If You're Not Watching Gentleman Jack, You Should Be

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in  Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack

If you, like me, came of age as a queer woman in the 21st century, you have probably watched Showtime’s The L Word. It’s almost a rite of passage. So many of the women I’ve talked to who watched the show have a soft spot for the series and admit that it wasn’t great, but it’s really all we have. It was refreshing for me as a fledgling lesbian to see non-hetero-normative sexuality and intimacy expressed on television. Still, as essential and titillating as this revelation was for me, The L Word is very camp, and just about every other sex scene begins with a woman thrusting her hands down another woman’s low-rise jeans. Before I had ever had sex with a woman, I was led to believe that this was the move. It is not.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been searching for a show that features queer women in the forefront who aren’t limited to stereotypes, a show that features intimacy fostered and filmed for queer women, not straight men. After years of waiting, HBO brought us Gentleman Jack.

Three weeks ago, HBO debuted their new period drama, Gentleman Jack, which follows the extraordinary life of “the first modern butch lesbian” Anne Lister. Anne is a top hat-wearing, cane-carrying badass who never seems to tire of getting shit done. Although the show is set in 19th century Halifax, it is not sleepy or bored. Suranne Jones, who plays the role of Anne Lister, delivers every line with electric precision, and draws the viewer in by slyly breaking the fourth wall with comedic glances every so often.

Throughout the series, Anne has to navigate the stringent social norms of a very binary Victorian society. Despite the fact that she can’t live completely out of the closet, she is determined to act in her own self interest and not cower to men who underestimate her because of her sex. Most amazingly, the show manages to cultivate a wonderful degree of intimacy between Anne and her love interest that leads me to believe that actual queer women might have been consulted in the making of this series.

Anne Lister is not a perfect character. She is elitist and egotistical at times, manipulative and secretive, but she is also strong and kind and vulnerable. These conflicts add to the richness of her character, and draw from the diaries of the real Anne Lister.

Some of the craziest parts of her life were too salacious even for HBO. See this article for some steamy details of 19th century lesbian courtship.

After watching the first three episodes of Gentleman Jack, I am obsessed and have begun proselytizing to anyone who will listen. If you watch the show, let us know what you think on twitter or instagram @boshemiamag or in the comments below.


Gentleman Jack airs Mondays at 10 pm on HBO, and on HBO on demand.