Unless you have been living under a Thanos size rock, there is a good chance you will know the HBO period drama “Gentleman Jack” hit our television screens Monday, 22 April 2019 with the Sally Wainwright directed series premiere “I Was Just Passing.”
Primarily revolving around introducing the principle characters and what their place is in the series narrative, this first episode does an excellent job getting the ball rolling on the eight-episode period drama. With the introductions done with, for the most part, this week’s episode focuses on the meat and potatoes of what it is Wainwright brings to the small screen.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to watch this episode, please feel free to stop reading at this point in the article. Continue reading after you watch the episode.
Televised on Monday, 29 April 2019, “I Just Went There To Study Anatomy,” pulls the television viewing audience into the story in a big way. There is no fuss and muss with Wainwright’s approach to period drama. While the production exemplifies the best qualities of a quintessential period drama, with numerous fourth wall breakages along the way, it is vibrant and boldly refreshing.
At the tail end of the series premiere, Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) visits Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). Miss Lister desires to make Miss Walker her wife. This second episode picks up immediately after what we saw in last week’s instalment. Then there is the business of making the Lister estate profitable. Miss Lister investigates the Halifax coal mining scene. She enjoyments every single moment. Miss Lister absorbs knowledge like a sponge.
The plots we see in Gentleman Jack are commonplace within the genre. In many period dramas, the principle character is frequently seen swooning over a potential love interest or even fretting over a impeding financial disaster of one kind or another. Not so commonplace is the fact the character doing the swooning in a woman of independent means. Miss Lister is an upper-class woman with a perfect understanding of the person she is. Further, she has agency and a will to execute her own agenda.
The people responsible for bringing Gentleman Jack to our television screens deserve much praise for not portraying the flirtation between the two women as being anything out of the ordinary.
Television productions, regardless of the genre, must be relatable to the audience. Miss Lister addressing the audience directly goes along way towards accomplishing this goal.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
As a television viewer, there are not many instances I can mention where a character is seen breaking the fourth wall. The fourth wall, if you are not familiar with the terminology, pertains to looking directly into the camera and or directly addressing the television viewing audience. This pulls us into the narrative on a more personal level. While this aspect of television production is seen with the American version of House of Cards and the character Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), it is not typical of period drama. Breaking the fourth wall is not common within period dramas.
Through Miss Lister’s asides towards the television viewing audience, we know the little character is making her move on Miss Walker. Miss Lister’s intent is clear. Her purpose, made plain during the first episode, is to attempt courtship of Miss Walker and, eventually, marriage. Miss Walker, unencumbered by immediate family, is a wealthy woman. She, leading a largely sheltered existence, desires friends.
A Gentleman Caller
Miss Walker is immediately drawn to Miss Lister. Why wouldn’t she? Inclusive of being significantly worldly, Miss Lister is everything Miss Walker is not. Miss Lister speaks with Miss Walker as an equal. Even though Miss Walker has travelled, has has never frequented far flung foreign fields like Miss Lister. This is something new and exciting for Miss Walker.
“Are You a Man?”
Considering how Miss Lister dresses, it is not surprising a child might ask her if she were a man. While the parents of the child might look a tad uncomfortable, Miss Lister addresses the child’s question honestly and without contempt. She does not speak down to him as many people do with children. She is forthright.
The tail end of this episode finds Miss Lister attending the wedding of a former lover. Meanwhile, Miss Walker is taking a three-day holiday in the Lake District. After finding closure with her former lover, Miss Lister decides to join Miss Walker. We will discover whether this was part of the plan next week.
Miss Lister is not the type to tolerate being treated differently to a man simply because she’s woman. It is an arcane world she lives in. Societal norms in the nineteenth century are vastly different to what we know today. The locals are beginning to realise this aspect of Miss Lister. She is unlike anyone Halifax inhabitants understand. No matter what people think of her, Miss Lister speaks her mind with complete easy.
Miss Lister is quick to recognise Christopher Rawson (Vincent Franklin) knows a lot about the accident. It is almost as if he was there or at least knows someone that was. Considering his brother’s vehicle has disappeared, it is more than mere coincidence.
Both Jones and Rundle do an extraordinary job bringing their respective characters to the television screen. The on-screen chemistry between the two women is unmistakable.