I recently added HBO to my cable package, and no, it wasn’t for Game of Thrones. (I admit, it lost me after season one. Sorry, Throners.) No, I got HBO because I’m a sucker for a good period drama, especially one that stars a lesbian leading character. Gentleman Jack, which premiered last night, is a joint production between the BBC and HBO, and takes a look into the life and loves of Anne Lister. If you aren’t familiar with Anne Lister, she’s often called England’s first “modern lesbian” and a total and utter badass. Born in 1791, Anne Lister was a rare sight indeed. She was a landowner and industrialist (nearly unheard of during that time) and balked at gender norms in clothing and attitude while wooing ladies across the English countryside and beyond. Lister was a diarist as well and kept massive amounts of writings in code about her relationships with women.
Lister has been the subject of fascination for centuries, and now Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley) has taken on her story for this new series. Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster, Scott and Bailey) stars as Lister, and you’ll find familiar faces aplenty in the supporting cast including Sophie Rundle, Gemma Whelan and Jodhi May. So if you aren’t already on board with Gentleman Jack, here are four big reasons why you should check out this terrific period piece.
1. Suranne Jones gives a tour de force performance as Lister. Swagger, confidence, vulnerability – Jones’ Lister has it all. She drives a carriage at breakneck speed in one scene, then breaks down in emotional agony in her lovers arms in another. Jones really nails the charismatic appeal of Lister, and you can’t help but get all flustered when she dons a top hat and stands up to anyone who challenges her.
2. It’s filmed at the real Shibden Hall! If you are a period piece fan like me, then details like this will give you a little thrill. Shibden Hall was Lister’s home, and it’s still in gorgeous condition and gives a real authenticity to the piece.
3. Georginan. Period. Lesbians. Lesbians have existed since the dawn of time, but we rarely get to see portrayals of queer women living their lives out loud anywhere other than modern times. Lister lived during the Georgian period, a time of much change and growth in England especially with literature and industry, and having Lister be a part of that is really exciting.
4. It’s very cheeky. Gentleman Jack isn’t your typically stuffy period piece. Lister often breaks the fourth wall and communicates directly with the audience, whether speaking her intentions or just a knowing raise of an eyebrow. She has “friends” visit Shibden Hall and beds them, enthusiastically. She wants a wife and she has her sights set on the shy wealthy young woman in town. Have I convinced you yet?