Gentleman Jack (BBC One)
The return of Sally Wainwright to our screens is always a cause for celebration, and the story of Anne Lister – a Yorkshire landowner, industrialist, traveller and mountaineer (among other things) who spent the early 19th century demolishing every suffocating social convention in her path – is a long-held passion project for the writer. She even managed to crack the secret code Anne used to record her adventures in her diaries, which definitely beats looking at Wikipedia.
As ever, Wainwright has returned to the happy valley of her childhood stomping ground – specifically Shibden Hall in Calderdale, where the series is both set and filmed – for what might have been called First Tango in Halifax. Anne’s was almost certainly the first lesbian wedding in Halifax, anyway: she invented gay marriage and gender non-conformism 200 years before the rest of the world caught up.
Thankfully, Wainwright is too smart, and too much of a fan, to define Anne just by her sexuality. With her androgynous clothes and can-do attitude, there’s no job she won’t roll up her sleeves and get on with, whether it’s collecting the rents, sinking a coal mine, attending post-mortems or taking the gun from her querulous groomsman and shooting her beloved horse in the head.
Having gifted Sarah Lancashire the role of a lifetime in Happy Valley, here Wainwright does the same for another of Weatherfield’s finest graduates: Suranne Jones gives a barnstorming performance in the title role, all buccaneering swagger and saucy Fleabag-style side-eye to the camera, but with a touching vulnerability born of having her heart continually broken by lovers who were eventually forced to marry men. Sophie Rundle, Stephanie Cole, Peter Davison, Amelia Bullmore and Timothy West are among the fabulous supporting cast, along with the terrific Gemma Whelan as Anne’s sister, with whom she is often to be found sparring over the details of the 1832 Reform Bill.
Wainwright directs with as much gusto as she writes – complete with jaunty fiddle and folk-song score – in a series that promises to deliver a decisive boot up the backside of cosy Sunday night bonnet dramas.
Hatton Garden (ITV)
Jeff Pope and Terry Winsor’s dramatisation of the 2015 Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary was twice delayed by legal issues, and now arrives trailing three film versions of the same story. Thankfully, it’s vastly superior to all of them, with a top-drawer cast, led by Timothy Spall, and a script that eschews Guy Ritchie-style ‘diamond geezer’ clichés to show how little honour there really was among this gang of grasping, feuding thieves.
Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic)
So, the biggest TV show of the century is no more (apart from that packed slate of prequels and spin-offs, anyway). There has been much grumbling about the haste with which Thrones’ writers have cracked through this final run; personally, I’ve found it a partial return to form after several weaker seasons. But I’ll leave the last word to my 10-year-old, who asked, ‘so it is it basically a more sexual How To Train Your Dragon?’ Nailed it, son.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 23, 2019
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