Pros: extraordinary and brave main character; historical background; interiors and costumes Cons: the drawn-out manner of historical film adaptations; not the most successful breaking of the fourth wall “Gentleman Jack” / Gentleman Jack
Genre historical drama
Creators Sally Wainwright
Cast: Suranne Jones (Anne Lister), Sophie Rundle (Anne Walker), Jo Armstrong (Samuel Washington), Amelia Bullmore (Eliza Priestley), Rosie Cavaliero (Elizabeth Cordingly), Gemma Whelan (Marian Lister), Jones, Gemma (Aunt Lister) ), Timothy West (Jeremy Lister), etc.
Channel HBO, BBC One
Year of release 2019
The series focuses on the events of 1832. Anne Lister leaves Paris and returns to the English city of Halifax. She, trying to distract herself from the drama in her personal life, is determined to restore the estate that belongs to her. Anna has business acumen, so she personally collects payments from land tenants. Moreover, the heroine begins to become interested in coal mining, involving herself in dangerous competition. But most of all she is interested in Ann Walker, a rich young woman who lives next door. Anna is not at all embarrassed by the rumors that are beginning to rapidly spread among the city residents.
The showrunner of the series is Sally Wainwright, a television producer who created the successful British series Happy Valley. In the new project, she revived the usual format of biographical drama. Wainwright was open about her main character’s sexuality from the first episode and broke the fourth wall, allowing the character to speak directly to the audience. The technique is not new, but quite unusual for a historical series.
The strongest element of Gentleman Jack is definitely the character of the main character. She takes on what others call “a man’s job” and asserts the right to vote, which, unlike other women, she has long had. Anna Lister is interested in anatomy and achieves success in management. Her actions are well emphasized by her appearance: Anna combines black skirts with a man’s top hat, abandoning ruffles, and carries a cane.
The features of Anne Lister’s strong-willed spirit in the series were successfully conveyed by actress Suranne Jones. Take, for example, Lister’s gait with wide, sweeping steps. Or her manner of conducting small talk, placing emphasis on facial expressions. Suranne Jones also had room for dramatic performance, demonstrating that her character can also be vulnerable.
The series has many minor characters whose arcs significantly dilute the narrative. These are wealthy Halifax residents and ordinary workers, their lives playing with the contrast between elaborate houses and elements of rural life. Here it is worth noting the excellent work of the costume designers, as well as those who worked on the interior. Even the smallest details are thought out in every frame: tea sets, candlesticks and portraits.
To add intrigue to the series (and it really needs it), the writers send Anne Lister to search for the culprit of the tragic accident and add murder to the plot. However, the main question in all episodes of Gentleman Jack remains Lister’s personal life. By the way, the title of the series emphasizes this. The main character’s manners resemble those of a man, and the name Jack turns out to be a term that used to denote a person of homosexual orientation.
In principle, the series will appeal to those who enjoyed the atmosphere of Downton Abbey (and those who can accept remarks about matriarchy from the lips of an LGBT character without irritation). Sometimes Gentleman Jack loses the intensity of events, focusing on sofa dialogues. The main musical theme, which doesn’t get boring after eight episodes, helps bring back the cheerfulness of the series.
The use of that very technique of breaking the fourth wall was not very successful. The actions of the main character are understandable as is, but they are supplemented with quotes from the diary spoken directly into the camera. Moreover, her addresses to the viewer are not regular, so when they appear again, it is confusing.
However, in Britain Gentleman Jack received good viewership ratings, so the series was renewed for a second season.
The series has become an interesting combination of the atmosphere of English family estates and stormy life, which does not fit into the rules of secular society in 1832.