TV Trailer Watch: HBO's Queer Period Drama 'Gentleman Jack'

The Hollywood Reporter puts the spotlight on TV series that may fly under the radar, including HBO's new subversive period piece 'Gentleman Jack.'
HBO
'Gentleman Jack'

Welcome to Trailer Watch, a regular feature that helps put the spotlight on series that may fly under the radar in the crowded Peak TV landscape. Each installment of Trailer Watch will explain what the show is and why it looks interesting. This week it's Gentleman Jack, HBO's limited series about a famed queer diarist.

The last few years have been an exciting time for fans of unusual period drama. From Netflix's chilling and pointed Alias Grace to Hulu's Picnic at Hanging Rock to the harsh beauty of Lady Macbeth, the idea of the pretty, pastel, perfect world of period pieces has shifted dramatically. HBO is entering the ever-changing landscape with Gentleman Jack, a historical drama focused on Anne Lister, a gender-nonconforming diarist who chronicled their life in extensive journals.

This U.S.-U.K. co-production was created by Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley) and stars Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster). The series is based on Lister's detailed writings, which consisted of over 4 million words, a substantial amount of which was written in a secret code. The diaries were transcribed by Anne Choma, who also took on the role of historical advisor on the series.

Born in the British town of Halifax in the late 1700s, Anne Lister became well known in her later life for living as "the first modern lesbian" for her public relationships with women, a penchant for mountaineering, "masculine" fashion sense and business prowess, all of which was seen as utterly scandalous in the small hamlet Lister called home during the Industrial Revolution. Despite that, Lister was a popular figure and prominent landowner who became widely known as "Gentleman Jack."

HBO's take will likely inspire much conversation, as in more recent years LGBTQ historians have come to wonder whether Lister identified as a woman or a man, largely due to the way that Lister dressed and the fact that the people who knew her called her by either the aforementioned "Gentleman Jack," or if they were closer to her, "Fred." It will be very interesting to see how the show deals with Lister's sexuality and identity, which is core to both her story and the series.

The trailer showcases a slick-looking piece of period drama with a queer twist as Jones' landowner returns to her home after a series of adventures and begins to live her life unapologetically — to some very mixed reactions from those around her. It's rare to see fully fleshed out queer relationships on historical shows, which makes Gentleman Jack an enticing prospect for viewers who are seeking some LGBTQ representation among the tailored suits and stately homes. With this interesting twist, alongside a creator and cast with period pedigree, this could be a noticeable hit for HBO's original programming.

Gentleman Jack is set to premiere Monday, April 22, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.