Gentleman Jack arrives on HBO

"Gentleman Jack" Promotional Poster. Image Credit: IMDb

The arrival of Gentleman Jack on HBO is a much welcome change of pace. Gentleman Jack is one of the first must watch productions of 2019. Set in 1832, the Sally Wainwright created British-American produced period drama is exceptional in every way imaginable. Inspired by the collective diaries of the renowned landowner and industrialist Anne Lister, the series stars Suranne Jones in the lead role. Premiered Monday, 22 April 2019, Gentleman Jack is scheduled to hit British television screens on BBC One later this year.


Promotional Poster
“Gentleman Jack” Promotional Poster. Image Credit: IMDb

Because the title character is a lesbian,  this is probably not a production I would recommend for conservative thinkers. With the first episode having at least one sexually explicit scene, the likelihood of other scenes fitting this description is significant. But not everything is for everyone. If you have an issue with sexually graphic scenes, there are other things one can watch.

Who is Gentleman Jack?

In the brief trailer for the second episode, a boy asks Anne Lister, “Are you a man?” “Well, that’s a … question,” Lister responds. While she might not typically dress like a lady typical of the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, Lister was every bit as much a lady as the famous author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly.

Lister was not the kind of woman that played by society’s rules. She wears the clothes she does because this is what reflects her personality. It’s a statement about the person she is not the person the world would rather see. A woman a head of her time, Lister would have fit in well more with the twenty-first century than the one she was born into. Because of her tendency towards free thinking, Lister had a mind of her own and she liked to exercise it freely.

Born in Halifax on Sunday, 3 April 1791, Anne Lister was many things to many people. She was a landowner, a prolific diarist, an accomplished mountaineer and extensive traveller.

Lister’s diaries, chronicling her life, are extraordinary. Inclusive of her romantic lesbian entanglements, she wrote about virtually every aspect of her life. While Lister’s lover called her “Fred,” Halifax residents knew her as Gentleman Jack. Simply because of her sexuality, Lister was frequently the target of harassment.

Lister died in Kutaisi of a fever at Koutais on Tuesday, 22 Sept. 1840. She was 49. She was laid to rest at St. Anne’s Church Halifax Minster, Halifax, North Yorkshire, England. Kutaisi is now Georgia. Georgia the country, not the American state.

When and where is the period drama set?

Set in 1832 West Yorkshire, England, Gentleman Jack is a period drama like none other. The measure of a good period drama, in addition to the quality of the acting, is whether it is believable. Do the locations fit the series narrative? Is the set design and decoration historically accurate? Do the characters look like they belong in the period in which the production is set? The overall look of the drama is historically accurate to the finest detail.

Location Management

The locations for Gentleman Jack were selected by Jessica Dove, Leon Seth and Henrik Arnrød. The trio found authentic locations they could use for the production. The locations had the right early-to-mid-nineteenth century vibe. Because of this, they were perfect.

Set Decoration

Set decoration for the series was placed in the hands of Ussal Smithers. In addition to Gentleman Jack Smithers was also responsible for set decoration for such productions as “The Crimson Petal and the White” (2011), “Dancing on the Edge,” “Death Comes to Pemberley” (2013), “Peaky Blinders” (2013-2014), “Jamaica Inn” (2014) and “The Hollow Crown” (2016).

Costume Design

Costume design for the series was impeccably handed by Tom Pye. Prior to working on Gentleman Jack, Pye was the principle costume designer for “Don Giovanni” (2003), “Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters” (2016) and the much acclaimed “National Theatre Live: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (2017).

With the proficient costume supervisor Nadine Davern leading the way on Pye’s designs, her department has proven historically accurate drama is possible. The garments which are seen in each episode, created by Terry Herfield, Tyler Anderson, Sean Barrett, Susie Leyland, Ruth Phelan, Jan Simpson and Alison Toner, fit the period of English history in which the series is set perfectly.

Who is in the cast?

Further to Jones, the main cast of the production includes Sophie Rundle, Gemma Whelan, Timothy West, Gemma Jones and Sofie Gråbøl. The supporting roles are played by Peter Davison, Amelia Bullmore, Stephanie Cole, Vincent Franklin, Shaun Dooley, Tom Lewis, Albane Courtois and Ben Hunter.

Is there a trailer for the series?

Final Thoughts

Unlike other television critics which are reviewing this series, I did not have access to the first five episodes of the series. Consequently, I cannot say which direction the first season will be going. I can only draw my assumptions based on the first televised episode and the brief trailer for the second instalment.

If Gentleman Jack is anything like period dramas HBO and or the BBC have previously worked on, the likelihood of there being numerous romantic subplots involving Shibdhen Hall servants and the farming tenants is high. Such subplots are reminiscent of productions as “Upstairs, Downstairs” and more recently, “Downton Abbey.”

Jones is perfect for the title role as she as the bearing to pull off the quintessential Gentleman Jack. While behind her back, people will snigger, laugh and call her “unnatural,” Anne Lister is the on coming storm. Consequently, it would be advisable to not get in her way.