So far, Gentleman Jack has focused on two narrative threads: Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) the romantic, and Anne Lister the businesswoman.
As to the first thread, we spend a great deal of time observing the budding friendship between Miss Lister and the naive, cloistered Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). Ann is obviously smitten with Miss Lister, head-over-heels even, although it’s not quite clear to me why. Perhaps it’s because of the attention the clever and entertaining Miss Lister lavishes on her. Ann Walker has been cut off from the outside world by her family – supposedly for her own protection – and at age 29 is socially isolated and so sheltered she’s never even been abroad on holiday.
During one of their first meetings, the pair spend 4 hours chatting away on a sofa, nose-to-nose. Miss Lister proudly tells Miss Walker about her adventures in libertine Paris, including the private anatomy lessons that provided her with an opportunity to “dissect a baby.” They bond over their mutual dislike of the creepy and obsequious Doctor Kenny (Daniel Weyman), with his garish lace cuffs and scraping bows. More importantly, we learn that both Anne and Ann had brothers that died young, and in tragic fashion. Ann Walker’s brother, clearly the great hope of the family and its fortune, died on his honeymoon in Naples. Similarly, Anne Lister’s brother was a British Army soldier who somehow drowned at 20 years old.
She tells young Henry Hardcastle (Dexter Hughes) about her brother while visiting the maimed boy in his sick bed. Henry has not spoken a word since the accident but, amazingly, he is so interested in Miss Lister that he breaks his silence to ask “Are you a man?” She handles the question with some delicacy, and obviously has a soft spot for the Hardcastle family.
That contrasts with her feelings towards the Sowdens, or at least their layabout patriarch, Sam Sowden (Anthony Flanagan). She’s commissioned a number of ambitious improvements to Shibden Hall – the ancestral seat of the Lister family and the oldest house in Halifax (since Henry V!) which, she assures her sister Marian, is most certainly NOT an old farm – but demands Sowden leave a job site when she finds him drunk before 10 a.m. Sowden goes home reluctantly, only to trade blows with his family in a nasty scene of domestic violence. Anne Lister angered Sowden in Episode 1 by demanding a full rent payment, and now he’s been humiliated in front of his peers. If he’s willing to treat his own family so poorly, I think he could be trouble for Anne.
Despite the growing amity between Anne and Ann, the two reluctantly part for a few weeks. Miss Walker travels to the Lake District with her best friend and cousin, Catherine Rawson (Emma Paetz). Miss Rawson has heard about Miss Lister’s reputation as a notorious lesbian, and warns Miss Walker, who refuses to put any stock in the rumors of unidentified “people.”
For her part, Miss Lister resolves to travel to London to attend the wedding of her old flame and lover, Vere Hobart (Jodi May). Miss Lister tells herself she’s “too old” for hysterics over the broken relationship, and attends the wedding – in funereal black – to keep up appearances. Still, it’s clear she truly loved Miss Hobart and still feels the string of her loss. After all, it was Miss Hobart’s marriage announcement that sent Miss Lister fleeing home to Halifax in Episode 1. She puts on a brave face and wishes Miss Hobart the best, but it’s obviously a dagger to the heart when Hobart apologizes and explains she just “not like that” like Miss Lister is. After fleeing the wedding, Miss Lister rushes back to her lodgings and tells Eugenie (Albane Courtois) to pack – they’re off the Lake District.
Episode 2 also sees Miss Lister going head-to-head with the Rawson brothers – who everyone knows are stealing Lister coal – over the price of the coal on the estate. Let’s call it the “Game of Scones,” because I’m sure the one thing they agree on is a good scone at tea-time. In any case, the Rawsons, devious as they are, quickly learn that they underestimate Miss Lister as their peril.
I actually really enjoyed the scenes about the coal – maybe even more than the scenes between Anne and Ann. Miss Lister the businesswoman is a tour de force and I’m looking forward to seeing her outsmart the crooked Rawsons. The elder Rawson, especially, is very reminiscent of a slightly-more-stable George Warleggan from Poldark.
As for Anne the romantic, I’m curious to see if it all works out. We realize this episode that she’s not just looking for another flash-in-pan tryst – she’s looking for a longterm deal. Is Ann Walker The One? Beyond that, how laudable are Miss Lister’s designs on Ann Walker? Is she rescuing the young woman from the lonely life of a spinster, or is she preying on the naive, lonely girl’s affections with her sights set on that handsome Walker fortune? I’m not letting my guard down around Anne Lister quite yet.
Oh, and as for the production itself – I’m loving the “jaunty” music still. In this episode, we also see Miss Lister break the fourth wall on several occasions – essentially letting us in on her schemes – and I thought it was a great touch.
Bottom-line: 7/10 Nice character development, and solid effort to lay the groundwork for the storylines developing in the next couple of weeks.