It tells the story of the first modern lesbian and it’s coming soon to BBC One.
Anne Lister was a fascinating woman.
A wealthy Yorkshire landowner in the 19th century, she scaled mountains, studied brain surgery and was a successful entrepreneur presiding over her own mines. She was also a prolific diarist, penning more than four million words about her work, her family seat of Shibden Hall, her daily life and, written in ingenious code, her sexual relationships with other women.
She is frequently called the “first modern lesbian”, courtesy of the frank philosophical musings about her sexual identity she jotted down in those diaries.
This year Gentleman Jack, a BBC One and HBO co-produced miniseries about Lister’s 49-year life will be released, with Suranne Jones in the starring role, and we’re already counting down the days until it hits our screens.
Here is everything you need to know about 2019’s must-watch drama series.
A second season of Gentleman Jack has already been confirmed
The first episode of the BBC One drama has only just been released and already the show is confirmed for a second season. After a successful premiere – the first episode was watched by more than five million people, making it the most successful new series on the BBC this year – the network announced that a new season would go into production later this year.
The second season will once again draw inspiration from Anne Lister’s secret diaries and will follow her as she navigates her life and relationship with Ann Walker.
“I’m so thrilled that I will be joining Sally Wainwright on the second part of Anne’s journey,” star Suranne Jones said in a statement. “We always dreamed there would be more and now we get to play it all out. A huge thank you to the BBC, HBO and Lookout Point for giving us our second series.”
She continued: “It’s such amazing and positive news. I love working with the brilliant and talented Sophie Rundle and can’t wait to create some more Lister and Walker moments with her too.”
Watch the trailer for the first season
In it, we get to see Anne’s flair for fashion, her naughty sense of humour and her strength and determination to make her family’s name and fortune. Plus, as befitting a story that is also about love, there’s plenty of romance too. The short trailer shows Anne’s first meeting with the beautiful heiress who would later become her life partner and wife. You can watch it below:
The cast is brilliant
Jones might be the main attraction in Gentleman Jack but the rest of the cast isn’t too shabby at all. Sophie Rundle, who we last saw gripping PPO David slash Dave Budd’s hand in Bodyguard, will play Lister’s partner Ann Walker while Katherine Kelly of Happy Valley fame stars as Elizabeth Sunderland, Walker’s sister.
Danish actress Sofie Gråbøl, she of the knobbly sweaters in The Killing, will make an appearance as Queen Marie of Denmark towards the end of the miniseries. Lister was a prolific traveller and Copenhagen was one of the many cities in Europe that she visited before her death.
“When asked if I would like to play the Queen of Denmark in Sally Wainwright’s brand new series, I could not have said ‘yes’ fast enough,” Gråbøl said in a statement. “I’m excited to welcome the Gentleman Jack team to Copenhagen, and to film my scene as Queen Marie with the wonderful Suranne Jones.”
There’s a great team behind the scenes, too
As befitting its trailblazing subject, Gentleman Jack has an all-star female team working behind-the-scenes on its production. The show’s writer and creator is Sally Wainwright, the filmmaker who brought us into the dark and twisted Yorkshire world of Happy Valley.
Wainwright is directing alongside Sarah Harding, whose credits include Maigret, The Bletchley Circle and Vikings.
Speaking of the project, Wainwright expressed her desire to dig deeper into Lister’s history. “She did some extraordinary things at a time when women just weren’t allowed to do anything, really,” Wainwright told the Royal Television Society. “I’d say she’s my heroine, but she did some quite dark things as well. She did own mines, and she would have employed children down them. She’s quite a complicated person to like.”
The time is right to explore Lister’s story
Though there have been a few documentaries about Lister’s life and one 2010 movie starring Maxine Peake, the time is right for another exploration of Lister’s story. It’s why excitement around Gentleman Jack is so high, especially in light of the recent controversy around Lister’s blue plaque.
In September 2018, a blue plaque was unveiled at Holy Trinity Church in York where Lister and Walker celebrated a non-legally binding marriage ceremony in 1834. The plaque, ringed in the rainbow colours of the LGBTQI movement, referred to Lister as a “gender non-conforming entrepreneur” and not a lesbian.
A petition urging the York Civic Trust to change the wording garnered more than 2,500 signatures, calling on the trust to ensure that the plaque does not “erase this iconic woman from our history.” After a consultation with York LGBT forum, the trust decided to erect a new plaque with changed wording and apologised for any offence that had been caused.
“I am very happy that they have realised that lesbian erasure is not acceptable,” Julie Furlong, the organiser of the petition told the BBC.
When can we watch it?
Gentleman Jack airs on HBO in the US on Monday nights, and airs on BBC One now.
Images: BBC, Getty