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« Big Little Lies MVPs: Episode 2.3 – “The End of the World” | Main | Beauty vs Beast: Say it With Streep »
Monday
Jun242019

Emmy FYC: Suranne Jones in "Gentleman Jack"

Team Experience has been sharing our FYCs for the Emmys. With voting ending today here's our last plea from Deborah Lipp...

Suranne Jones, you have stolen my heart. To be fair, it’s Anne Lister who has stolen my heart, but Jones breathes such extraordinary life into the character, that I cannot separate them. Yes, I love the historical figure of Anne Lister, whoever she might have been in real life, but I love this Anne Lister, and that is all due to Suranne Jones.

Anyone familiar with my writing knows I do not attempt to remove my personal slant from my reviews. I don’t believe in it, to be honest. We all bring ourselves to the viewing experience, and we color what we see with what we bring to seeing. I write this rave review as myself, a queer woman married to the fantastically butch Professor Spouse...

Queer women, and lesbian* romances, have begun to be visible on TV. But I have never seen TV do a butch/femme romance, a specific subset that every queer woman has seen in real life. And to see it in Gentleman Jack is to see it illuminated. (*I use Autostraddle’s definition here—“lesbian” is an adjective referring to the relationship, without commenting on the orientation or identity of the individual women.) 

A butch is a particular being in this world; one almost never seen on TV or in the movies. Big Boo has long been my favorite Orange is the New Black character—a butch portrayed by a butch. I love these women wholeheartedly, they are gender warriors, with no social clout, with nothing but the enormous risk of expressing themselves, and the inner strength to do so. 

Which brings us back to Suranne Jones. Part of the challenge of envisioning Anne Lister is getting the body language right, so that no matter how dressed up and femmed-up she is, we know exactly who and what is underneath the feathered hat. Jones has mastered the walk, the stance, the hand gestures, the gaze, of being “mannish” in a woman’s body. Every time she walks into a room, the room turns queer AF. 

But the role of Anne Lister gives Jones a lot more to do than walk into rooms. Anne is full of so much feeling, but is most often compelled to suppress it. She has to carry it just below the surface, remaining cool and commanding. We, the audience, must know how much she feels, but the other characters (her sister, her enemies in the coal business, her tenants, and sometimes her lovers) must not. Jones lets us see that. We see a character who is, in fact, smart, imperious, and in control. It’s her nature and she has no goal of suppressing that. There’s an ease with which she is the smartest person in the room that is an absolute delight. She has that bafflement smart people sometimes have: Why isn’t everyone else playing along? As well, she has the snobbishness, in part because she is a snob, and in part because she cannot believe that the people she knows in her provincial town can possibly be her equals. At the same time, she has the knowledge that she is constantly being underestimated, or challenged, or hated, because she is a woman doing these things. Jones gives us all of it: Both the ease and the tension, both the pleasure in being smart, and the anguish of being marginalized.


But the heart and soul of Suranne Jones’s portrayal, and indeed of the series, is the romance between Anne Lister and Ann Walker, and here, indeed, is where Jones should get all the Emmys. I am so afraid of spoiling anything here. I know an FYC can easily be full of spoilers with a polite warning, but if you haven’t seen this show, I want so badly for you to see it that I will write without spoilers. Because you, too, might have your heart stolen. 

Jones walks through an awakening love, through heartbreak, through the simple pain of knowing that even offering love to another woman is a kind of madness in 1830s England, an enormous risk and an invitation to relentless scorn. Anne lives with it, but to ask someone else to do so? Sometimes she plows in and demands the world accede to her, but sometimes she realizes how hard it all is. One scene in particular, is so tender, so heartbreaking, so perfectly true, that I wanted to reach through my television to dry Anne’s tears. 

This is, quite simply, a masterpiece of acting. It is as raw and open as it is controlled. Jones is aided, obviously, by a magnificent script and gifted co-stars, but her performance is singular.

For a strong and realistic portrayal of a character that populates real life, but is as rare as a unicorn on TV, for a moving and emotionally raw portrayal of a tightly-controlled character, for soaring romance and tenderness, consider Suranne Jones as Best Actress.

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Reader Comments (20)

co-sign all of this. well, not the lesbian married to a butch personal stuff obviously but this performance is bonkers good. She's so commanding but the character is actually quite complex. I really loved the weird conservative snobbish streak (definitely not progressive politically when it came to workers rights and the like but just too queer for her time period) and how she sells all the contradictions.

June 24, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

And she got famous in the UK in a weekly soap were she was also doing far more with her Karen character that any1 had any right to,Congratulations America on catching up on this wonderful actress.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

This review is so right and so true to butch experience and queer experience generally. Suranne Jone's performance is bravura and more than deserving of an Emmy. She get the body language right, the emotionions seething under the tough exterior right, the love scenes right. I belong to a fan group for the Gentleman Jack series and all kinds of women (and some men) are crazy for this series, from many different parts of the world. Swooning, obsessed and also thinking through the nuances of the direction, writing and performances, especially that of Suranne Jones. I have never seen a broad group of lesbians so strongly identify with a character, and they are well aware that Jones is straight, which amazes them more that she could see and express the truth of Anne Lister. This is Pride Month, and I want the Emmy's to recognize Jone's achievement.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEsther Newton

My addition to this post: Suranne is great; I’ve been a huge fan of Suranne for years. Her turn as Gemma Foster in Doctor Foster is top-rate.

So, without taking anything from her, I know as an amateur actor and an English professor who teaches dramatic literature, that big, bold roles are great, but a bit easier to play then more subtle, supporting roles. Suranne knocks her role as Anne Lister out of the park. But the harder, more nuanced performance in Gentleman Jack is Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker. Her ability to react so subtlety to Suranne’s bold aggression is remarkable. Look to the great seduction scene in Ann Walker’s sitting room in the middle of episode two: Suranne’s brilliant handling as the seducer is clever and smart, and the consequence of a great actor working with great screenwriting. But Sophie’s reactions as the seducee is breathtaking. She deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjeffeefe67

YES!!! I love Suranne Jones, she has been working solidly on UK television for years now and knocked it out the park with Doctor Foster, and now this.
We need something with her and Keeley Hawes playing scheming sisters! Someone please make that happen!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJWB

Yeah, she's really wonderful. Absolutely commanding and charismatic, a wonderful mixture of external and internal. In many ways, it reminds me of what Reese Witherspoon is doing on Big Little Lies at the moment.

I co-sign jeffeefe67 and JWB's recommendation of Doctor Foster, where she's very good in a completely different sort of role (and with an early-ish role for Jodie Comer too).

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

I couldn’t agree more with this assessment of Suranne’s brilliant performance!! She delves so deeply into the character of Anne Lister, one wonders where Lister begins and Suranne ends. For those moments in a scene, Suranne becomes Lister. She makes the viewer see and feel all the emotions Lister must have experienced! As an American who was not familiar with Suranne’s work previously, I’ve fallen hard and deeply for this fine actor! I’ve binged Doctor Foster (where she again truly knocks your socks off) since watching Gentleman Jack and am scarfing up everything Suranne! I simply can’t get enough of this charismatic woman! I do hope she is nominated for best actress as well, because she is simply the best!! Not to at least be recognized for this masterpiece would be a travesty!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCat

I could not agree more. I just discovered this show and I am overwhelmed. The details, the acting, the writing, the sets, and the cinematography are so rich and vivid. If you have any interst in interesting people, 19th century Europe, or amazing photography you owe it to yourself to watch this series, but be forewarned; your world will never be the same and your appreciation of acting will be expanded and you will find it hard to settle for less un the future

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

Perfectly promoted!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl McDonald

She is perfect. This show is perfect but Sally Wainwright is truly the genius behind all this. Her scripts and direction have resulted in two or three of the finest performances on TV in recent years (this one and Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran in Happy Valley).

Suranne fans should also check out her performance in another Wainwright penned series, Unforgiven. Extraordinary.

(I really hope the Emmy nomination list that leaked yesterday was fake cuz Suranne was NOT on it.)

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I agree with the poster above who said that Sophie Rundle has the harder acting job. She conveys so much, even with her eyes. As someone who has loved many feminine women, and in earlier days brought out some feminine "straight" women, both actors are absolutely brilliant in GJ. I still can hardly believe it. In a way I like the AW character best in that scene where they are discovered by nosey Mrs. Priestly. Ann, instead of wilting (of course she is also naive) takes the initiative, leading Anne up the stairs.Femme women have lots of initiative and many ways to make make things happen.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEsther Newton

@jeffeefe67 @Esther Newton I understand where you're coming from talking about Sophie and yes, she's very talented and doing a pretty good job, but trust me,Suranne's acting is on the whole other level.
Just for a second, think about it. She has to walk like this all the time, change her voice for the role all the time, make this Anne Lister face all the time, showcase all her emotions in the character. For a second, think how hard it is and how effortlessly she makes it look. She even manages to steal the scene by just being in that scene. And she never seems out of sync with the character which is hard, considering how different Suranne is from Lister.
When people praise Suranne more than Sophie it isn't because they don't appreciate Sophie -- we do and Sophie is amazing, but Suranne is extraordinary one.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

The quality of acting by Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack is top notched, a tour de force. It is so satisfying to see a character like Anne Lister on the screen. A complicated being with so many layers. The scenes of Anne Lister are handled by Suranne Jones with such delicacy and executed with precision that you supposed it's clockwork, so naturally and convincing that you cannot help but fall for her and root for her. A sublime portrayal that definitely deserves a nomination in Emmys.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJyage

Truly enjoyed this series and the Ann Lister character in particular. I have seen Ms. Jones' and Ms.Wainwright's work before and knew I wouldn't be disappointed. Excellent show and love the principle characters--I acquainted myself with Ann Lister because of this show😀--I really felt for both in their struggles. I can't wait for the next season! Highly recommend!

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Suranne Jones deserves all the awards possible! That particular scene had me in tears for an entire day, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop. A lesser actor couldn’t juggle such a demanding role that required such courage, honesty, vulnerability, and not least of all perfect comedic timing. I shivered every time she broke the fourth wall, because she is so masterfully good at what she does.

June 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

Suranne Jones's portrayal of Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack is flawless...multi-layered, so beautiful and captivating. She deserves a nod in the Best Actress category.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commentersslittle

I mean no disrespect to Sophie Rundle by praising Suranne Jones. In the [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] final episode scene at the coal mine, when Ann Walker showed up, Professor Spouse shouted, YES! FEMME POWER! It was that great.

Honestly, peeps, I didn't have anything for Nathaniel for FYC and then I saw that and I had to write something.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I love "Gentleman Jack" but your use of Autoasshole's definition of "lesbian" is erroneous and insulting to lesbians. Homosexual females exist and that is what the word "lesbian" refers to. It's a noun, not an adjective that is inclusive of whomever feels like being a lesbian on any given day.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJo

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lesbian?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld

Lesbian - adjective - of or relating to homosexuality between females.

Homosexual females exist. Pretty sure I never disputed that. But not every homosexual relationship between two women is a relationship between two homosexual women. Hence the distinction. Sorry about your language problem.

July 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

it's sad that this beautifully produced and acted series was not recognized for an emmy. in the words of anne lister, she would have found this snub parochial.
at least there will be a season 2 and perhaps it will be then recognized for an emmy then!

August 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Lee

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