Gentleman Jack series 2 review – one of the greatest British dramas of our time | Television

HAlifax, 1834. Four weeks after a secret wedding in a York church, where two women took communion and exchanged rings, in the presence of no one but themselves proud, brave and corseted. And 180 years before the first legal same-sex marriages took place in the UK. Think about it. In fact, we don’t have time, because here she is, the pioneer herself, puffy coat tails shining like a crow’s plumage, a top hat standing out against the hills of the West Yorkshire. Striding – for Anne Lister, as anyone who doesn’t follow her knows, has no other mode of walking – to tell his secret wife’s vile aunt what’s what. “Ah, there you are,” she said, turning to the camera and banging the air with her silver-topped cane. “Good.” Happy Sunday Prime Time Dramatic Slots, folks! Mr. Jack is back.

For lovers of Sally Wainwright’s exuberant, romantic and delightfully scripted historical drama, it’s been a long three-year wait. The first series was so brilliant it spawned the “Gentleman Jack Effect”: a festival in Halifax, a statue (of a 19th century Yorkshire lesbian!) and legions of global superfans. Not just from the show, but from gossipy journalist, industrialist and owner herself, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, who scribbled over 5 million words in her pioneering life. All that Wainwright seems to have swallowed up, imbued with irony and 21st century Nordic courage, and turned into one of the greatest British dramas of our time.

Much of this is due to Suranne Jones, whose Lister is an alchemical force of nature. Intense, uncompromising, reckless, charismatic, controlling, fragile and highly charged, Jones constantly flirts with, but never switches to hamminess. It’s a performance of genius, brimming with grand gestures and heart. The same goes for his direct-to-camera addresses. It’s true that Jones’ Lister doesn’t break the fourth wall so much as love makes her, before buying her a silver wax seal and asking her to move in with her. But when she looks into the lens, she also cuts time. Addressing us, future inhabitants of a 21st century where it could be understood, valued, seen.

If anything, it’s even bolder this series. With his beloved Ann Walker stationed in York against the wishes of his narrow-minded, cash-hungry family, Lister has his work cut out for him. She must convince all of Halifax that the solution to Ann’s fragile mental state is to move in with her. She has to convince Ann that they have to combine the estates, which leads to perhaps the only sex scene in the story in which the rewriting of wills is used as pillow talk. She must convince the men digging her coal pit that she has the capital, and her lawyer that she must borrow more money to carry out her audacious plans. Oh, and Lister has to convince herself that she’s over Mariana, her ex, and that her love, or is that fondness, for Ann is enough. “None of us feel the same at 40 as we did at 14,” she told a friend. “With her, I could be happy. I’ll make it work!”

Edward Hall, Amanda Brotchie and Fergus O’Brien lead this series, bringing less of the galloping pace and northern specificity of Wainwright, who grew up a few miles from Shibden Hall. Instead, we get a classic Andrew Davies-quality romance. In a lush scene, Ann sketches the masterful ruins of Rievaulx Abbey when Lister arrives to step over the moor as the sun burns through the morning mist. It’s pure Darcy coming out of the lake in a wet shirt, but with a romantic lesbian heroine, a jacket thrown over one shoulder and a boater over her tousled hair. How revolutionary. “Three really good kisses last night,” Lister said with a sigh as he walked over to his wife. “I’m really happy with her.”

It is a controversial moment in British period drama and history. The conversation continues on what constitutes good representation. About how greater diversity might deepen amnesia and not challenge our long-held fantasies of a non-racist, benignly colonial British past in which no one was queer. Meanwhile, here’s Wainwright rolling up his sleeves and moving on. Behind the familiar frilly bonnets and linen drawers, glorious landscapes and drafty old estates, Gentleman Jack disrupts the conventions of one of our most fiercely beloved dramatic forms, at a time when we have the they no longer need to be disturbed. It’s a masterpiece. A joyous and sweeping shake-up of period drama that repositions history, sexuality, and class with the blink of an eye and the stroke of a cane. As a dark-skinned, bisexual British woman who has watched Sunday night dramas all my life, I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to watch.

About Walter Bartholomew

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