Series 1 Episode 1
"But I believe I shall succeed with her"


Episode 1: Ι Was Just Passing

A time of huge social change: the Indutrial Revolution was complete, the railways were coming, the Reform Bill was about to be passed. Charlotte Brontë was 16, Jane Austen had been dead for 15 years and the Regency Era[1] was all but over; Princess Victoria was five years from the throne. Britain was about to become a superpower. Halifax was growing rich from the cotton, wool and carpet industries, but poverty was everywhere. Mechanisation had resulted in huge increases in productivity and put thousands out of work.

But the railway hadn't arrived yet and all travel was still either by foot or by horse. Rural people were still living the lives of their parents and grandparents. Basic education wouldn't be made compulsory for another 50 years. The Origin of Species hadn't been published - Darwin had just embarked on his voyage on the Beagle. The Church still had enormous power: until the Births and Deaths Registration Act was implemented in 1837 all marriages had to be carried out according to the rites of the Church of England.[2] Until the Married Women's Property Act of 1870 a married woman had no property rights - her husband owned everything, including her body.

This is the world Anne was living in. A member of the landed gentry, her rights were about to be eroded. As a talented and ambitious woman, and the owner of Shibden, marriage can't have been an attractive option - irrespective of any other considerations she may have had. Anne was rich, but not rich enough. And Anne wanted a wife. If she couldn't marry status, she would marry money.


And that's who we meet - Anne's future wife - in the opening scene of Gentleman Jack...


A "gig" (it's not a gig, it's a phaeton[3]) is racing along a country road,[4] causing the horrific accident.[5] Ann and Aunt Ann are recovering in Shibden Hall: we've already met most of the key players, and we've heard a lot about Anne.

It's been said that any play, book, film, etc. has to grab the audience's attention in the first few lines or minutes. GJ does exactly that. Then we see the title sequence for the first time...


It's so ambiguous: she's obviously female, but the boots, the buttons, the drawers being done up like trousers are so masculine; but then we see the busk and the corset and the oh-so-feminine figure... back to a man's watch, the cuffs and the pelisse that could be an overcoat. The jewelry. The top hat. And Suranne Jones' hands are uncommonly beautiful. We're definitely hooked.


Anne explodes into the next scene... the title sequence all makes sense.

Anne returned to Shibden on 7 May 1832, and many of the events we see described or depicted in this episode did happen: George Playforth was "shot out of a tree" at Langton[6] (but after the return to Shibden, not before), Mr Briggs was ill (although too ill to visit; Mrs Briggs sent the rentbook to Anne) and the rents were collected at the Stag's Head. Bottomley had been evicted the previous year; Eugenie had not yet been engaged. We see the flashbacks to Hastings: Anne had failed to woo Vere Hobart, now engaged to Captain Cameron, her hopes of an aristocratic connection dashed.

As Anne arrives home she says "What is the chaise doing out? It'll rot where it is" and we see the actual Lister chaise in the courtyard. The Lister Chaise is one of the oldest carriages in the world. It was built in the first half of the 18th century, and may still have been in use in 1832. We don't see it again in GJ, but it's on display at Shibden Hall.

Yorkshire was experiencing a cholera epidemic that peaked around the time Anne returned to Shibden: "They've had cholera in Wibsey, Ι wasn't going to hang around". Wibsey5 miles from Shibden is just outside Bradford, which was affected by the epidemic.

Ann did visit Shibden that year, but later, in July. We then see Ann at Crow Nest, a mansion on the Walker's Lightcliffe estate. Ann owned Crow Nest, but didn't live there in 1832: she was at the much less grand Lidgate, another of her properties. Ι read somewhere that Sally Wainwright placed her at Crow Nest to emphasise her wealth (Ann's, not Sally's).

Then we meet the Priestleys, Ann's cousin William and his wife Eliza, who lived very near to Ann at New House, Lightcliffe. The "nature was in an odd freak" line was really spoken by Mrs Priestley, but back in 1824.

Dr Kenny[7] tells Anne of Ann that "if her money were to fly away and she had to work for a living, the girl would be perfectly well". This was actually the real Dr Belcombe's opinion when Anne took Ann to York later the same year: "if all her fortune could fly away and she had to work for her living she would be well" (23-Oct-1832).

On July 4 - GJ day 4 - Anne and her father did collect the rents at the inn at Mytholm: "Off with my father to the rent & at the mitholm[sic] at 11 ½ (11 ¾ by their clock & our kitchen clock)... first time in my life of my ever receiving my rents" (4-Jul-1832).

As far as we know, Anne didn't shoot a horse in 1832, but on New Year's day 1833 "poor old glandered Ball the shaft horse" was shot by Pickels, "his gun charged with common shot - much better for this purpose than ball - & the poor horse had but few [illeg.] faint convulsive movements & soon, in 2 or 3 minutes, died surely without having been conscious of a moment's pain" (1-Jan-1833).[8]

Now we know all we need to know about Anne: she's an intelligent, educated and powerful woman; she's from an old - but relatively impoverished - landed-gentry family; and she's a woman who desires women.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."[9]


Episode 2 >


Notes & Observations
[1] A loose definition dates the Regency Era from 1795 to 1837.
[2] With exceptions for Jews and Quakers.
[3] A gig always has two wheels. Perhaps the word "phaeton" was considered to be too unfamiliar.
[4] The cobbled part of the scene is filmed at Wakefield Gate in Halifax.
[5] Ann was involved in a carriage accident at Shibden, in 1820: "In came Mrs Walker of Crow Nest & her 2 daughters, the former almost fainting and all ½ dead with fright, having just been overturned into the field in taking the sharp turn at the top of the lane."
[6] Langton Hall, the home of Isabella Norcliffe, a former flame.
[7] Dr Mason Stanhope Kenny (1786-1865). Attended the death of William Horsfall, whose assasination by Luddites in 1812 fictionalised in Charlotte Brontë's Shirley.
[8] This line mis-transcribed by Anne Choma in Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister.
[9] The opening line of Pride and Prejudice - as Ι'm sure you know.
Page updated 5-May-2020
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