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Time, Gentleman, please!

Time, Gentleman, please!

If there’s a better night in than watching Suranne Jones smash societal norms while dressed as a Georgian dandy, we can’t imagine it. So, hooray, because Gentleman Jack is back!

By Chris Miller

It’s been 84 years… well, no, Titanic meme lady, it’s actually only been three years, but that’s still a ridiculous amount of time to wait for a second series of anything – let alone the groundbreaking, intriguing, witty, romantic and altogether downright wonderful BBC One drama Gentleman Jack!


In the first series, which was shown back in 2019, we met Anne Lister, a forward-thinking 1830s lady who is determined not to let social restrictions stop her from (a) making a lot of money and (b) loving who she wants to love. She’s played by the always excellent Suranne Jones, and if you’ve been – ahem – jonesing for more Suranne in this terrific role, then the wait is over!


It may have been three (looong) years in real life but the second series picks up just a month after the end of the first, and it seems that Anne isn’t going to be allowed to settle contentedly into married life…


What happened in the first series?


Anne took up residence of the estate she inherited, Shibden Hall near Halifax, and soon discovered that she was being kept from the profits it produced by a pair of nefarious locals. But, of course, she had to fight her corner not only against those crooks but against the whole of society, which at the time had strict rules about what women could and, more to the point, couldn’t do.


At the same time Anne met and wooed Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle, Peaky Blinders), an heiress who felt an attraction to her but was more constrained by the social proprieties of the time. As well as Ann’s own reluctance, Anne (yes the names are confusing) found herself up against Ann’s suitor Reverend Ainsworth (Brendan Patricks, Downton Abbey), interfering busybody Mrs Priestly (Amelia Bullmore, who previously starred with Jones in Scott & Bailey) and her own sister Marian (Gemma Whelan, Killing Eve), all of whom made life difficult for our intrepid hero.


As we mentioned, it’s been a while since the first series – and fortunately you can catch up with all its eight episodes, which you can stream in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer.


Is Gentleman Jack based on a true story?

Yes – Anne Lister was a real person, and luckily enough kept extensive diaries detailing her life and relationships, running to more than four million words and written partly in code. Gentleman Jack writer/director Sally Wainwright, who created Happy Valley and also worked on Scott & Bailey with Jones and Bullmore, grew up near Shibden Hall and says she long harboured an ambition to bring Anne’s story to the screen.


To ensure Anne’s distinctive voice from her diaries came across in the show, Wainwright incorporated the technique known as “breaking the fourth wall” into her script, which means Anne sometimes looks straight down the camera to address the viewer directly. It’s a method rarely used in period drama, but Jones and Wainwright employ it wittily and effectively.


What can we expect in series 2?

Anne may have captured the affections of the demure Miss Walker, but it wouldn’t be a TV drama without a bit of romantic intrigue! This series sees the reappearance of Mariana (Lydia Leonard, Flesh And Blood, pictured above), an old flame of Anne’s to whom she can’t resist returning, like a sexy moth in a frock coat. Is Anne unconventional enough to jeopardise the domestic bliss she’s established with Ann?


Another figure from Anne’s past arrives on the scene in the form of Isabella “Tib” Norcliffe, who’s less concerned with regaining Anne’s attentions than she is with injecting DRAMA into every possible situation. She’s played by the fabulous Joanna Scanlan, fresh from winning a BAFTA for the movie After Love, and can be added to Scanlan’s list of raucous TV rule-breakers alongside No Offence’s Viv Deering and Ma Larkin in The Larkins.


The trailer also suggests there’ll be a bit of intimidation, gunplay, violence and general derring-do as well. Just in case you weren’t excited enough…


What else can I watch Suranne Jones in?

We love her too, so we’re glad you asked! Jones starred in last year’s brilliant suspense thriller series Vigil (above), in which she found herself trapped in a submarine while investigating a mysterious death. All episodes can be streamed in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer, where you can also enjoy her appearance in Doctor Who, playing the personification of the TARDIS’s matrix opposite Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor (in series 6, Episode 4).


Jones also featured in Channel 4’s I Am… anthology series, in which film-maker Dominic Savage collaborated with six British actresses to create superb, nuanced female-led characters and stories. Jones’s instalment, I Am Victoria (find it in Apps & Games > All 4), centres on a superficially happy wife and mother whose mental health begins to disintegrate. You can also catch her on All 4 in the 2021 series of Celebrity Gogglebox, watching telly alongside her Vigil co-star Adam James.


And Scott & Bailey, Sally Wainwright’s detective drama in which Jones starred for five series with Leslie Sharp and Amelia Bullmore, is currently being shown at 11pm Monday to Thursday on ITV3/HD (CH 117/177).


When is BBC One’s Gentleman Jack on TV?

The second series of Gentleman Jack starts on BBC One HD (CH 101) and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday 10 April, with episodes weekly every Sunday. Watch the first series in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer

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Image credits: Gentleman Jack © Lookout Point/HBO