Returning home to Shibden after her attack at the hands on one of Christopher Rawson’s (Vincent Franklin) men, Ann Lister (Suranne Jones) ensures that she doesn’t interrupt Marianne’s (Gemma Whelan) reception of Mr Abbott (John Hollingworth). Realizing that she will be unable to sink her own pits without the loan from Miss Walker, Miss Lister begins to contemplate travelling across Europe again.
Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) meanwhile is becoming increasingly anxious about her relationship with Miss Lister and whether they will end up being executed for it. As Miss Walker reconciles with Miss Lister, storm clouds brew. The Rawsons, determined to ensure that Miss Lister doesn’t sink her own pit attempt once again to buy her off and when that fails, they try to destroy the road to her pit. As Miss Walker’s mental states becomes worse, her family and Miss Lister decide that it might be best for her to visit her sister (Katherine Kelly) in Scotland. However, Miss Lister is unaware of the machinations of Miss Walker’s brother in law Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell) and his family to have Miss Walker married off to a wealthy member of their family.
Sally Wainwright’s intricately woven narrative for Gentleman Jack allows the series to exist on both an intimate and a larger scale and she allows the viewers enough time to be thoroughly engrossed in both worlds. On the greater, sweeping stage we have Miss Lister’s battle with the Rawsons to sink her own coal pit which allows Wainwright to explore the political and social side of late Georgian Yorkshire and the raging battle between a traditional, agricultural way of life and the beginnings of urban industrialised Britain.
On the more intimate front, through the troubled and at the time dangerous relationship between Miss Lister and Miss Walker, Wainwright is allowed to explore not only themes of the self – whether to be true to yourself even if it means you are expediting yourself from broader society – but also thematic questions of belief; how can Miss Walker understand her feelings for Miss Lister and comprehend them through the prism of her religion?
Often our secular society forgets the deeply passionate fervour for Christianity that existed in the hearts and minds of so many in 19th century Britain and Wainwright’s realisation of this through Miss Walker’s nightmare and her growing mental problems is an excellent means of informing the audience whilst also forcing them to ask questions. Gentleman Jack is not an overtly political work; whilst there is mention of the Great Reform Act and other political affairs from the time, it does not intend to be some post Regency political piece. Yet, what Wainwright does through Gentleman Jack is to create a drama that does have a strong message – one of acceptance and fighting against prejudice which is political but also universal and it is this balancing act which Wainwright pulls off throughout the entire series that allows it to be such a success.
The nightmare that Ann Walker has about begin hanged is wonderfully rendered by a combination of Wainwright’s formidable writing flare, direction and the acting from all of those involved, particularly Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones whose expressions during the scene perfectly reflect how Miss Walker feels internally. The dark, brooding sky, raging mob and the sense of reality that had things been different, Miss Walker and Miss Lister could have endured such a fate all allows the drama to have some extra weight to it – it gives a sense of urgency and fear to both the episode and the series.
The performance given by Suranne Jones is once again brilliant in its mixture of firmness, delicacy and all-encompassing -ness. Jones plays Lister’s inner turmoil and hurt at how things have gone with Miss Walker and her uncertainty as to whether she can continue with her plan to sink her own pit with genuine unease and a sense of foreboding. Lister has excellently played Lister’s can-do attitude and her ability to capture a room in moments, but she also understands how to explore and express Ann’s moments of doubt; whether she can carry on as she wants and what consequences it might have if she does.
She also understands how to portray Lister’s caring side – her concern for Miss Walker and her hope that she may get better by travelling allow us to see that under all of Ann Lister’s bluster. Indeed, there is a great deal of love and compassion there which makes us as the audience empathise with her more and also want to see her succeed. In Ann Lister, Suranne Jones may have found her greatest part – a character that can truly channel her awesome powers as an actor and one for which she will be remembered for.
The sixth episode, like the previous episodes, unfurls the compelling tale of Ann Lister and Ann Walker to its audience with a sophistication and energy that demonstrates not simply the skill of its author but also the powers of the formidable combined talent that have worked together to produce it. After watching each episode, there is a sense of bereavement because it feels as if the hour running time has only been minutes – that the programme could have gone on much longer. That is the beauty and exceptional gift of Gentleman Jack – it steals away time in the most engaging and delightful manner you could wish for.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
Gentleman Jack Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.