HBO’s Gentleman Jack is a masterful period drama with a skip in its step. It’s a smart and quick-witted look at a woman with the odds against her, but never letting the odds get in her way. It’s part romance and part small-town business drama, striking an equilibrium effortlessly and becoming one of the best of the year.
Anne Lister is a historical figure of importance, and creator Sally Wainwright makes the character her own when paired with such a fantastic actress as Suranne Jones.
Jones is riveting as Anne Lister, an endlessly fascinating figure whose shadow casts long despite those who wish to shorten it. Jones brings a level of fierce enthusiasm to the role, where every emotion on the gamut comes with deep and powerful gravitas.
Her brisk pace, her assured nature, entertaining curiosity, and guarantee of always being the smartest person in the room leaves Anne a complete delight to watch at work. Her words of wisdom are rousing and significant, leaving scenes as great exclamation points for what she is capable of.
The show, at its core, is about the relationship Anne Lister shares with Ann Walker, a nearly inseparable pair whose closeness can be their strength and their weakness. Sophie Rundle’s Ann Walker is at once naive and quiet, but soon opens into just as interesting a presence in the show.
Miss Walker’s cautious reluctance comes from the cost of what the world and society of the time deems acceptable. The rumor-mongering and narrow-mindedness of the past dampens down on those who do not fit into boxes, the show doing a remarkably well with progressiveness when there is not much of it to be found.
The show is not without its share of difficulties to throw at Anne Lister. The business drama dealing with coal and property ownership navigation treats Anne as someone to manipulate, but she is a wall of absolute conviction. It’s a joy to watch Jones walk circles around anyone she faces.
There’s an intimate and delicate touch to the framing of certain scenes, the closeness and the private becoming so much more raw and inviting. There are other sequences where the flashiness of the production, the excitable score booming, allows for a broader approach, just as appealing and surprisingly never feeling out of place.
The writing is impeccable, from Sally Wainwright of Last Tango in Paris and Happy Valley fame. It’s in the war of banter, mannerisms, and intercutting of opinions where its entertaining voice finds humor and detail of character.
Gentleman Jack does well in showing the differences in plight each class faces in the community, from the higher up with property renting and ownership over coal, to the lower down concerns of keeping one’s home or marrying in order to protect one’s honor.
No one is looked down upon on the show, every worry and story thread treated with the right level of care and empathy. Wainwright digs into the lives of her characters and lets them rise or fall on their own terms.
Gentleman Jack, as a production, is a looker. The countryside and various lavish homes are gorgeous and appealing, and the sweeping camerawork as it follows Anne or shows off the various landscapes keeps an excited image always at play.
The standout, however, comes in the costume design. The flowing, beautifully designed dresses and mud-covered clothing of the workers all leave a striking impression, the color and detail fascinating and vibrant.
At its best, the series navigates the idea of societal norms where the love between two people is as warm and natural as any other. The practices of others in attempting to thwart it may stray one, but the other is unwavering, and the strength Gentleman Jack shows in its unwavering faith is astounding and uplifting.
What did you think of Gentleman Jack? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Gentleman Jack airs Mondays at 10/9c on HBO starting April 19th.
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