Roush Review: 'Gentleman Jack's Anne Lister Is a 19th-Century Heroine Like No Other

Matt Roush
Review Matt Squire/HBO

Weaker sex? Not a label one would apply to the formidable Anne Lister of Gentleman Jack, a 19th-century heroine like no other.

Barreling through the West Yorkshire countryside with a pugnacious stride and all-black wardrobe, this real-life free-thinking landowner is a force of disruptive nature in Sally Wainwright’s terrifically entertaining period drama.

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The film is an adaptation of Richard Wright's 1940 novel.

Derided by locals as a “fella in a frock,” assigned the title nickname for her masculine demeanor, Lister is unapologetic in her pursuits — intellectual, financial or romantic. Suranne Jones vividly plays this brazen iconoclast with frequent wry asides to the camera, letting us in on her exasperation and calculation.

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Ruthless in negotiation when it comes to her coal mines, she’s also as ardent as any Poldark in wooing the tremulous heiress (Sophie Rundle) whom she hopes to make her companion and wife.

Not that she’s blind to her social dilemma: “Nature played a challenging trick on me, didn’t she? Putting a bold spirit like mine in this vessel, in which I’m obliged to wear frills and petticoats. Well, I refuse to be cowed by it!”

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Bravo, Miss Lister. Her pride in countering others’ prejudice is something to behold. Jane Austen, I bet, would be awed. 

Gentleman Jack, Premieres, Monday, April 22, 10/9c, HBO