How ‘Gentleman Jack’ Put the Most Dapper Butch of the 19th Century Onscreen

IndieWire | 4/22/2019 | Staff
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It’s a rare series that can say so much with a single image. In the poster for “Gentleman Jack,” Sally Wainwright’s rollicking new period comedy for HBO, the actress Suranne Jones stands in half profile, cutting an undeniably intriguing figure. Her hair rests in tight ringlets above the ear, she looks exceedingly smart in her top hat and waistcoat — both black, her color of choice. Her head is cocked to the side, and, turned away from the adoring woman at her side, she offers a cunning smile.

This is Anne Lister, or the TV version of her anyway, and just a few minutes into the first episode of “Gentleman Jack” one thing becomes very clear — there has never been a true life character more worthy of her own TV show.

Halifax - England - Anne - Lister - Diarist

Born in Halifax, England, in 1791, Anne Lister was a diarist as prolific as Samuel Pepys. That her name is not as well known is not only a function of her sex, but of her sexual proclivities. Lister was a dynamic figure who dressed in men’s undergarments, collected the rents for her family estate long before women got the vote, and wooed and bedded some of 19th century England’s highest society women. Her 4 million word diary, consisting of 24 volumes, is one of 300 documents registered in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, an international archive created to protect the “documentary heritage” of humanity.

A British writer/director best known in the states for her shows “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” Wainwright has brilliantly condensed this monumental document into eight dynamic hour-long episodes.

Diary - Document - Wainwright - Interview - Sixth

“The diary is the most phenomenal document,” said Wainwright during a recent interview. “A sixth of it in a code that she invented in which she recorded her adventures with other women. … She should be as...
(Excerpt) Read more at: IndieWire
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