Gentleman Jack begins in 1832, and sees Suranne Jones (Save Me, Scott and Bailey, Doctor Foster) take the lead of landowner Anne Lister, who’s trying to transform her family estate, so it’s a bit like a 19th Century Homes Under The Hammer… possibly.
The real Anne Lister, who died in 1840, aged 49, wrote 27 volumes’ worth of diaries from the age of 15 onwards, putting personal details in a unique code which wasn’t cracked until after her death, and until then, no-one knew that she preferred the company of women, and in a world where such things weren’t talked about, and the world was still run by men.
She is pained by the fact that her crush, Vere Hobart (Jodhi May), is about to marry a man, since Anne Lister has been described as a LGBTQ+ trailblazer. I just take a drama on face value when I’m new to the source.
Anne occasionally gives knowing looks to camera, and talks to us, breaking the fourth wall, narrating as she goes, but this felt like something that would become a regular feature and, instead, just dissipated away quite early on.
There’s occasional French dialogue slipped in, while speaking to new maid Eugenie. Then, after she turns out to be pregnant after an illicit encounter, comments are made between two others:
- 1: “I suppose these things can happen”
2: “Well, they wouldn’t if people kept themselves to themselves”
1: “Yeah, but… she’s French(!)”
Along the way, it’s either a mix of Anne dealing with family estate rent issues, or flirting with women, or getting her end away – but depicted in a way that’s safe for viewing to a typical BBC One Sunday evening audience. It’s also a co-production with HBO, four episodes of which have already been broadcast by the time this one has aired, so maybe they air a stronger version?
As for the nickname given to Anne by others, as per the title of the drama, it comes down to how she was living – earning an income, having a care-free attitude and going out with women were things men did. Also, as writer/director Sally Wainwright has confirmed, in Yorkshire back then, “The title Gentleman Jack—Jack meant dyke, lesbian. So it was either very vulgar language like that, or sensitive posh language like ‘wintering in Rome.’”
After the first episode, I’m not particularly drawn to this. Had it been a 3- or 4-parter, I might’ve stuck with it in full, but there’s 8 episodes. I’m thinking I’ll try a second one, but if it doesn’t improve significantly, Jack can Jack-off.
Gentleman Jack begins tonight on BBC1 at 9pm. It’s is available to pre-order on DVD, ahead of its release on July 15th, and the drama continues next Sunday on BBC1 at 9pm. If you missed it, you can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission.
Episode 1 Score: 4/10
Series Directors: Sally Wainwright, Sarah Harding, Jennifer Perrott
Producer: Phil Collinson
Writer: Sally Wainwright (inspired by the writings of Anne Lister)
Anne Lister: Suranne Jones
Ann Walker: Sophie Rundle
Mariana Lawton: Lydia Leonard
Marian Lister: Gemma Whelan
Aunt Anne Lister: Gemma Jones
Jeremy Lister: Timothy West
Vere Hobart: Jodhi May
Samuel Washington: Joe Armstrong
Rachael Hemingway: Jessica Baglow
Eliza Priestley: Amelia Bullmore
Elizabeth Cordingley: Rosie Cavaliero
Aunt Ann Walker: Stephanie Cole
Eugénie Pierre: Albane Courtois
William Priestley: Peter Davison
Jeremiah Rawson: Shaun Dooley
Christopher Rawson: Vincent Franklin
John Booth: Thomas Howes
Joseph Booth: Ben Hunter
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.