…just don’t think of it as costume drama. That’s my take on Gentleman Jack, the latest Sunday night offering from the Beeb starring Suranne (Doctor Foster) Jones. I nearly turned off during episode one because we’re so used to seeing the Beeb get it right in terms of period whereas the dialogue here, written by Sally (Happy Valley) Wainwright, is patently modern, as are many of the attitudes. The central theme is of a woman born into the landed gentry determined to take on not only the running of the estate but to live according to her nature, that is, with another woman. It was perfectly possible in those days for two unmarried ladies to live together as companions; however their plans to pass under the radar are threatened not only by meddling relatives but by the public at large. Gossip is rife and only Anne Lister’s title and money save her from utter infamy.
Even though this is a terrible shock to the system for anyone used to faultless renderings of Jane Austen, I’ve come to really enjoy it; and the key to enjoyment is to think of it as a romp. Don’t worry about the anachronistic attitudes, just enjoy the ride. The acting’s great and there are some interesting sub-plots relating to the sinking of coal-pits and the fortunes of Anne’s tenants, all overseen by Anne herself as her parents are dead and her aunt and uncle have no head for business. Add to this the attraction of being based on a true story and a terrific theme tune and basically you have a winner. I’m hooked. Here‘s the true story the drama is based on.