I make business deals like a man. Plot twist – I’m a woman.

She hires Samuel Washington (Joe Armstrong) to be a kind of manager or overseer for when she’s gone. He encourages her to mine her own coal rather than lease it out. She sees the potential to make more money and decides to do another unheard of thing: be a woman running a coal mine.

The Lover

Ann Lister's diary page from Gentleman Jack
So many words

Anne Lister returned to Shibden Hall because her previous love Vere Hobart (Jodhi May) married a man and rejected Anne. We see her intense grief over losing Vere as she rereads the moments in her thickly written diary.

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack

As Anne’s tender feelings are revealed via a flashback, Anne’s aunt (Gemma Jones) comes into the room and comforts Anne. Anne’s family, most especially her aunt, understand her nature. Lesbian wasn’t a word in 1832, but the concept was clear to her family. Auntie gently mentions an available and quite wealthy young woman named Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) who lives nearby.

We get a glimpse of Anne’s simmering sexuality when an old friend Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard) pays a visit. Mariana calls Anne Freddy. (Gentleman Jack is a slur, used only behind Anne Lister’s back.) We realize they can’t wait to get into bed together.

We see the climactic moment between them in bed, after which Anne turns and records the time in her diary!

It’s because she recorded absolutely everything in her diary that we know so much about her life and her sexual conquests.

Miss Walker Comes Calling

We know that Ann Walker lights up at the thought of Anne Lister. We see her languishing and bored most of the time, but alive and animated when the name of a woman she met but once ten years ago is mentioned.

Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle in Gentleman Jack
Oh, hello

When Ann Walker calls at Shibden Hall, Anne sees the grown up Miss Walker – and what a lovely and tender morsel she is.

Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
How fascinating you are, Miss Lister

It takes all of a minute and a half for Anne Lister to pick up on the fact that Ann Walker is enamored with her. She decides staying in Halifax and making the lovely Miss Walker her wife might be a grand idea.

Like everything else she does, Anne Lister wastes not one second. She begins her seduction of Ann Walker the very next morning by striding purposefully forward and presenting herself at the Walker’s door.

And we’re out. The game is on for episode 2. There are hundreds of other things that could be said about episode 1, but I expect I’ll have more to say about this series as it moves along. I’m forcing myself to stop for today.

Sally Wainwright directed this episode. She got us off to a rousing start. Equally importantly, Suranne Jones proved beyond doubt that she is the perfect Anne Lister.

3 thoughts on “Gentleman Jack: A Look at Episode 1”

  1. Torben Retboll

    I have also watched the first episode of Gentleman Jack. It is a strong beginning. I look forward to seeing the following episodes.

    One significant detail is not mentioned in your review: Miss Lister’s diaries were secret, because they were written in a code that was only deciphered long after her death.

    “The Secret Diaries of Miss Lister” is a historical and biographical drama which premiered in 2010. It is quite good. See my review of this drama on Amazon UK.

    1. I didn’t mention the secret code in this post but I’ve talked about it elsewhere. In doing interviews for Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright said she’s getting the whole thing digitized so it can be useful to other writers and historians in the future. She also has a book coming out about the diaries and Ann Lister.

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