Things truly come to a head in the fifth episode of Gentleman Jack. As the secret relationship of Ann Lister (Suranne Jones) and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) becomes more well known, tensions rise between the two. Though Miss Lister is easily able to see off the advances of the Reverend Ainsworth (Brendan Patricks), Miss Walker is still unsure as to whether their relationship can continue and if she should bow under pressure and marry Reverend Ainsworth. As Mrs Sowden discovers the truth behind her husband’s disappearance the Rawson brothers (Vincent Franklin and Shaun Dooley) become ever more desperate as they learn Miss Lister seems certain to sink her own pit using a loan from Miss Walker and decide that drastic action must be taken.
As the series passes the halfway mark, Sally Wainwright brilliantly cranks up the dramatic tension. There have been some critics who have suggested that the series is not accurate or dramatic enough as Ann Lister is a central character who is too confident and easily gets her own way. Whilst, for those who have actually been watching the series, this has been apparent throughout it is even clearer in this episode. By the end of this fifth installment, everything seems to be going wrong for Miss Lister and her confidence is severely cracked.
Wainwright has ensured that her character is not simply a superwoman – she faces real trauma and emotional turmoil throughout this episode as she desperately attempts to convince Miss Walker not to care what other people think and that she isn’t simply in a relationship with Ann for her money – an insinuation that Ann Walker makes at the end of the episode and deeply offends Miss Lister.
Wainwright’s intertextual weaving of her epic romance with the grubby battle over coal allows the story to continue to capture the audience’s attention. Though Gentleman Jack is set in the early 19th century, it is a tale of the future – the future of relationships, of the class system and of Britain itself. Wainwright’s genius lies in her ability to make the story of Gentleman Jack truly timeless by relying on these broad and universal themes to tell her story.
The acting throughout this episode is brilliantly done but particular praise must be given to Suranne Jones. We have seen in the course of the series, Jones play Lister’s utter confidence and daring perfectly and what she captures in this episode is the vulnerability of the character. She is a strong woman but she is also human and the continual doubting that Miss Walker has to their relationship and the implication by her that Miss Lister can still have the money for her pits regardless of whether or not they are in a relationship damages her inner confidence. The sheer hurt and indignation at this, particularly after Ann confronts Reverend Ainsworth and sees him off is tragically played by Jones. We can fully understand and empathise the hurt her character is going through and this allows us to fully empathise with her – as she says to Ann Walker, under all her brash confidence there is still a real person who can get hurt.
Brendan Patricks gives a great performance as the slippery Reverend Ainsworth. Patricks exudes a slimy piety that works well with the image of his character as a manipulative and sanctimonious individual. Patricks plays every scene he’s in with a suitable level of smugness and self-satisfaction as befitting his character. He also allows the character’s natural pathetic comedy to come out and it is beautifully rendered in the initial scene between himself and the Priestlys (Amelia Bullmore and Peter Davison) and in his confrontation with Miss Lister later in the episode. The combination of Wainwright’s perfect writing of the character and the portrayal given by Patricks ensures that his character stands out as not only as being comical but also repugnant – a truly Hogarthian caricature of a cleric.
One scene, in particular, demonstrates the acting prowess of the company – when Marian Lister (Gemma Whelan) finally brings Mr Abbott (John Hollingworth) to tea. The awkwardness of the sequence allows for great comic timing from all those involved, particularly Timothy West as Jeremy Lister whose eye rolling convergences nicely with his attempts, in vain, to appear polite to Mr Abbott. Once again Gentleman Jack proves to be an example of the perfect meeting between excellent writing and acting.
The latest episode of Gentleman Jack continues to be a delight and will sure to be remembered as one of the best dramas of 2019. It’s mixing of witty storytelling, imaginative and exciting direction and fabulous acting allows it to thrill its viewers with every passing episode and continue to ensure we tune into it week after week.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
Gentleman Jack Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.