After attending the marriage of her former lover Vera Hobart (Jodhi May), Ann Lister (Suranne Jones) decides to go to the Lake District to begin her relationship with Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle).
Whilst Lister and Walker begin to express their love for one another, trouble continues to brew as the Rawsons become more and more anxious to stop any attempt Miss Lister has of sinking her own coal pit.
As Ann battles with her feelings for Miss Walker and the Rawsons, she has to deal with John Booth (Thomas Howe)’s intention to marry her maid, Eugénie Pierre (Albane Courtois) and Sam Sowden’s (Anthony Flanagan) continuing drunken and antagonistic behaviour. Learning that Christopher Rawson (Vincent Franklin) was responsible for the pony trap accident at the start of the series, Miss Lister becomes even more determined to fight them for the control of her pits.
Whilst the previous two episodes built up the relationship between the two Annes, this is the episode in which it truly blossoms and we get to see a deeper side to their burgeoning partnership – this is particularly evident in the tender and loving scene in which Miss Walker is upset because she didn’t become more intimate with Miss Lister earlier in the episode as she didn’t feel ready and Anne Lister comforts her.
Sally Wainwright effortlessly intertwines the central story strands of Anne Lister’s battle with the Rawsons for coal mining rights with her love of Anne Walker. By keeping this and the conflict in the Sowden family interchanging one another in the episode to gain the maximum amount of screen time, Wainwright ensures that the episode keeps the audience’s attention throughout its runtime and endeavours to keep them as captivated as possible. It is this ability to mix various story threads which never seem confused or simplistic that ensures that the viewers are fully engaged. Rather than simply focussing on the love affair between Lister and Walker, Wainwright’s inclusion of the subplots with the Sowdens, desperately trying to control their drunken father Sam and John Booth’s frantic attempts to convince the Lister family to aid him in his marriage to Eugenie that helps keep the drama interesting and varied; it is this approach that has made Wainwright one of the most respected TV writers around.
Once again, Suranne Jones gives an excellent performance as the titular Gentleman Jack, Anne Lister. Jones gets to show off the more sensitive and caring side of her character in this episode and this helps to convey that Lister is not simply a commanding presence but a fully complex human being. The scenes between Lister and Walker are therefore genuinely tender and loving and convey that, whilst Lister’s initial intentions may have simply been monetary, she has sincere feelings for Miss Walker which she wants to express. By having more sequences in which Lister displays these deeper, tender emotions it allows the audience to fully appreciate the juxtaposition between them and her much more confrontational scenes with both Sowden and her sister Marian (Gemma Whelan). Jones fully owns the character of Lister; it is her mesmeric performance that makes the series what it is – a standout classic.
Sophie Rundle also gives a stellar performance as Anne Walker. Rundle effortlessly expresses Walker’s deep love for Lister and yet also her reluctance to commit fully to a relationship with her. Rundle understands perfectly how to play Walker and to emphasise her feelings of fragility and worry that Lister might not fully reciprocate her love. It is this shy and yet captivating performance that makes Rundle so convincing in the role of Walker and makes her relationship with Miss Lister all the more compelling and understandable.
Gemma Whelan gives a brilliantly cantankerous performance as Marian. Whelan knows how to play up Marian’s berating of her sister for not consulting the rest of their family on where she is going or what she’s planning on doing with the estate excellently and she makes the sibling feuding come alive. Whelan also knows how to play Marian in such a way that she never becomes unsympathetic; she is desperately trying to make everything better for the rest of her family and yet has to constantly butt horns with her sister. Whilst Whelan’s part in the drama is sometimes overshadowed by other events, her delightfully irritated portrayal of Marian Lister is one to admire and enjoy.
Another striking element to the episode and the series as a whole is the array of costumes provided for the cast. Amelia Bullmore’s Mrs Priestly, in particular, wears some splendid and vivid outfits which work perfectly with her character. Tom Pye deserves a great deal of praise for creating such memorable and vivid costumes which help to bring the series alive and make it feel as authentic as possible.
The third episode of Gentleman Jack strides ahead with its story in a dramatic and engaging way. It never lets up in its relentless pursuit of its audience and will make sure that it keeps your attention. It combines engaging and evocative writing with superb performance and stylish direction to keep its viewers on their toes and make them crave more of this expertly crafted drama.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
Gentleman Jack Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.