Gentleman Jack has been a labour of love for Sally Wainwright – but this tale of the “first modern lesbian” Anne Lister has also been received with love.
Having made her debut in the US on HBO, Suranne Jones’ character strode onto BBC1 in her distinctive head-to-toe black, stole the heart of the lovely Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) and left viewers laughing and crying with her exceptional life story.
“I mean, I’m quite overwhelmed to be honest,” the director and screenwriter admits. “Because – I think because it’s been such an emotional reaction. That I wasn’t really anticipating.”
She adds: “Obviously it’s had a big impact amongst gay women and the love for it is overwhelming, and that’s so beautiful and exciting, but also so many straight women are feeling empowered by it as well. It’s not just making gay women feel vindicated and empowered.
“But it’s great. I just think it’s brilliant for people to see a woman who just goes out and gets what she wants. One of the big things for me that I’ve learned about Anne Lister, through the process of writing this, is that she just had really good mental health and she had a real healthy opinion of herself. She wasn’t plagued with self doubt or lack of confidence, she was very lucky I think – she had very good, very good mental health. And that’s what I find most inspiring and uplifting about her.
“We’ve got this joke on set… If we weren’t quite sure what the next step was, we would go, ‘What would Anne Lister do?’ And it really inspired us all. We’ve all got t-shirts now with it written on.”
And though she doesn’t tell us where to buy that t-shirt, Wainwright does share some exciting details about series two…
When is Gentleman Jack on TV for series 2?
Gentleman Jack was renewed for a second series in May 2019, shortly after the show’s UK broadcast began.
The drama will be back with eight more episodes, returning to HBO in the US and BBC1 in the UK. An air date has yet to be announced.
Suranne Jones is set to return as Anne Lister, with Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker.
The first series covered two years of Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s lives, beginning in 1832 and ended with their self-styled marriage in 1834.
In an interview with RadioTimes.com in July 2019, Sally Wainwright revealed she has already begun “wading through” those many words in search of “rich material” and “hidden gems.” But the fact there’s no script at the time of writing means a second series is likely a little way off.
Still, if the TV drama picks up where it left of, there is plenty of story to tell…
What happened next with Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s marriage?
Series one’s finale ends with a quiet – but touching – scene. Anne Lister and Ann Walker leave the church in York as ‘newlyweds’, having cemented their commitment to each other by taking the sacrament and privately exchanging rings; the two of them start bickering affectionately about where to go next.
This is an indication of things to come.
“I didn’t want it to be to schmaltzy, I wanted to show that when people get married they start bickering quite quickly,” Wainwright jokes, explaining her decision to end the drama on this note. “And so I thought it was very real, I thought it was very funny.
“I also thought it was very true to their relationship, which was always quite dysfunctional after they made this commitment to one another. It was quite a difficult marriage to negotiate. Think of the external factors, the external forces that were always stacked against them. Nobody wanted them to be together except themselves, and that gives us lots of interesting material to explore in the second season.
“As soon as people knew that they’d moved in together, there was a lot of opposition to it. And it had an effect on them – it was always going to be a difficult marriage, it was always going to be tricky.”
Wainwright adds: “What I think is interesting is they were quite equally matched, in an odd sort of way. So even though Anne Lister seems like this absolute powerhouse with this iron will, Ann Walker had a real streak of stubbornness – and of course she had all the money. So there was a real interesting dynamic and a real interesting power dynamic between them, which I’m really looking forward to exploring a bit more fully.”
But first, there will be the honeymoon.
Series one took us to the royal court in Denmark, but series two may involve a trip to Europe and the Alps. Anne Lister was, after all, a keen traveller and mountaineer who was determined to share her passion with Ann Walker.
“After their self-styled marriage ceremony in York, they went travelling,” Wainwright says. “First they went to North Yorkshire, and then they went down to Geneva and they spent some time walking around the foothills of Mont Blanc.” After weather prevented their ascent up the mountain, the duo toured France and visited Paris.
Then it was back to Anne Lister’s so-called “shabby Shibden” and life with the Lister family…
Will Anne Lister’s aunt and father be in series 2?
If Gentleman Jack continues at the same pace and follows Lister’s real-life history, theoretically we would have two major deaths towards the end of series two: Anne’s father Jeremy Lister (Timothy West) and her beloved Aunt Anne (Gemma Jones), who both died in 1836.
But don’t count them out just yet.
“I haven’t made too many choices yet, but I don’t really want to lose that character,” Wainwright tells us of Aunt Anne. “I think both her aunt and her father are really wonderful characters, and the dynamic around the dining table – I think that seems to work very well. There’s a nice family comedy in there with those different generations and with Marion [Gemma Whelan] of course, who’s wonderful. So no, I don’t lose characters unless I have to.”
She adds: “There’s even an argument that it’s telly and I don’t have to! Just because they die in real life it doesn’t mean I have to bump them off in the drama – if they’re useful characters.”
What next for Thomas Sowden and his wife?
Series one of Gentleman Jack ends with two weddings – and a cliffhanger for series two. Will Thomas Sowden (Tom Lewis) get away with murder? Or will the truth about Sam Sowden’s grisly fate be revealed?
There are no clues in the diary, because the real Samuel Sowden was not (so far as we know) fed to the pigs by his own son. So what will happen with this storyline? “That’ll come to the offing,” Wainwright says.
She adds: “There’s some really interesting stuff in the journals, in the diaries, there was always a lot of shenanigans with the servants one way or another. So it’s just choosing the right stories, really, to try and reflect a bit of what was going on in real life – but maybe taking a few liberties with them as well.”
What real-life historical events will we see in series 2 of Gentleman Jack?
This was the time of the industrial revolution, and that’s something we’ll see highlighted in series two of Gentleman Jack – beyond the discussions of coal mining on Lister land.
“It was happening right there on Anne Lister’s doorstep in Halifax,” Wainwright says. “And we’re going to go into 1835. And there was a big election in 1835, and it was known as the window-breaking election, and that was because it was the rise of the working classes, and the landed interest like Anne Lister was becoming less and less powerful.
“The window breaking in Yorkshire was really violent, and places like Halifax got really smashed up by the radicals who were really agitating for proper political reform. Anne Lister’s class was on the receiving end of that. I think it was probably the closest the country’s come to a second violent revolution, so I really want to try and weave that into the bigger backdrop. I want to show more of Halifax and the big backdrop of that world. It actually would have been a very volatile political environment – and a particularly volatile place as well.”
Will there be a third series of Gentleman Jack?
No news yet. But Sally Wainwright is 100% up for making a third series – and future series after that.
“Yes, yes, I would like to,” she confirms. “I’d like to go all the way to the end of her life.
“But it’s quite a tricky thing to do, and I’m worried people might get cross if I kill her off… that’s a conversation I will have to have further down the line!”
If Gentleman Jack stays true to real-life events (SPOILERS!), Anne Lister would die in 1840 at the age of 49. And if – theoretically – each future series covers another two years of her life, that would place her death at the end of series four.
The tragedy occurred away from Shibden Hall, when Anne and Ann were travelling through the Russian Empire.
“I’d certainly like to dramatise the trip that her and Walker did in Russia and down into Georgia, it must have been a really exciting thing to do,” Wainwright says. “Very dramatic as well, when Anne Lister did die and Ann Walker brought her body back.
“It took her six months to bring her body back… she took her body from Georgia to Moscow where her body was embalmed and then she brought her back to be buried in Halifax parish church.
“To me that’s such a huge act of love and such a brave thing to do. But that’s much further down the line…”
And speaking to RadioTimes.com at the South Bank Show Awards, Marion actress Gemma Whelan said she was excited by the prospect of working on Gentleman Jack for years to come: “Delighted. Absolutely delighted. What a thing to be a part of.”
Fingers crossed for even more Gentleman Jack!
Gentleman Jack series one is available on BBC iPlayer now