Gentleman Jack creator Sally Wainwright tells us what's in store for Anne Lister

Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones embrace in Gentleman Jack season 2
Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack season 2 (Image credit: Aimee Spinks/HBO)

"Ah, there you are. Good." Indeed it is good as viewers are greeted by Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) in the opening moments of Gentleman Jack season 2 after having waited three years for the show's return. Based on the real diaries of Anne Lister, a trailblazing LGBTQ+ figure in 19th century England, Gentleman Jack has found itself an adoring audience thanks to the likes of Jones’ stellar performance, a jaunty end-credits song and the telling of Lister’s fascinating true story by series creator Sally Wainwright.

Gentleman Jack season 2 debuted in the UK on April 10 and then a couple of weeks later, on HBO, in the US. In the early part of this new season, we see Anne Lister and her romantic interest Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) adjust to living together at Anne’s home, Shibden Hall. Many challenges present themselves, whether it's Anne’s past relationships or attempts by Ann Walker’s family to undermine the couple that's challenging societal norms in such a dramatic way. 

What lies in store for the couple? What to Watch chatted with Wainwright about her season 2 highlights, the pros and cons of the long delay between seasons and her hopes for continuing Anne Lister's story.

[T]he series becomes a big battle between Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s would-be protector, Captain Sutherland.

Sally Wainwright

As Wainwright describes it, there are two big issues that Gentleman Jack covers this season — the opposition that Anne Lister and Ann Walker face from the latter’s family, as well as Walker learning more about Anne’s previous relationships, most notably with Marianna Lorton. Wainwright says that she structured the season so that the first four episodes are really about Anne and Marianna’s relationship.

"Anne hasn’t been completely open with Ann Walker about her previous relationships," says Wainwright. "So it kind of explores that and explores Ann Walker finding out about that, not being completely told the truth about it. Anne Lister going over to kind of put that relationship to bed and it going further than it should."

Then in the back half of the season, Wainwright says things will refocus on the relationship with Ann Walker’s family, primarily her brother-in-law Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell), who is filling the shoes of the main "baddie" for this season from season 1’s Christopher Rawson (Vincent Franklin).

"Captain Sutherland was kind of as manipulative and aware as Anne Lister, so the series becomes a big battle between Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s would-be protector, Captain Sutherland," Wainwright explains.

While Anne Lister has a person as her main foe this season, Gentleman Jack — like so many other TV shows — had its own struggles against the pandemic in getting its latest episodes to viewers. Wainwright says she had five of the eight episodes written by March 2020 when the first lockdown hit, but that the delay caused by that gave her more time to write the final three episodes. However, when production got underway she found herself isolated from things.

"I didn’t even visit the set, to be honest, because I wasn’t really allowed to go because they didn’t want any more than necessary people on the set during the pandemic. So it was tough from that point of view," Wainwright says. She did not direct any episodes in season 2 despite directing four in season 1.

As we continue to see how everything plays out for Anne Lister in season 2, we couldn’t help but try and get a little peek ahead during our chat. There's still no confirmation, one way or the other, about Gentleman Jack season 3, but Wainwright says there are so many incredible stories still to tell about the unconventional Victorian.

Suranne Jones walking in a field in Gentleman Jack season 2

Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack season 2 (Image credit: Aimee Spinks/HBO)
What is Sally Wainwright watching right now?

 "Derry Girls. … The third season has just started and I’ve been watching that; it’s very good."

"I’d love to be able to tell the story of the remainder of her [Anne Lister’s] life up to her death when she was 49," Wainwright shares. "[T]he diary is fantastic, the diary is just full of anecdotes and… she manages to find such extraordinary things in the ordinariness of everyday life because her days are so packed and so full."

In particular, there is much more drama to come in Anne Lister’s life with the coal mines, including what Wainwright says would be the return of Rawson as the big bad as their rivalry "got really nasty, bitter."

So Gentleman Jack fans can rest assured that should there be a season 3, there is no shortage of engaging Anne Lister stories left to tell.

Gentleman Jack airs Sundays on BBC One (UK) and Mondays on HBO/HBO Max (US)

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.