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Series / Gentleman Jack

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"I love and only love the fairer sex. My heart revolts from any other love than theirs."note 

Behind her back, she's Gentleman Jack,
a Yorkshire lady of renown.
Ever so fine, won't toe the line.
Speak her name, gentlemen frown.
At Shibden Hall she had them all.
The fairer sex fell under her spell.
Dapper and bright, she held them tight,
Handsome Anne seduced them well...
"Gentleman Jack", by O'Hooley & Tidow

A BBC/HBO International Coproduction series broadcast in 2019, created by Sally Wainwright, previously the creator of Scott & Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax, and Happy Valley. Based on the coded diaries of the Regency-era landowner and coal proprietor Anne Lister, nicknamed "Gentleman Jack", who is considered the first modern lesbian. Her private communion with Ann Walker is considered the first lesbian marriage in England.

In the series, Anne, played by Suranne Jones, returns to Halifax, and to her family home of Shibden Hall, after her latest lover dumped her to get married to a man. She proceeds to make a splash in the town, taking her own rents, grappling with the local coal barons, and courting the wealthy heiress Ann Walker.

A second season was announced before the first had finished, but not broadcast until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it was announced soon after the season was completed that there would not be a third.


This series contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Reverend Ainsworth to Ann. The seemingly respectable Reverend is actually a sexual predator who has raped the defenseless Ann. Anne Lister figures this out and hates him for it.
  • Actually That's My Assistant: While in Denmark and meeting the Queen, Anne politely introduces herself and curtsies... to a woman who is not the Queen, but is just a random woman standing in front of her who is very imposing-looking and has lots of jewelry. Fortunately, the actual Queen has a sense of humor and takes a liking to Anne anyway.
  • The Alcoholic: Sam Sowden is a particularly nasty one. To the extent that, after Sam's death, his oldest son Thomas outright bans all alcohol from the family home, seeing it as a root cause of all the family's struggles.
    • It’s strongly implied that Christopher Rawson is, too. He was apparently drunk when he viciously and publicly insulted Marian in the bank branch, and several characters hint that he’s been drunk on the magistrate’s bench before. Anne later all but accuses him of drink-driving the carriage that hit Henry Hardcastle - after she’s offered him two glasses of Madeira and he helped himself to a very large third. At ten AM.
      Anne: You remember it vaguely, but at ten o’clock in the morning, that shouldn’t be a vague memory, it should be a crystal clear one... Were you drunk?
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  • All Lesbians Want Kids: Averted with Anne, as she feels no compulsion to become a mother. Ann expresses similar feelings, though she does enjoy the company of children.
  • Adapted Out: Season 1 of Gentleman Jack is based off of Anne Lister's diaries from roughly July 6th, 1832 to February 27th, 1834. While Sally Wainwright does a spectacular job at staying true to this material, she does cut a few things:
    • The diary version of season 1 episode 4 ends with Miss Walker cutting off a lock of her pubic hair and gifting it to Lister. The real Anne Lister collected her lovers' minge, which she lovingly called "queer's hair".
    • Anne Lister meticulously logged how often she shat and how often she masturbated. This was understandably not included in the show.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Played with; Marian can irritate Anne, but more often than not, it's Anne who drives Marian crazy. They do love each other, however.
  • Aside Glance: In addition to the occasions when she directly addresses the viewer, Anne will also frequently glance directly at the camera, often with a little brow raise. Marian Lister also gets in on the fourth wall abuse twice in the series, staring directly at the camera with a disgusted expression when other characters are talking around her.
  • Asshole Victim: Sam Sowden was an abusive drunk who was going to get his wife and children put out on the street with his selfishness and recklessness. Absolutely no one in the audience condemns his eldest son Thomas for killing him; he clearly had to go.
  • Audience? What Audience?: Miss Walker, noticing Anne glancing at the camera, looks over her shoulder and asks "What are you looking at?" to which Anne replies, "What? Nothing!"
  • Bait the Dog: Ann's brother-in-law at first comes off as at least well-meaning and genuinely concerned for Ann's health. Then we find out he not only ignored Anne's advice, but also hid Anne's letters from both women, conspires to marry Ann off to a relative of his for financial purposes, and is most likely abusing his wife.
  • Based on a True Story: The writers stay remarkably true to the facts of Anne Lister's life, even if some of the more risque bits from the diary are left out (although that was due to BBC Executive Meddling, not the writer's choice).
  • Bathos: Anne and Mariana have an intense and heated argument... while Anne is holding a comically oversized thermometer, occasionally waving it about. The conversation gets off-track more than once specifically because of the thermometer, making it basically impossible to watch the scene without laughing.
    Anne: Yes, I'm a bit odd, I like to have my thermometer with me on holiday. It's not illegal! *thermometer thunks against the floor*
  • Beta Couple: In one of the subplots, Thomas Sowden falls in love with and proposes to Suzannah Washington, and it's mostly smooth sailing for them. Until the first season finale, when Suzannah's father begins to suspect that Thomas killed Sam.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done throughout the series, as a deliberate stylistic choice; on-screen Anne directly addresses the camera to include material from the real Anne's diaries. Showrunner Sally Wainwright stated in an interview that she preferred the method to using voiceover, finding the latter boring and overdone. Also Played for Laughs during a makeout session between Anne and Ann.
    Ann: Have you done this before?
    Anne: ... No. (Aside Glance)
    Ann: (looks at camera) What are you looking at?
  • Butch Lesbian: Anne wears a number of nicely-tailored tailcoats and waistcoats, albeit with skirts, and top hats, and acts in a scandalously masculine way.
  • Caged Bird Metaphor: One of Ann Walker's introductory scenes begins with a shot of her yellow songbird chirping in its cage, just as the doctor is advising Ann's caretaker to get her out of the house more and give her some freedom.
  • Chick Magnet: It's actually kind of impressive how much Anne lives and breathes this trope, given how society felt about homosexuality at the time. By God, does she get the ladies.
  • Corporate Warfare: The Regency version: Anne, who owns the land and the mineral rights, versus the Rawson brothers, who own the bank and the courts. Notable in that Anne actually loses - her coal mine floods (it's left ambiguous whether the Rawsons might have caused the flood) and she's forced to mortgage Shibden Hall to refinance her operations.
  • Costume Porn: The accuracy and detail of the period costumes in this series has been much praised by fashion historians, with the designers embracing the strange and wonderful hairstyles and silhouettes of the 1830s, taking care to express class and position in dress in an accurate way and using the costumes to create character.
  • Closet Key: Anne Lister for Ann Walker. This quote from season 1, episode 4 says it all:
    Miss Walker: I’ve been so in love with you. I’ve always have been. Ever since the first time I saw you, when I was 18—younger! I think the very first time I ever saw you I was 14. And I knew then. I just knew. It’s just so utterly clear to me now. So often whenever I’ve thought of it. I’ve felt a repugnance towards forming any sort of connection with a man. But I—
  • The Cutie: Ann Walker is naive, girly, and a total sweetheart, but so are a lot Sophie Rundle's roles.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The crooked Rawson brothers, who illicitly mine Anne's coal from underground tunnels driven across the property lines.
  • Defiled Forever: Discussed in episode four. Ann Walker feels that she cannot turn down the proposal of the man who raped her due to societal attitudes relating to sex and marriage. Ultimately subverted though, as Anne Lister stays with her and also tells her that she is under no such obligation.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance.
    • All the homophobia. Also when Anne visits a mine and the overseer boasts about the number of children working there, one of whom is concussed and has a head wound.
    • Some of Anne's fourth-wall musings about Ann (her plan to marry Ann for her money, expecting Ann to be "manageable" in the relationship) sound terribly cold, but were perfectly normal ways for husbands to think of wives in the 1830s.
    • The political debates between Anne and Marian. Anne is progressive on issues like female independence, while startlingly conservative on things like universal male suffrage and the rights of non-landowners.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Ann Walker has back problems that limit her mobility. She's also prone to bouts of hysteria and auditory hallucinations. These issues, however, only seem to make her more endearing to Anne.
    Anne: How I long to be credibly free from all this madness. And yet, whenever I see the girl she always manages to unhinge me.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Anne Lister says this almost verbatim when Ann Walker ends their relationship and says it's sinful.
    Anne: You do understand... You do... It does occur to you presumably, hopefully, occasionally... that I have feelings, too, when you say something like that?
  • Domestic Abuse: Ann Walker begins to suspect this is the case with her sister's marriage, and all evidence suggests that she's right.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ann Walker, after realizing she may have permanently damaged her relationship with Anne Lister, and may never see her again. Fortunately, she fails.
  • Fed to Pigs: Thomas Sowden, fearing that his drunken and abusive father will upset Anne and get them evicted, cuts his throat and feeds him to the family pigs.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Mrs Priestley spreads vicious statements about Anne Lister's relationship with Ann Walker after catching them in the act.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: Anne frequently makes observations to the audience when alone.
  • Genius Bonus: After the election in Halifax, which led to mass rioting, Anne quotes Saint Francis of Assisi ("Where there is discord may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. Where there is despair, may we bring hope"). Those with a strong knowledge of 20th century British politics will recall that this was quoted by Margaret Thatcher when she became PM in 1979, appropriate for a Tory like Anne.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Given that it takes place in the 1830s, which was a peak era for giant poofy sleeves, and the historical accuracy of the costumes, there's a lot of giant poofy sleeves on display.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Anne's on-off lover, Mariana, is very unhappy when she realizes how much Anne actually loves Miss Walker.
  • Grew a Spine: Ann Walker's entire character arc throughout the first season is learning to stand up for herself and make her own decisions.
  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Throughout the first season, Ann Walker struggles to reconcile her devout Christian faith with her sexuality. This dilemma generates quite a bit of internalized homophobia, exacerbates her already fragile mental issues, and eventually pushes her to slit her wrists.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Anne wants to find happiness and love with a woman who is unafraid to commit to her, and is unashamed of Anne and all her eccentricities. She also worries that such a woman might not exist.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Real-life Anne Lister decidedly was this until her relationship with Ann Walker, and it's hinted at in the series.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Thanks to Miss Walker's brother-in-law, neither Miss Walker nor Miss Lister nor Miss Walker's sister have been able to communicate properly, with Miss Walker and Miss Lister both thinking the other no longer cares of them. Fortunately, it gets all straightened out in the end.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Ann Walker to Anne Lister.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Anne is stern and unforgiving when collecting rents from her tenants, but makes a serious effort to bring the reckless hit-and-run driver that cost the young son of one of them a leg to justice.
  • The Lad-ette: Young Anne apparently was this. When trying to connect with young Henry Hardcastle over wooden soldiers, she mentions that her deceased brother, who was an Ensign in the Duke’s and Lancaster Regiment, taught her how to fight with a sword, in exchange for her teaching him how to shoot. Later, her father tells a tale of having to fetch Anne home at two in the morning, with “a bunch of reprobates from the 33rd.” The scene cuts away to teenage Anne in breeches, waistcoat and open shirt, sitting at a table full of soldiers in a very disreputable-looking tavern, with a cigar in one hand and whiskey in the other, and crowing over the winning card hand she’d just played.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Chick Magnet that she is, Anne falls hard for Ann Walker, to the point where even she's sort of baffled about what the hell happened. She also had very deep and very genuine romantic feelings for at least two of her prior lovers.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Ann Walker is more conventionally feminine in dress and manner for the time period when compared to Anne.
  • Loophole Abuse: As Anne points out, two women having a romantic or sexual relationship isn't a crime — the laws against homosexuality only apply to men. Though she admits even if it was a crime, it wouldn't stop her.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Anne is confident, straightforward and often brash while Ann is more subdued, quiet and graceful.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: Anne and Ann's wedding isn't legal, due to England not allowing same-sex marriage at the time, but everything else about it is a marriage.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After badly hurting Anne and ending their relationship, Ann is overcome with regret, but can't bring herself to commit to Anne, thanks to her mental health problems and fear of backlash from her family and society. She finally gets over it and resolves to be true to herself in the first season finale.
  • Nobility Marries Money: One of the reasons Anne Lister pursues Ann Walker: the Listers are an old patrician family that's all but broke, while Ann Walker comes from new money but is fabulously wealthy (her personal allowance out of the family trust is two thousand pounds a year - a staggering £222,000 in today's money). It's made explicit in the diaries.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: The opening credits with Anne getting dressed, with close-ups on the busk being inserted into her corset and the laces being tightened.
  • Old Maid: One of the clues that Ann Walker is a lesbian but just doesn't know it yet — she's twenty-nine and unmarried.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. The main characters are Anne Lister and Ann Walker. Anne's aunt is also named Anne (and is likely who she was named after). Justified, as the show is based on Anne Lister's real life diary. There's also a Marian and a Mariana, both of whom are sometimes called "Mary."
  • Oop North: Set in Yorkshire, with a lot of northern accents and culture.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Both Anne's father and aunt know she's gay, and don't care. Her aunt even approves of the idea of Miss Walker coming to Shibden Hall to live with Anne, feeling that settling down would be extremely good for her.
  • Open Secret: Basically everyone who interacts with Anne knows she's gay, and she makes no effort to hide it. None of her friends or family mind it, though some wish she'd be a little more discreet.
  • Politeness Judo: When unwanted company suggests they should leave, obviously fishing for an invitation to stay, Ann responds with an equally polite "If you like".
  • Poor Communication Kills: A combination of Sanity Slippage and I Never Got Any Letters results in Miss Walker nearly killing herself. Luckily, she fails.
  • Refuge in Audacity: How Anne operates. A large part of the reason she's still considered a (mostly) respectable member of society is because she's so open and unashamed about her "peculiarities" that no one is sure what to do with her. One of her lovers even lampshades it:
    Fred, I can't run the gauntlet like you can. I don't have your genius for people, for running rings around polite society, persuading everyone that black is white, or pink, or whatever color you choose it to be.
  • Sanity Slippage: Ann Walker begins to have terrible nightmares and hear voices telling her she'll go to Hell, and grows deeply depressed, eventually attempting suicide. Luckily, she seems to be recovering by the end of the first season.
  • Shipper on Deck: Aunt Lister and Jeremy are both in favor of Anne/Ann. The first season finale implies that Ann's sister has caught on to the true nature of their "friendship," and also approves, basically telling Ann to go make up with her.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Any scene involving Anne vs. the Rawsons.
  • Something That Begins with "Boring": The Priestlys and Ann are playing this on their way back from Scotland in the final episode.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Ann is absurdly wealthy, but is also sweet and kind, and very generous.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Anne, in spades. When she’s not snarking in story, she’s snarking to the viewer at home. Indeed, the series could just as well be titled Gentleman Snarker.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl:
    • Anne Lister wears a mixture of masculine and feminine clothes. At the time the show is set, women were expected to stay at home and be under the authority of male relatives, but Anne is well-travelled and independent. Ann Walker is considered "delicate" and does not often leave her home despite having the means to. Notably, neither are married or interested in marriage (though Ann Walker expresses some interest in children), which was something expected of all women at the time.
    • Anne is also the tomboy to her sister Marian's girly-girl.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Ann Walker has more money than she knows what to do with, and is quite generous with it. When Anne Lister asks her for a loan, admitting that she needs to borrow a lot, Miss Walker's response is, "Sure! How much?"
  • War Ship: Christopher Rawson publicly insults Marian at one point by offering to marry her in order to claim title to Shibden. Anne later gets him back with a Your Mom quip - which is even funnier for the audience, who has already seen Mrs. Rawson gleefully cheering on Anne’s raunchier exploits to her social circle. The episode never quite makes clear whether Anne was just trying to take the piss, or if she and Rawson mère really did once have a fling. (The diaries give no such indication, alas.)
  • Widow's Weeds: Anne's worn all black ever since her lover Mariana got married. The Queen of Denmark acknowledges this is a sign of how romantic Anne is, deep down... but also suggests that maybe Anne needs to move on and stop mourning for a relationship that was clearly never meant to work out.
    • The final scenes of the season finale feature Anne in a Prussian blue tailcoat with a cream and blue waistcoat, the first time she wears any clothing that’s not monochrome. Of course she’s no longer in mourning — she’s about to get married.