After Mrs Priestly (Amelia Bullmore) discovers the relationship between Ann Lister (Suranne Jones) and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) it soon becomes apparent that pressure is mounting on Ann Walker to reject her relationship with Lister by both her family and Reverend Ainsworth who intends to marry her. The internal conflict between Lister and Walker serves as the driving force behind this episode and is the main source of tension between our two protagonists now that their love is no longer private. Miss Walker has to decide whether she can really commit to life as Ann Lister’s companion or whether to do as her family wish and marry the recently widowed Reverend Ainsworth, which is what her family would prefer, despite the fact that Ainsworth assaulted her.
Meanwhile, as Thomas Sowden (portrayed brilliantly by Tom Lewis) waits for the news as to whether Miss Lister will transfer his recently disappeared father’s tenancy to him so his family won’t be kicked off the land they rent from the Listers, Christopher Rawson (Vincent Franklin) and his brother Jeremiah (Shaun Dooley) continue to plot to find a way to stop Anne Lister from opening her own mines – who, after visiting a mine for herself is more determined than ever to sink her own pit. As the Rawsons begin to formulate a plan to throw Miss Lister off course by finding out more about her relationship with Miss Walker, Ann has to decide how to save her relationship with Miss Walker and ensure that her expansion into mining goes ahead.
Once again, Sally Wainwright succeeds in creating a memorably engaging further chapter of the life and adventures of Ann Lister. As with the previous three episodes, central to the dynamic is the relationship between Lister and Walker which Wainwright knows has the greatest amount of emotional punch to it. After the courtship and honeymoon, the relationship went through in the first three episodes, the fourth presents the first real problems for Miss Walker and Miss Lister. By allowing the relationship some time to blossom before it hits its first emotional barrier, it gives the drama more potency and Wainwright brings to life the feelings of uneasiness and betrayal felt by both women. Anyone who has endured the pain of a bumpy relationship or heartache will be able to empathise and understand what the couple go through in this episode.
Wainwright also wonderfully builds on the slow-burning subplot involving the Rawsons. Wainwright’s understanding of human nature is supreme, and she demonstrates this by investing all her best spiteful characterisation into Christopher Rawson. This allows him to be the show’s “arch baddie” yet also retain a sense of human complexity; he isn’t doing it merely for money but also for status – that of his and his family’s. Wainwright’s understanding of human nature allows all of the characters, even those that are outwardly negative to have reasons behind why they are as they are.
Suranne Jones once again gives an excellent performance as Ann Lister. She adds a further dimension to the character in the sequence in which she journey’s into James Holt’s (George Costigan) pit. Lister’s love of life is one of her most obvious traits and Jones plays it in every scene with gusto but the sequence inside the pit adds an almost childlike curiosity into the mix. This is neatly and perfectly contrasted by the melancholy and anger felt at the pain she feels when Ann Walker seems to have second thoughts about their relationship. Jones encapsulates the vastness of the human experience in this episode – from gaiety to misery, her portrayal is truly awe-inspiring and reminds us once again of one of the reasons why the show is such a hit – her incredible performance.
Sylvia Simms gives an uproarious guest performance as Mrs Rawson. Filled with curt and eminently amusing remarks, Simms commands the scenes she is in as no other can. Her eyes dart across the room to gauge the reaction to her words and it seems as if she is staring through the screen at the audience, willing them to react to her performance. Simms’ full of life portrayal of Mrs Rawson is a wonderful sight to behold and she makes what otherwise may have been, in the hands of a less astute actor, forgettable part effortlessly memorable and naturally watchable.
Gentleman Jack’s fourth episode marks the halfway point of the drama and yet the series still feels as fresh and vibrant as it did in its first episode. Through a combination of an excellent script, fantastic acting and a superb directing Gentleman Jack steams forwards as one of the most engaging and interesting TV dramas to have been produced by the BBC in recent years.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
Gentleman Jack Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.