Entertainment

The story of two ‘extraordinary’ homosexual ladies continues in Season 2 of ‘Gentleman Jack’


Sally Wainwright, prolific creator of beloved TV reveals like “Happy Valley,” “Last Tango in Halifax” and “Scott & Bailey,” was recalling a letter she acquired after the 2019 debut of her interval drama “Gentleman Jack.”

“One of the ones that moved me the most was a woman who become agoraphobic because she was gay and just had felt overwhelmed by the world. And she said after she watched the first episode of ‘Gentleman Jack’ she went out for the first time in years,” Wainwright mentioned in a Zoom interview.

“I set out to entertain people, to amuse people, to tell them a tale. And then you get a letter like that and you change someone’s life,” she marvelled.

To make certain, HBO’s “Gentleman Jack” does entertain and amuse, however its heroine — Anne Lister, dubbed “the first modern lesbian” — has turn out to be a queer icon two centuries after she lived and died.

Lister was born in 1791 in Halifax in West Yorkshire, England, simply eight kilometres from the place Wainwright grew up. Lister was already an uncommon lady for her time — properly educated, a world traveller, masculine in her model of costume, deeply concerned within the administration of her household’s property and within the coal trade — however she additionally “married” one other lady in 1834.

Lister’s sexual orientation may need stayed a well-guarded secret, buried within the coded pages of the voluminous diaries she saved from the time she was 15 till her dying at age 49, besides {that a} researcher named Helena Whitbread started to decrypt the journals within the Nineteen Eighties, publishing a primary quantity of them in 1988.

It can be secure to say that the recognition of “Gentleman Jack,” which returns for a second season Monday, has spurred a wave of Anne Lister mania since then.

“The whole diary has now been transcribed by fans of ‘Gentleman Jack,’” Wainwright mentioned. “The West Yorkshire Archives started an initiative … because there was such a demand from people trying to access the archives and the fans have actually now transcribed the whole, entire, full between four and five million words of the diary, such is their passion for Anne Lister.”

Wainwright very clearly shares their enthusiasm.

“I just might happily spend the rest of my life reading the journals just because I find it so uplifting and funny, and enjoyable to be with,” she mentioned.

Indeed, as portrayed by English actor Suranne Jones, identified for reveals comparable to “Coronation Street,” “Doctor Foster” and “Scott & Bailey,” Lister is a delight: a fiercely clever, witty, extremely energetic pressure of nature who doesn’t endure fools and is just too caught up in her varied initiatives to pay any thoughts to the jibes of the locals. (The present’s title derives from a mocking nickname for Lister.)

If you thought Lister was a dynamo in Season 1 — which dramatized her wooing of and symbolic marriage to heiress Ann Walker, in addition to her entry into the coal-mining trade — cling on to your hat. Season 2 portrays Lister pursuing much more bold plans for her property and her livelihood whereas navigating the difficulties of her relationship with Walker now that they’re previous the primary blush of romance.

“She’s a slightly different Anne Lister because she has the bravado of the wife with money, and she has the want to expand (the estate), and she has the gusto and the energy. It’s like Anne Lister on speed,” Jones mentioned in a Zoom name with Sophie Rundle, who performs Walker. “She’s already in Season 1 doing everything 20 miles an hour … So I had to find a way of upping my game.

“If there was ever a Season 3, I hope that she just sits down a bit,” Jones laughed.

She’s as enchanted as Wainwright by Lister’s diaries and by her ancestral residence, Shibden Hall, now a vacationer attraction the place the present was partially filmed.

“Sally walked me from Shibden Hall all the way up to where the coal pits were. And we passed all these signs about the child miners and oh, it was extraordinary,” Jones mentioned. “And then they took me to Halifax Library and I held her diary and I read it … It’s fascinating and it’s beautiful. And when Sally puts Anne Lister’s real lines from the diary into my dialogue, it’s like some magic happens because you’re actually saying what she said. And it’s brilliant.”

Rundle, an English actor who’s appeared in hits like “Bodyguard” and “Peaky Blinders,” doesn’t have the identical luxurious in terms of Walker, who lived from 1803 to 1854. Most of what folks learn about her comes from Lister’s writing.

“She really was this invisible figure, which I think is quite heartbreaking, really, considering how extraordinary she was,” Rundle mentioned.

In late 2020, it was found that Walker had additionally left a diary, which covers a few 12 months in her life with Lister, nevertheless it’s primarily a journey diary and nowhere close to as detailed as Lister’s.

“It’s one of the tragedies of the story that there is nothing else about Ann Walker, who was this extraordinary woman who did this extraordinary thing alongside Anne Lister, but there was a concerted effort by her family to deliberately erase her from history because they were ashamed of her,” Rundle mentioned. “I mean, she didn’t even have a headstone for her grave when we started filming this.

“I think it’s down to Sally and the other amazing historians who’ve sort of pulled her back into the attention of the public, which is where she needs to be because she’s a hero.”

Despite the disapproval of Walker’s household, she and Lister lived collectively as spouses till Lister’s dying, after which Walker, who suffered psychological well being points for a lot of her life, was dedicated by her family to an asylum.

But her and Lister’s defiance of societal norms lives on in “Gentleman Jack.”

“We have to remind ourselves regularly that this is 1834, ’36, and the things that they did, the way that they lived life as openly as they could, the way that Anne Lister built her relationships in society, the way that she, especially in this series, pushes herself to the fore … You start to feel that actually they’re doing it together. They want this life for themselves,” Jones mentioned.

“It’s a beautiful story, not a secondary story. It’s a compelling, intimate, detailed part biopic of these two women, and we are taking gay history and bringing it to the front again,” she added.

“Part of what’s been so extraordinary is that this is a story about two women who meet and fall in love, and you’ve got two gay women at the centre of the story, but it’s also just a really brilliant prime-time period drama,” Rundle mentioned.

“Gentleman Jack” Season 2 debuts April 25 at 10 p.m. on HBO and Crave.

Debra Yeo is a deputy editor and a contributor to the Star’s Entertainment part. She is predicated in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo

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