Gentleman Jack (episode 5) – BBC 1

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This has been an excellent series from the start, but Sunday’s episode, in which Anne Lister, superbly played by Suranne Jones, spoke about how God had made her the way she was and it would be completely unnatural for her to have a relationship with a man, when she was only attracted to women, was incredibly moving. I feel like comparing it to Shakespeare’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech! There are a lot of issues arising at the moment about the attitudes of religious authorities towards same sex relationships, towards transgender people, and even towards vaccinations. People are entitled to their religious beliefs, but not when that extends to insulting, abusing, hurting, excluding and endangering other people. Anne Lister’s words, from two centuries ago, said it all so well.  Anne Lister, Sally Wainwright and Suranne Jones – three very admirable northern ladies 🙂 .

The only quibble I’d had with the programme so far was that it hadn’t mentioned Anne’s strong religious faith. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my Sunday night period drama being spoilt by anyone being preachy, but her religion is known to have been an important part of her life and personality, and so it needed to be included in order to give an accurate portrayal of her character. I’d even wondered if it was because the series is being shown simultaneously on an American channel and the BBC were wimping out of shocking viewers in Alabama who might not be able to cope with the idea that it is absolutely fine for an LGBT person to be a practising Christian (or practising member of any other religion). Sorry, BBC!

It was a very thought-provoking episode, with Ann Walker’s family and friends repeatedly telling her that she would risk not only being the subject of gossip but possibly being ostracised from society if it became publicly known that she was in a relationship with another woman, and Anne Lister being beaten up by a mysterious assailant who warned her to keep away from Ann. Ann Walker herself was feeling that she ought to accept the proposal of a man who’d once raped her – partly because she felt obliged to marry him after what had happened (and this still happens in some countries, where rapists are not prosecuted if they then marry their victims) and partly because she felt that she had to marry a man, any man, in order to look respectable. It’s not as if these attitudes are a surprise to viewers, but seeing them so well-portrayed really brings it home how difficult life was for the people affected by them.

This is period drama with serious messages – in a way that works really well. It’s so much more effective than (this is an ongoing argument over books for young adults) excluding any expressions of racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, snobbery or anything else that someone might find offensive. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Get it in there, get it out there, and show people the damage it does.

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