With Miss Walker (Sophie Rundle) having decided to go to Scotland to improve her health by staying with her sister Elizabeth (Katherine Kelly) and brother in law, Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell), Ann Lister seems more determined than ever to leave Shibden and return abroad. With the arrival of her new groom Thomas Beech (Dino Fetscher), Ann becomes more resolute than ever to be off abroad once more.
Before she can do this, however, she must deal with the nefarious Christopher Rawson (Vincent Franklin) who continues to plague her by insinuating to her sister Marianne (Gemma Whelan) that he has the deeds to Shibden in his possession. Following her confrontation with Rawson, Ann travels to York and London with her former lover Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard) yet, it soon becomes clear that Ann’s future doesn’t lie with her. Meanwhile, with her family more determined than ever to marry her off, Ann Walker becomes more depressed and desperate to find some means of escape.
As the first series of Gentleman Jack reaches its denouement, it is worth reflecting on how the series has ensured that it has been able to exist on both a grand scale and on a personal one. The show has encapsulated not only the move towards industrialisation that faced Britain in the early 19th century and the politics of this change but also how personal relationships developed against this tumultuous change. The relationship between Ann Walker and Ann Lister has been as unpredictable as the era in which it is set, and this is Sally Wainwright’s method of highlighting how restricting life was during this period particularly for women.
Ann Lister has the luxury of having independent means and an understanding family – unlike Miss Walker, who’s continually scheming family seem determined to get her to be married to whoever they can find, whether it be Reverend Ainsworth or Sir Alexander Mckenzie. Similarly, as she argues in the carriage with Ann Lister as they are travelling to London, Mariana Lawton has had to make sacrifices that Miss Lister hasn’t; she has had to rely on the support of men where Lister hasn’t and thus can’t act in the same way that she does.
This episode fully demonstrates that, whilst the world is changing, the attitudes to women in the early 19th century were retrograde – the scenes with Mr Washington (Joe Armstrong) and Samuel Sowden () discussing whether Samuel can marry Washington’s daughter seems at odds with the vast drive towards change. Wainwright ensures with her brilliant writing that we get a true insight into the situation that women across Britain and the world found themselves in – one of monetary and social dependence on men.
The scene in which we finally get a proper confrontation between Rawson and Lister is wonderfully played by both Jones and Franklin; Franklin brings an arrogance to the role which is perfectly balanced by Jones’ vehement outrage. This is juxtapositioned by the sensitivity that Jones exhibits in this episode towards Mariana Lawton and how that sensitivity turns to contempt is perfectly played by both Jones and Lydia Leonard. Theirs is a love that has withered and is no more and the inability to have commitment is what rots away their relationship. Wainwright writes this with a sense of truthfulness and we truly believe that there can be no future for them. The confusion and distress that Lister feels is eloquently projected by Jones and she ensures that whilst her character dominates the drama it never seems as if she is not a real person; the pain and suffering she feels as she comes to terms with whether she can continue living at Shibden and succeed with sinking her own pit reflect the anguish that we all feel at some point. This is the power of Jones’ performance as Lister – it speaks to people regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation because it is such a human story and one which Jones delivers magnificently.
ophie RundleS does not appear a great deal in this episode however when she does, she gives a great performance. Miss Walker trapped in a depression caused by her conflicting feelings for Miss Lister and her faith seems dejected and facing the prospect of a forced marriage. Rundle plays this dejection extremely well and brings forth a genuine sense of listlessness. Though due to the shortness of her appearance in this episode it does not fully allow us to appreciate Rundle’s talents even with the brevity of her role in this episode we can still appreciate how powerful it is.
Ultimately, the penultimate episode of Gentleman Jack is a character-driven episode and gives us an insight into Ann Lister’s character. It reminds the audience why Lister and Walker need one another and how restricted women were at this time in history. It is a compelling and engaging piece of drama that proves once again that powerful drama is about ensuring an emotional connection between the audience and the characters we see on screen and Gentleman Jack does just that.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
Gentleman Jack Concludes Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.