As someone who isn't a great fan of period dramas, it can often be hard to understand why people rave about things that more often than not, look like pages out of a history book. Not that the stories aren't fascinating — it's just that more often than not, they turn into sagas that lull you to sleep.
Apart from the obvious fact that it's hard to relate to these dramas, there's also this innate characteristic of most period projects that show women as stereotypes. They're either housewives or rebels with no meeting point. But then, two absolutely top-notch artistes, Sally Wainwright and Suranne Jones brought Anne Lister to life and all we can do was fall in love.
'Gentleman Jack', HBO's newest queer period drama is nothing less than a work of art. It's sensitive, emotional and funny in some places and in others it's powerful, sad and yet utterly cheerful. It isn't entirely surprising though considering it is 'Happy Valley's Sally Wainwright who was on the creator, writer and co-director's chair and the fact that it was BAFTA winner 'Doctor Foster' actor Suranne Jones in front of the lens.
The story follows landowner Anne Lister, determined to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home, Shibden Hall, by reopening the coal mines and marrying well. She knows very well that she's the smartest person in the family and that if it weren't for her, they would have gone downhill a long time ago. To most, she's just an oddball — dressed in black, curls pinned tightly to the sides of her head, a mouth full of unpopular opinions and women in her bed. To you, she will instantly be a woman ahead of her time.
You will relish the moments that she spends offending patriarchy and every person who thinks she should be reasonable because she's a woman. Lister is so unabashedly herself — ambitious, kind and guarded that at certain moments you question your own biases. "She isn't always as feminine as others would like her to be, but she's natural; an original, true to her own nature. She's kind, a good friend to have," a friend tells Ann Walker before they meet Lister and hit it off — violins and a summer breeze kind of sparks.
And this little meeting where Lister decides that Ann is the one for her is another reason why this show stands out screaming. She looks at her, beautiful and curious, and realizes that she must make an impression. Lister goes off about the Reform Bill and you see Ann just gaping at Lister wondering how she knows all that she does. There's a hint of young love and vulnerability somewhere in the tough exterior of Lister and you already sense the depth this character would have as the show continues.
Based on the diaries of the real-life Anne Lister, who lived in Halifax, Yorkshire in the 1800s, the show manages to capture the essence of a lesbian woman finding her way in a man's world without compromising on what her heart wants. A must watch!
Watch the trailer here:
With the cast comprising Suranne Jones, Sophie Rundle, Gemma Whelan, Timothy West, Gemma Jones, Katherine Kelly, Sofie Grabol, Vincent Franklin and Shaun Dooley, the show is created, written and directed by Sally Wainwright. 'Gentleman Jack' premieres on Monday, April 22 at 10 pm ET/PT on HBO.