I am so excited to celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day by starting this recap for Gentleman Jack starring Suranne Jones as our swaggy lesbian ladybawss diarist Anne Lister. And hello there, fellow Sally Wainwright fans! From the beautiful mind that brought us so many fantastic dramas (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley, Unforgiven), and featuring so many familiar faces, we can’t miss. Let’s roll episode one after the break!
A quick note on the diaries; Anne Lister kept coded diaries of her conquests and land dealings that were only recently translated. The world has been agog ever since.
We open in Halifax in 1832 in a horse and carriage filled with a family and some super clean-looking livestock. Nobody would pet a chicken so lovingly if they had ever been in a coop.
Coming from the other direction is a posh hansom carrying Ann Walker (the lovely Sophie Rundle of Bodyguard AND Happy Valley) and a chaperone (Stephanie Cole). We learn that the Listers are both a subject of speculation and considered not quite quite.
There are too many carriages on the road, suddenly, and the young boy on the back of one is tossed into the river with his chicken. Much screaming ensues and he is rushed frantically into the Lister farm, where he and his family are greeted by Marian Lister (Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones, of course, but I loved her in The Mooreside. Spot on), who immediately grasps the urgency of the situation.
Ann and her chaperone are waiting in the drawing room, visiting Aunt Anne Lister (Gemma Jones!!!! Ahhhh!!! *need a second* Gemma Jones has been in everything!! From the mum in Bridget Jones’s Diary to the unstable spouse in Unforgotten series 1 to Last Tango in Halifax as evil Aunt Muriel – honestly, she’s practically royalty) and Jeremy Lister (Timothy West who needs a serious update on his IMDb page) while waiting for their carriage to be repaired.
The chaperone is quite impressed with Marian’s composure in dealing with the accident, she reminds her of Marian’s sister Anne Lister (Suranne Jones, late of Doctor Foster! But also of course Scott and Bailey, Doctor Who, Unforgiven…you name it). Something tells me this is not the first time Marian has been compared with her sister.
It seems Anne is making her way back from Hastings, she’s been traveling with a Miss Vere Hobart (Jodhi May who has been in everything but is completely unfamiliar to me. I should watch The Amazing Miss Pritchard as suggested by AB/T, it’s from Sally Wainwright as well) as a type of “companion”.
*That’s what they called lesbians before they called them “lesbians”. You know I’ve read every single Agatha Christie book ever written and I’ve only once found any reference to homosexuality? One single “lesbian” but about a hundred companions, I can do the math there.
Something’s gone wrong in Hastings, so Anne’s on her way back. Marian can’t believe that her sister’s not even there yet and they’re STILL all talking about her!
Oooh sexy credits with Suranne Jones dressing seductively in pre-zipper sartorial splendour.
We’re in town now with carriages driving too fast for the city and freaking everyone out, much screaming ensues. It’s Anne driving, seems the driver broke his arm and nobody else stepped up. A gentleman braces Anne for her aggressive driving, she’s not taking that.
She’s greeted by John Booth (Thomas Howes, or rather William Mason from Downton Abbey!! He’s adorable when he’s all chubby like that) and tends to her ladymaid Eugenie (Albane Courtois) who hurls posthaste.
*I heard this was supposed to be similar to Fleabag for its fourth wall destruction!
Anne is not happy to be back in Shibden with her “shabby little family”, comparing herself to Icarus and sighing deeply.
Everyone but Marian is happy to see her, even she begrudgingly allows her cheek to be kissed.
Dinner talk covers the death of poor George the groom, shot out of a tree while scaring crows. Anne attended the postmortem, fascinated by the anatomy under review. Someone else had dropsy, he won’t be able to collect the rents so who will? Anne! Right after she gets into Briggs’ house.
She gains entry and is shown Briggs, resting with a suppurating leg. Jaysus wept. He uses some of his last words to tell her that her coal is about to become important.
Hmmm, Eugenie is still puking, maybe it’s not Anne’s driving that’s at issue. Other maid Elizabeth Cordingly (Rosie Cavaliero, aka our obstreperous Marion from Unforgotten series 2!) can’t believe it: a girl like her! Turns out the dad is the poor dead groom George.
YetAnotherMaid Rachael Hemmingway (Jessica Baglow) isn’t as surprised.
To the shock of Elizabeth, Eugenie wants to go straight to Anne; after all, with what Anne gets up to with women, she should be used to “human foibles” and bedroom desires.
*I mean. Lesbian = foible? Is that a fancy word for climax?
Elizabeth does not share what Eugenie said about Anne and her bed partners, warning Eugenie that she’ll be summarily sacked if she even thinks about spilling her news or opinions.
Anne’s busy anyway, she’s in the courtyard trying to figure out what’s wrong with her horse. She prescribes mustard and an indoor rest, muttering something about “glanding”.
Inside she goes to fight with her sister, whee, I love watching sibling spats almost as much as marital disagreements (that was sarcasm, in case we’ve just met). Marian pretends she’s mad about lunch but really it’s that she’s worried about Anne collecting the rents. It’s a man’s job!
Anne’s not listening, she’s reading a paining letter from a Mrs. Lawton, who knows about Hastings. Maybe. She’s coming next week at any rate!
Anne digs her old diaries out of the attic; now we know why she left Hastings. Vere Hobart became engaged to a man and Anne was devastated. She almost tears the pages out but leaves them for us to gawk over almost two hundred years later.
Anne has a lovely relationship with her mum and dad. Her mum twitters on about the lovely young Ann Walker of the other day while Anne clings and tries to regain her equilibrium.
Speaking of Ann Walker, she’s being seen to by a doctor she detests to receive a prescription for fun and romance.
*SO MANY EYE ROLLS
Our helpful chaperone explains Ann’s backstory; she’s a wealthy orphan with no family near by.
Okkkkay I might be imagining things, but the Lister stone farmhouse in the show looks just like the one in Unforgiven! Maybe they get a twofer deal! Young Henry Hardcastle (Dexter Hughes) is recovering but bedridden; young Thomas Sowden (Tom Lewis) pops in with a basket of cheer; family patriarch William Hardcastle (Joel Morris) looks askance when rents are mentioned. The mom’s not mentioned in IMDb, but she’s another ginger! We’re spoilt for choice.
Anne’s dad Jeremy tries to dissuade her from getting involved in the “nasty” business of coal; why wouldn’t she want to be in it to her knees? Anne introduces herself to William Hardcastle and expresses a willingness to horsewhip whomever caused the accident to hurt his boy. William looks amused by the idea.
Off to the meeting! Anne blows Sam Sowden’s (Anthony Flanagan) mind by knowing his lease better than he does AND not standing for any bullshit about leaky roofs he was supposed to fix himself. She can find other tenants who are looking for land to work and who will pay the agreed-upon price without all this drama. She ends with “the choice is yours, either way works for me.”
Sam knows when he’s beat; he leaves with a threat that Anne does not take lightly.
Bottomley is up next, but we don’t get much time with him as Anne will not be renewing his lease. That land could be worked better by someone younger. WHAT.
Fancy clothes are flying at Shibden Hall; Samuel Washington (Joe Armstrong, the menacing but hapless Ashley from Happy Valley series one!) has come to see Ann. Three of her better tenants mentioned him today, she’s checking him oot. He helps out the Walkers, along with his wife and 6 daughters. 6.
Anne’s already making plans to travel; she needs someone competent to watch her properties. That’s right, HER properties, her uncle left Shibden in her care, not her dad’s or anyone else with mismatched chromosomes. Samuel is surprised and delighted, it’s as though he’s watching a fish ride a bicycle.
She asks about coal; would he suggest she rent her beds to the Rawson brothers? Nope, he’d mine it himself and he wouldn’t mess up with the shady Rawsons anyway. They’re probably already stealing her coal, she better get some people underground to watch it and dig it out themselves.
Anne is back remembering Hastings, watching Vere stare out a window while she brushes her lips against her shoulder. She snaps back to the present; Mrs. Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard – ohh from River. I loved River. She was in Apple Tree Yard too!) is here, two corner-of-the-lips kisses leave othermaid Elizabeth scandalized.
Also feeling screamy is sister Marian, insisting that Anne’s coal plan will bring them to nothing but ruin.
Anne is more interested in the across table eye contact from Mrs. Lawton.
Later: I spent a bit of time trying to work out what they were doing in bed, there were a lot of blankets, nightclothes and panting with Anne behind Mrs. Lawton. Then I saw what she did with the bedsheet after and it all became clear. Wait, did she time how long that took? Stonnnneee collllld. Well, we knew she’s a scientist, really.
Did I mention that Mrs. Lawton calls Anne Fred? She also thinks Anne should marry a man, get a title, money, settle down. All the things the exact opposite of what Anne actually wants, she could be a beard!
Anne fully intends to spend her life with someone she loves, not just a random booty call with an exasperated and lonely married woman.
Mrs. Lawton knows her Fred, though, she’s been running away and wasting time with the Vere Hobarts of the world who marry men. She’s surrounded by people who only see how odd she is, not how clever.
Oh goodness. Preaching to the choir.
Anne needs someone who will make a “conspicuous commitment” to her and everything else; Mrs. Lawton is afraid that person doesn’t exist. She offers some momentary comfort, but Anne wants the whole enchilada.
Samuel Washington explains the new role he may have with Anne at Shibden; Ann Walker perks up at the mention of her name but not as much as Eliza Priestly (an almost unrecognisable Amelia Bullmore from Scott and Bailey with Suranne Jones! She was also in Happy Valley series 2, coming to a brutal end that I shan’t spoil for you); she admires Anne’s cleverness and spirit! “She’s true to her own nature;” which is tough enough to do, making it a reasonable accolade.
Eliza’s husband William (Peter Davison from Every English Mystery, essentially) invites Ann to come with them for a visit with Anne, it’ll do her good to get out of herself!
*Which is the same thing the doctor said; infuriatingly delivered with the utmost gravity/beneficence; helping the little lady out!
Ann is very excited at the thought of meeting the intriguing Anne Lister. It’ll probably do her good to see a non-traditional woman and also, get her out of herself.
*SEE!? It still sounds condescending!
The same GP is attending Aunt Anne Lister, I think she just called Dr. Kenny (Daniel Weyman, see also Peter Davison) to get the town gossip. He gives it to her (most indiscreet) in spades, including a detailed medical history for Ann Walker. Anne Lister and I are on exactly the same page.
Anne dined with the elder Walkers before they died, they were boring and stupid; she’s not inclined to entertain their offspring. But ho, the Priestlys and Ann Walker are here!
Anne introduces herself to the Priestlys first, the swing around to the lovely Miss Walker is full of light and the haze of meeting a potential partner for the first time.
Anne is quite taken with the young lady, but proceeds to move the conversation swiftly along political lines much to her sister’s ire.
*I seriously will be including every one of those I can find; Gemma Whelan does glorious eye rolls
It’s now to be written in statute that woman may not vote; Anne is incensed at the insensibility. Even if it’s always been that way, WILLIAM. Marian argues but Anne is distracted.
The elders and Dr. Kenny join the party, but Anne spies Ann glowering at him and he’s dismissed to look at Anne’s glanded horse with a “tik tok.”
Anne hovers over Ann, who’s warned by the Priestlys about Anne’s journal-keeping.
We’re in those journals now, Anne pondering a path forward with the timid and wealthy Miss Walker. Should she stay there, in Shibden, making Miss Walker her wife?
Everyone sits in mourning as the poor glanded horse is shot by Anne after a nervy John Booth is unable; that’s her in a nutshell. Tries her best then accepts the truth of what must be done.
*I had a roommate who *thought* she was this type of person; really she just liked murdering her fancy fish in an outside coy pond. I once had to rescue my newt Rasputin from her bloodthirsty claws; he was just a bit dry, crackpot!
It’s a new day; Anne is off to visit Miss Walker with a spring in her step.
I love the bluegrass music that plays whenever Anne Lister is on the move; it imbues each of those scenes with Anne’s energy; it’s so march-y! The theme song is “Gentleman Jack” by O’Hooley & Tidlow; it’s awesome as well.
As for Anne Lister herself, she was kind of an abrasive arsehole, yes? We’re meant to think that is only because she’s a woman, but I’m pretty good at spotting abrasive arseholes and for sure she’d make the cut regardless. She’s also kind, loving, frighteningly intelligent, frustrated and one of the more complex characters we’ve seen onscreen lately; I am glad for that. Until next time!