The Excellence of Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack season 1 ended in the U.S. It was excellent in every way. A brilliant achievement involving writers, directors, costumers, actors, and Anne Lister’s secret diaries.

Season 1 covered two years of Anne Lister’s life, from her return to Shibden Hall in 1832 to her marriage to Ann Walker in 1834. We got the happy ending we wanted as season 1 came to a close.

Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
The perfect cinematic reunion on a beautiful Yorkshire hillside when Ann finally says, “Yes,” and means it.

The series included so much brilliance from the cast. Everyone from resentful sisters (Gemma Whelan) to unhappy servant girls (Albane Courtois) to somewhat-ex-lovers (Lydia Leonard) to tenant farmers (Tom Lewis) and many others got attention from the camera in the telling of this complicated tale. So many good actors worked to make this series pitch perfect.

The action we most cared about in season 1 of Gentleman Jack took place between Suranne Jones as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker. They carried the love story while subplots swirled around them. The two of them were perfect in their assigned roles, but I have to say that Suranne Jones far exceeded perfect as the strutting, swaggering, butch lesbian of everyone’s dreams. That she lived the way she did almost 200 years ago is inspiring.

Writing

Anne Lister’s words were there in her diaries, and series creator Sally Wainwright often took them right off the page. Being a dramatist of great skill, in Sally Wainwright’s hands those words turned into suspense, excitement, heartbreak, love, sex, and courage. Subplots were built around the main love story that added meaning and context to the time and place.

Kudos to Anne Lister for being the inspiration for this beautiful drama. Kudos to everyone who helped bring her back to life.

There were compressions of time and events for the sake of drama and episodic storytelling on television, but the writing stayed as true as possible to its original creator. Anne Lister is listed as one of the writers for the series on IMDB.

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack
The costumes were fabulous in this period drama.

Anne Lister died in 1840 while traveling in Russia, six years after the marriage we anticipated in season 1. That means season 2 of this gorgeous period lesbian celebration can detail the marriage and travels of Anne and Ann as they move forward with life. That also means that season 2 of Anne Lister’s story – at least the version of it in Sally Wainwright’s hands – will probably be the last one for Gentleman Jack. Well, it could possibly be dragged out into two more seasons. I don’t want to imply a limit on Sally Wainwright’s genius with a story. (Update! I recently read that season 2 will cover the next 18 months of the lives of Anne and Ann.)

I expect other writers to pick up earlier parts of Lister’s life story and dramatize them. Gentleman Jack has been a huge success. It has spawned book sales, an influx of tourists, and a blazing interest in a brilliant but overlooked woman.

The Female Gaze

Sally Wainwright, Sarah Harding, and Jennifer Perrott did the directing in series 1. The female gaze was everything in this series. With the help of intimacy director Ita O’Brien, they shot a believable, realistic, lesbian love story that resonates across the decades.

Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall in Halifax
It’s really Shibden Hall

Filming in the real Shibden Hall, in the place where Anne Lister lived and walked, added so much to the beauty and authentic feeling in Gentleman Jack.

Many people have made the trek to Yorkshire and Shibden Hall to be in the place that was once Anne Lister’s. There’s a wealth of information about her there and in nearby museums.

The Sum of Its Parts

The beauty is in the details in this series. Everything was so well thought out and so well executed. Casting, location, directing, writing, music, costumes – even the resident canine had a hand in making the series a success. Rhodry the Scottish had the job of sleeping in most scenes, and did it very well.

Favorite Moments

I loved it when Suranne Jones broke the 4th wall. Especially that triumphant smile to the camera as Anne and Ann entered the church in the last moments of the season finale. I also loved when Gemma Whelan did it.

Anne exuded freedom at a time when no woman felt free.

I loved the way Anne walked, but most especially the way she walked in to meet the Danish Queen and to attend the Queen’s birthday ball. Priceless. I loved Anne’s athleticism – scaling walls, leaping up stairways, jumping from carriages, digging up rocks.

I loved Anne’s magnetism – she attracted women like bees to blossoms. Even women who didn’t understand why they found Anne so attractive found her attractive. Suranne Jones was perfection at this suave, animalistic, confidence. She exuded freedom at a time when no woman felt free.

What was your favorite part?

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Gentleman Jack poster

Kudos to Anne Lister for being the inspiration for this beautiful drama. Kudos to everyone who helped bring her back to life.

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3 thoughts on “The Excellence of Gentleman Jack”

  1. Just binged-watched it over the weekend. Suranne and Sally’s finest collaboration IMHO. Sally has redeemed herself with this wonderful, faithful rendition of Anne Lister. (I truly swore off from straight people writing/performing Lesbian personae after Last Tango in Halifax, one-more-killng-off-a-lesbian fiasco.)

    1. That’s something I think about when imagining dramatizations of Anne Lister’s earlier adventures and romances. So many ended sadly with the object of her affection marrying a man. Hard for a dramatist to use. Sally Wainwright picked the best two years out of Anne’s life, the two with the happy ending, for Gentleman Jack. I definitely think it was an act of redemption for Sally.

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