Gentleman Jack

Today, 9pm, BBC One

What was it like being a lesbian industrialist in Halifax in 1832? Thanks to the frank diaries of Anne Lister – running to four million words in total – we actually have a fairly good idea. These voluminous journals form the basis for Sally Wainwright’s new eight-part period piece, a dream project that the gifted writer of hit contemporary dramas Happy Valley and Last Tango In Halifax has apparently cherished for years. Wainwright makes the most of her primary source, sometimes simply quoting from Lister’s wistful diaries directly in voiceover. It allows us a peek inside the psychology of a self-assured character who otherwise appears almost too driven and generally impatient with the wider world to bother that much with self-reflection.

“Gentleman Jack” was the snide and rather envious nickname applied to Lister by some of the hapless men she outmanoeuvred in public life. With her lavish black greatcoat and dapper top hat, Suranne Jones certainly looks the part, striding through every frame like a vampire hunter or an early Victorian-era Batman. We join her for a harried return to her ancestral seat of Shibden Hall, a rolling but rather shabby estate that is being haphazardly managed by her ailing father Jeremy (Timothy West). This visit to Halifax is clearly intended to be fleeting – Anne declares she has her sights set on “Paris, Copenhagen or Moscow” – but the prospect of developing coal mines on the property snags her attention. Sinking pits is traditionally a man’s job, and Lister seems to instinctively know she can do it better than any of the local prospects.

We also learn, via gauzy flashbacks, that she is secretly nursing a broken heart after a disastrous romantic entanglement with a society beauty in Hastings. Meanwhile, on the neighbouring estate, fetching young heiress Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) already seems in love with the larger-than-life legend of Gentleman Jack, and is even more enchanted by the dashing reality. Their coded courtship – dancing outside the lines of societal norms – seems to be Wainwright’s main focus going forward. Certainly, with her brusque manner and occasional habit of breaking the fourth wall with a knowing, Fleabag-style glance straight down the camera lens, Lister cuts such a singular figure that it is hard to summon up much enthusiasm for the subplots that do not involve her directly. The soapier diversions such as a French maid trying to disguise her morning sickness or the fate of a hobbled horse seem suspiciously like filler.

Jones’s forceful performance – truly a joy to behold – also threatens to overshadow most of the other actors, who are literally stuck in a different and slightly duller world. In the margins, Gemma Whelan puts in some sterling eye-rolling as Anne’s dowdy younger sister Marian, the child left to keep the home fires burning while her dashing sibling was gallivanting around the world. Whelan’s glum and plausibly exasperated reaction to her sister’s return is all the more delicious considering she spent so many seasons on Game Of Thrones as swashbuckling sailor Yara Greyjoy, a similarly leather-trousered adventurer who had a damsel in every port.

Gentleman Jack certainly breathes some new life into the corseted world of period dramas but there is still what you might call the Poldark problem of being asked to sympathise with the personal foibles and failings of landed gentry gossiping in their fancy parlours over teacakes while their tenants work the land and cough up rent. For all her dreams of subverting the male-dominated world of 1832, Gentleman Jack seems happy enough to let her estate workers toil away in the background to keep her in smart top hats.


Game Of Thrones

9pm, Sky Atlantic

Season eight of the most popular – or at least most pored over – TV show in the world has been a bit of a bumpy ride: two episodes of table-setting followed by a massive ding-dong with the dreaded Night King that for all its epic scale seemed to be over all too quickly and easily. Since then, there have been key character hook-ups and/or deaths plus at least one more spectacular siege but the enduring image of the final season of Game Of Thrones might end up being that rogue disposable coffee cup that somehow snuck its way into Winterfell’s mead hall, symbolic of what feels like a rather slapdash approach to bringing the curtain down on a beloved saga. Diehard fans will already know how it all ends by the time the finale is officially broadcast on Sky Atlantic tonight so have your spoiler shields up on social media.


Hatton Garden

9pm, STV

Spare a thought for the harried producers of Hatton Garden. This gritty four-part dramatisation of the notorious 2015 heist where veteran thieves made off with over £14 million in valuables over Easter weekend was in the can and originally scheduled for broadcast back in 2017. A belated court case with one of the villains involved meant that transmission was postponed – twice – and in that furlough not one but two film versions of the story made it to cinemas. It finally gets rescheduled to run as a prestigious, week-long event on ITV … and then episode one ends up going head-to-head with the most anticipated TV finale of the modern era. As episode two begins, despondent crim Timothy Spall and his crinkly gang (including David Hayman and Alex Norton) are weighing up the risks of going against snarling kingpin Kenneth Cranham.


Victorian Sensations

9pm, BBC4

It may sound suspiciously like a rather austere box of chocolates but this cracking new factual series dives headlong into the leapfrogging advances in science that expanded the worldview of the Victorians in the 1890s, assembling an Avengers-style super-team of presenters to take charge of an episode each. Former steampunk Doctor Who Paul McGann and psychotherapist Philippa Perry will get their turn in the weeks to come but kicking it all off is immensely likeable mathematician Hannah Fry, who approaches her task with the have-a-go verve of Chris Serle from In At The Deep End, subjecting herself to various electrical experiments to honour the legacy of Nikola Tesla and celebrating the freewheeling exploits of Victorian lady cyclists and their miraculously transforming skirts. Top-notch edutainment, enhanced by newly-restored vintage footage of the period from the BFI.


The Big Bang Theory

8pm, E4

If we’re being honest, E4 routinely pads out its daytime schedules with repeats of The Big Bang Theory but today it is actually for a specific reason. After 12 seasons and 277 episodes, the globally popular geeky sitcom about socially awkward geniuses is about to end, presumably with something other than a whimper. In a build-up worthy of an FA Cup Final, E4 are screening a megamix of episodes from 1pm (one selected from every season to date) ahead of the climactic double-bill debuting at 8pm, likely featuring at least one Green Lantern logo T-shirt and a final, heartbroken cry of “bazinga”. After that, there’s a post-match debrief at 9pm entitled The Big Bang Theory Of Everything, featuring contributions from mega-fans including Made In Chelsea himbo Jamie Laing, the sparky stars of Derry Girls and newscaster Krishnan Guru-Murthy.




The steady march of A-list Hollywood actresses to prestige TV is becoming a well-heeled stampede: as well as Julia Roberts being quietly terrific in Amazon Prime’s unsettling PTSD drama Homecoming, Meryl Streep has joined Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon for the imminent second season of Sky Atlantic’s wine-heavy noir Big Little Lies. Now it is the turn of Bridget Jones herself, as Renée Zellweger headlines this new 10-part Netflix series as a would-be angel investor with a devilish side, offering to fund a young married couple’s cash-starved tech start-up on the condition of a night alone with the husband. No previews were available at the time of going to press but the trailers suggest a glossy, sudsy thriller about seduction and scandal in a monied milieu, with a symbolic emphasis on fancy chess pieces being moved around.


The Hit List

7.30pm, BBC1

It has been a long, long time since Pop Quiz with Mike Read and even our fond memories of Never Mind The Buzzcocks are beginning to fade. So perhaps it is the perfect moment to launch a new Saturday night show where music knowledge is both celebrated and rewarded. Filmed at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay studios, The Hit List pits three duos of contestants against each other as they strive to correctly identify past pop smashes from clips and intros without the 21st-century crutch of apps like Shazam. The wife-and-husband presenting team uniquely know of which they speak, comprising former The Saturdays singer Rochelle Humes and veteran DJ Marvin Humes. Only one pair will make it to the final round – where the prize pot is capped at £10,000 – but the real fun will presumably come from shouting at the telly with your own guesses: CAPTAIN AND TENNILLE!