Critical Condition: Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack | SoHo2, 9.30 Wednesday

☆☆☆☆ “A rollicking eight-episode series that … draws upon the diaries of the real Anne Lister, who told her life story in millions of words, many of them in a code based on mathematical symbols and the Greek alphabet that was not broken until the 1980s. She was a woman who loved women and courted them roguishly.” — New York Times.

☆☆☆☆ “Created and written by [Sally] Wainwright, who is best known for the critically acclaimed crime drama Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack is an enthralling look at the inner life of a woman forced to hide so much of herself from the world, yet who never shied away from boldly pursuing exactly what she wanted — and with quite impressive force.” — TV Guide.

☆☆☆☆ “Unlike, say, Tipping the Velvet, which had an acute grasp not only of the real danger of exposure but also of the socioeconomic inequality of Victorian England, Gentleman Jack girds itself with a more positive, palatable attitude. The pity is that Anne Lister, a truly audacious, difficult, and groundbreaking woman, ends up with a biographical portrait that’s anything but.” — The Atlantic.

☆☆☆☆ “Wainwright … sets up a decidedly adult romance about devotion, trust and partnership that is rare for TV in general, let alone for lesbian characters in a period piece. For the most part, it pays off [but] without a firmer grip on its remarkable central character, Gentleman Jack meanders more than it truly focuses on what should set it apart.” — Variety.

☆☆☆ “For those eager for a period drama, Gentleman Jack is worth digging into. For those craving a dutiful interpretation of Lister’s legacy, it would be hard to argue this isn’t an enthusiastic, dedicated retelling of her hardships and values. It’s only in modelling itself after its star does the series start to come up short, as the storytelling style can be frustrating in its narrow imagination.” — IndieWire.

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3 Responses to “Critical Condition: Gentleman Jack”

  1. Warning: preg_replace(): Unknown modifier '/' in /home/customer/www/ on line 66
    May 2, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Phil, I’m curious, but why do some BBC shows end up on TVNZ 1 or Sky (like this one)? Do Sky cherry pick (using their mahoosive budget) leaving TVNZ 1 to pick up the dregs of what they don’t want? Or is it under umbrella of those constantly vague “licensing issues” …?

  2. There are so many factors that determine which BBC shows wind up on which channels here. Firstly, not everything the BBC screens is distributed by its sales arm, BBC Studios (previously BBC Worldwide). Secondly, BBC Studios sells on the open market here, invariably to the highest bidder. It’s up to each NZ broadcaster to value a BBC series relative to its audiences. The biggest demand is always for BBC Earth content, which TVNZ, MediaWorks and Prime have shared (MediaWorks licensed The Hunt, Prime Planet Earth II, TVNZ Dynasties). Thirdly, package deals can also play a part in series acquisition. When MediaWorks bought The Hunt, for instance, it also acquired a lot of BBC Earth library content it played off-peak. Fourthly, not everything BBC Studios has to sell is mainstream enough for FTA primetime. Prime aired season one of The Durrells, an ITV series, to abysmal ratings, and subsequent seasons wound up on BBC UKTV. MediaWorks barely buys any BBC drama. And there’s not the demand for lower-profile BBC Earth fare, like Prime’s new Mountains (which starts Sunday). By all accounts it’s an impressive series but without the Attenborough cachet, it wouldn’t have sparked a bidding war. As for Gentleman Jack, it’s too obscure or niche for TVNZ 1 and Prime but perfect for a premium drama channel like SoHo which isn’t as ratings-driven. Moreover, it was HBO-funded and has yet to air in the UK (just as BBC America funded Killing Eve after it was rejected by BBC UK). Lastly, sometimes it simply comes down to who’s the most nimble programmers who can sew up the rights ahead of the competition realising what they’ve overlooked.

  3. Hi Phil. Thanks for that explanation. Certainly there are lots of moving parts to situations like these and your explanation certainly emphasised the layers of detail involved!

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