A year has passed since the release of Gentleman Jack (BBC One, HBO), an adaptation of the diaries of the first modern lesbian Anne Lister. The show is still making a great impact, inspiring women and lesbians all over the world, encouraging them to follow their hearts and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to dedicate an article for Pride Month.
“I love and only love the fairer sex.”
– Anne Lister
It has become my new obsession. This past February I watched this sublime show and I truly wished I could’ve discovered it when it first aired on television because I’ve been missing a true gem. I didn’t know about Anne Lister before and I even thought the story and characters were purely fictional (I’m supposed to be a history lover… my bad), but the fact that this woman and her wife, Ann Walker, were real and brave women that fought to be happy in their society, made this show my favourite right now.
Gentleman Jack is created by BAFTA award-winning writer and director Sally Wainwright (Scott & Bailey, Happy Valley) and the first season shows us Halifax during the years 1832-1834, through the eyes of Anne Lister (Suranne Jones), who recorded her life story in a very detailed and cryptic way in her diaries.
Anne was a landowner and she lived in Shibden Hall, she was fearless, she defied every convention of the society in that time, she was a great women lover and very intelligent. During the episodes, you can see how she was improving and innovating her state, Shibden, how she collected the rents of her tenants and she even helped the men who worked for her improving her land. She lived with her sister Marian (Gemma Whelan), her aunt Anne (Gemma Jones) and her father, Jeremy Lister (Timothy West) and they were supportive and didn’t mind the fact that Anne wanted a female companion to share her life and travel.
Anne was always optimistic, she tried to find the bright side of bad things and this optimism helped her to move on, even when her relationship with a woman didn’t end well. She had a very active love life since her teens, we get a glimpse about her complicated and on and off relationship with Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard), but all that would change once Anne started to give all her attention to one of her neighbours: Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle).
Ann Walker like Lister was also a landowner, she lived in the Crow Nest, but Walker was everything that Lister wasn’t. She was shy, her mental health was very delicate and those aspects wouldn’t be improved for the better because of her family members, who always tried to keep her away from people to “protect” her money. They were also homophobic, and their views damaged her susceptible mind and made her believe same-sex relationships were repugnant and against God.
Walker suffered from mental health issues after she lost both her parents and one brother, having now an older sister Elizabeth (Katherine Kelly). Sally Wainwright’s writing and Sophie Rundle’s acting do an amazing job at showing us how she suffered and how much she tried to battle her nervousness and be brave to follow her instincts. Anne Lister would be the factor that would help Ann to overcome her fears and also accept her sexuality.
The Evolution of their Relationship
Whilst planning her state’s changes and getting over another badly ended liaison with Vere Hobart (Jodhi May), Anne laid eyes on Ann Walker. At first, she was after her money, but Anne ultimately fell in love with Ann. Visit after visit, conversation after conversation, they bonded and it wasn’t difficult for Anne to win Ann’s heart because she was already in love since the first day they met years ago.
I should say that, after watching a lot of LGBTQ+ TV shows and movies, this love story has the best evolution I’ve seen in any other media. The way Anne Lister flirts with Ann Walker, their interesting conversations… Their friendship grows and has a beautiful start that leads to a perfect slow-burn love story, but not everything is a path of roses, it gets rocky in places due to Ann’s low self-esteem and her family trying to undermine their relationship, that’s why Ann Walker gets my respect. She had to fight her fears, her mental health and her family to be happy with the woman she loved.
Anne Lister and Ann Walker were the first lesbians to get married and it was in the year 1834, they were real and they deserve to be known in every part of the world. Helena Whitbread was the one who started the decryption and editing of Anne’s diaries (I Know My Own Heart, No Priest But Love). The show created so much impact, that a lot of volunteers and fans are helping in the decryption of the entries from the diaries that are left. The Gentleman Jack fandom is amazing and truly feels like a family.
As a bisexual woman, this show has helped me to accept myself even more than I did before and if you are into slow-burning romance, solid TV shows and want to learn about historical figures and sexuality, Gentleman Jack is ready for you to binge on HBO.
The second season of Gentleman Jack will be released in 2021.