Following the seeming failure of her relationships with Miss Walker (Sophie Rundle) and Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard), Ann Lister sets off for Europe. As she travels through France and Denmark, meeting Queen Marie of Denmark (Sofie Gråbøl), Miss Lister seems unaware of the storm that is brewing around Shibden. With her Aunt Ann (Gemma Jones) seeming worse by the day and the planned Shibden Pitt desperately in need of capital investment, Ann Lister is forced to return home early.
Meanwhile, Miss Walker finally decides that she cannot remain in Scotland with her sister Miss Sutherland (Katherine Kelly) and her husband Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell) as the Captain continues to connive to marry her off to his financially inept cousin. Writing to her relations for help, the Priestleys (Amelia Bullmore and Peter Davison) travel to Scotland to aid her. Can she and Miss Lister patch up their difference and finally make the commitment that they both so desperately need?
Gentleman Jack has been a series that has kept its audience enraptured since its first episode aired eight weeks ago on BBC One. With a wit and realism that only Sally Wainwright can bring to a production, the adventures of Ann Lister and Ann Walker have been brought to life with a deft attention to detail.
To conclude the first series, she produces a sprawling epic that covers almost all of Europe – from Scotland to Copenhagen, from the Highland home of Captain Sutherland to Shibden itself nothing can match Wainwright’s ability to concoct a fast-paced drama that so embraces the landscape that it sits in.
Wainwright’s strength is her understanding of the precise mechanism of the human experience; when Mrs Sutherland convinces her sister to return to Yorkshire to avoid marrying Sir Alexander McKenzie, we understand that deep familial desire to see one’s family safe and out of harm’s way. When Miss Lister angrily grabs Doctor Kenny (Daniel Weyman) by his lapels when she learns that her Aunt is not, as he had predicted, on her deathbed, we understand the anger at thinking that a loved one is close to death.
These sequences demonstrate the literary ability of Gentleman Jack’s writer – she can make modern audiences easily connect with circumstances as well as characters that lived hundreds of years ago by tapping into the same unchanging, basic human emotions that make us all tick. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, Sally Wainwright can touch you and make you empathise with the vast array of characters that we see in this Gentleman Jack finale. From Peter Davison’s rather twitchy Mr Priestley to the newly confident and resilient Ann Walker, we see the breadth of human emotions mapped out perfectly in an engaging and satisfying climax to one of BBC One’s most engaging and entertaining shows of recent years.
The acting from the entire cast has to be applauded, even those whose appearance is only slight. Peter Davison, who only appears briefly, for example, is brilliant as Mr Priestley who, worried that Captain Sutherland might become violent when they arrive to take Miss Walker back to Yorkshire, twitches and turns like a scared rabbit. Davison plays this emotional reaction to perfection.
Equally excellent and always a delight to see is Suranne Jones as Miss Lister. Much has been written about Jones’ portrayal of the character of Ann Lister, some of it by me. What more can be said about it other than that Jones recaptures the confidence and presence that Lister had at the start of the series that was whittled away by the various incidents throughout the series. Lister’s character arc is profoundly brought to life by Jones; she goes from being a woman who, though outwardly confident and self-assured continually feels the need to run away from her home because she doesn’t have certainty or a sense of self. She discovers this with Miss Walker and the close of the series offers both her and the audience hope of a brighter tomorrow.
Sophie Rundle gives an excellent performance as Miss Walker. Though she was not as present in the last episode as previously, this final episode makes up for it. After learning that her sister was not trying to get her to marry Sir Alexander but rather attempting to convince her to return to Yorkshire, Miss Walker suddenly gains a new sense of momentum. Rundle plays this new inner strength perfectly and it is clear that she has a new sense of self, thanks to Miss Lister. Rundle plays her confrontation with Captain Sutherland particularly well and brings out Walker’s inner defiance perfectly.
The final episode of this first series exquisitely brings to a close its primary narrative arc whilst also leaving questions unanswered, ready to be played out in the Second Series. The reason that Gentleman Jack has so captured the public’s imagination is because of the effortless concoction of genius writing talent from Sally Wainwright, heart-wrenching acting magic from the full cast and gorgeous direction by Wainwright, Sarah Harding and Jennifer Perrott. It is by far and away one of the most beautifully put together pieces of television you’re likely to see this year and possibly this decade. It truly is an all-time classic that redefines what period drama is.