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Gentleman Jack Belongs In The National Gallery: An Interview With Shibden After Dark

Gentleman Jack Belongs In The National Gallery: An Interview With Shibden After Dark

by Callie Garp

August 27, 2019

Did you read my compelling argument for why you should stop everything you're doing and go watch Gentleman Jack right now??? If you took my absolutely 100% correct advice and did that, then I guarantee you are totally hooked and also looking for as much information on Anne and Ann as you can possibly get your sweet little paws on. And you're desperate to talk about it. 

If that isn't the case, then 1. read this article and 2. go watch Gentleman Jack 

If that is the case, definitely check out the badass podcast, Shibden After Dark, which I turned to when my need to desperately talk about Anne Lister outran the number of people in my life equally willing to talk about Anne Lister. (My wife and I had an 11 hour car ride to talk about Gentleman Jack and it *still* wasn't enough.)

I love the Shibden After Dark podcast. It immediately reminded me & my wife of The Planet podcast, which his no longer on iTunes, but was dedicated to dishing the dirt on every episode of the L Word. Leanne and Mary have a hilarious rapport, and such an interesting take on each scene and stylistic choice put into the show, down to the musical score, costume choices, camera shots, and even the health of the horses (which, to be fair, tend to have kind of a rough go of it in the show). I love how their respective different perspectives and backgrounds help me to analyze both the show and my own feelings in a different way. AND I just relate to them SO much! 

Despite the fact that they both work full time and are somehow managing to record and produce a researched and thoughtfully analytic (while still hilarious) podcast each week, (and staying married to their wives, who I imagine are getting the tiniest bit tired of talking about/watching Anne Lister day-in-and-day-out), Leanne & Mary made the time to chat with me about their podcast and their thoughts on all things Gentleman Jack.

How do you two know one another?

Leanne This is actually something we’re going to be covering in one of our post-recap podcast episodes, so stay tuned! [Check out that episode here!!]


Is it challenging overcoming long distance and different time zones in order to do this podcast together?

Mary Yes. God yes. The struggles of coordinating our schedules can honestly be the worst part of this. Often Leanne isn’t getting off work until I am practically in bed (since I’m in the medical field my shifts start at 7am, so I’m in bed at like 10pm) and on the weekends I’m up at 8am (sleeping in, lol) and Leanne won’t be up until 12pm our time, which is when we’re out and about and doing things. So we both have to be DEDICATED to making space for this, because there comes a time at night when I am USELESS as comedic relief - during one recording session Leanne actually said “You know you have to talk, right?” and really that’s my entire contribution to this thing. We make space to talk during Leanne’s lunches almost every day about logistics of different projects we’re working on, we talk almost constantly via text, and then we FaceTime for the podcast itself, and I think that much contact has forced us into this space of not only making the time but being much more willing to make the time. 

Leanne Absolutely, and this is probably our biggest challenge. I tend to be nocturnal; I rarely go to bed before 2am. Mary has to be at work at the crack of dawn and can’t get work done or record past 11pm or so, which (with the time difference) is when I’m generally getting home after work + commute. So weekdays are hard for us to work on things together. We always aim to record on weekends so that we can cut individually during the week. I wish Mary was more of a night owl because honestly, I am at my funniest and most productive around 10pm every night. 

Do you think either of your wives will ever come on the podcast as special guests?

Mary No. God no.

Leanne I think at some point it’s inevitable (??)

What was your favorite queer show/movie or who was your favorite queer character pre-Gentleman Jack?

Mary There are SO FEW specifically queer shows, and so fewer specifically LESBIAN shows...I have to go outside the box here. For me, this is Ellie from The Last of Us. This video game means SO FUCKING MUCH to me as a female gamer. This story is so poignant and beautiful, my heart is in my throat just typing these words. Before I ever found out that Ellie was a lesbian, I was completely in love with her character: the story fleshes her out as a multi-dimensional, rich, complex female character who is independent and fucking incredible. To see this in video games is remarkable for a female character in and of itself, and then for Naughty Dog to make her fucking LESBIAN - oh my god. I’ve played this game 6 or 7 times, and it resonates with me on so, so many queer and non-queer levels, but I am SO GRATEFUL to the team at Naughty Dog for giving us this unabashed female character who just HAPPENS to be a lesbian and then dropping a trailer for The Last of Us 2 at E3 2018 in which she kisses a woman. These are truly the best times.

Leanne This is such a difficult question for me as I’m loath to pick any kind of favorites when it comes to movies and tv. I also think that the landscape of queer stories has changed so dramatically over the past decade that there’s such a stark contrast between representation in the 1 year pre-Gentleman Jack, for instance, and 10 years ago pre-Gentleman Jack. So if I can sort of answer this question in two parts, I’d say that in the past few years the show I loved the most was Sense8. It is a GD feat of filmmaking; it is exceptional in so many ways, and I think the Wachowskis are phenomenal storytellers. It was shot beautifully, it was progressive, it was thrilling, and I enjoyed every second of it.

WAY WAY pre-Gentleman Jack, I’d have to say that my favorite was always D.E.B.S. Even though it’s a sort of a low-budget, silly flick, it was the first wlw story I saw where “being gay” wasn’t the main problem for the protagonist to overcome, and I needed to see that so badly at that point in my life. That movie seriously got me through college. I used to low-key dream of moving to Los Angeles to work for Angela Robinson, another super gifted storyteller, whose work has made such amazing strides when it comes to queer stories on film and television.


Was there a queer or queer-esque character you identified with when you were growing up/realizing you were gay?

Mary Really the only thing around for me was Queer as Folk and then The L Word - I know they aren’t queer-esque, they’re straight up queer, but I definitely clung to these shows like a visage of what gays COULD have: community, love, family, and real lives outside of suffocating southern style homophobic oppression.

Outside of these super obvious choices, Xena was a CLEAR dive into “are they/aren’t they” and then there was Willow on Buffy - but all of these shows were shows that I had to sneak watches of and hide my queerness away under lock and key until I could “find the courage” to break free.

Leanne [deep breath in] Yes. There was a short-lived show on ABC during my high school years called Once and Again with Sela Ward and Billy Campbell about two divorcees essentially falling in love and merging families (Brady Bunch-style). One of their teenage daughters - played by a young Evan Rachel Wood - realizes she’s in love with her best friend and in one episode they acknowledge their feelings for each other and kiss. I had just turned 16 when that episode aired, and it was the first time I ever saw a wlw kiss on television, and the first time I ever saw a wlw kiss AT ALL. I WAS SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I even remember where I was sitting because it was the very first time I felt butterflies in my stomach. The show was canceled a few episodes after that - what a great message that sent - but that one episode solidified for me what I had been suspecting for a few years (#gaystuff). I probably watched that episode every other night for the next two years. I can recite the whole thing from memory. Still to this day I watch it every few months - I don’t even know if my wife knows that - but watching it always brings a certain comfort, like old friends who helped me get through a really lonely time in my life. I wish teenage-me had seen stuff like that earlier in my life, but watching that episode at 16 was the first time I felt hopeful - like maybe there were other kids out there who had the same kind of feelings I was having. 

Why did you pick podcasting as your medium for discussing and debating all things Gentleman Jack?

Mary I have wanted to do a podcast for a few years now, because I absolutely love this medium for telling stories. Every time I thought about it, though, I never had the right subject matter - it never seemed like the right time, or the right topic. And then GJ happened. And it all clicked into place. The sheer magnitude of my gayness. My sudden, feverish need to be back in a fandom and share everything about a show with a community. How much I could actually talk about this show...all I needed was a co-host. So I hunted one down.

Leanne The first podcast I fell in love with was one centered around the L Word - go figure. Two lesbians in Albuquerque, KC & Elka, would recap the episodes, make fun of it when warranted, and just open up their lives to us through the show. At that point in my life I’d had my first kiss with a girl, I’d gotten my heart broken already, but I was still in the closet to most everyone and I didn’t know any lesbians. I didn’t have any real, tangible connection to the queer community; I didn’t know what a lesbian identity for me looked like yet. And listening to that podcast made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like there were other people out there like me, and it gave me an outlet to start figuring out that part of my identity. So when GJ was airing, I just kept thinking that now, as a happily married lesbian, maybe I could help build that same kind of community, in case other people needed to hear that they weren’t alone, that there are happy futures ahead.

How did you pick your podcast name? Are you referencing HBO After Dark?

Mary We went through LOTS of iterations of possible names before settling on this one. I think it was between Shibden After Dark (SAD) and The Chaumiere at the end, and we went with SAD after a wife-involved voting ritual. 

Leanne Yeah, I think we just wanted to convey that it would be a little more raunchy than the show itself, and really play up the sexiness of it. This show is SEX, obviously, but it’s not surface-level sexy in the way that we typically see that on TV (read: graphic and male-gazey). I don’t even think we talked about HBO After Dark, but obviously the “after dark” tag has a certain connotation that we wanted to somewhat evoke. And I loved the name “The Chaumiere” but we didn’t want to lose any potential listeners by using an uncommon French word as our handle - apologies (désolé!) to all the French listeners out there. 

What books or other resources are you using to do your background research?

Mary Oh lord. So. I follow a few blogs that are ACTIVELY transcribing the diaries daily, I have a thesis paper by Muriel Green, a thesis paper by Catherine Euler, all of Jill Liddington’s books on the subject (Presenting the Past, Nature’s Domain, and Female Fortune), Choma’s companion to the series, Steidele’s book, and Whitbread’s Secret Diaries/No Priest But Love. IF ANYONE CAN HEAR ME: I would sell both legs and an arm to wrangle a copy of Muriel Green’s Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. Maybe also what’s left of my soul.

Leanne So far the Choma companion and Female Fortune. And a million screenshots of the stuff Mary sends me. But she’s got a miraculously-organized digital collection going so I read what she tells me.

Do you think the show is too kind to some of Anne Lister’s fucked up qualities/opinions?

Mary 100%. This show is romanticized like WOAH. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t mad, but Anne Lister was kind of a dick. There were times when she was nice and soft to Ann Walker, but also a lot of times she was super annoyed by her. So, you know. I also think a LOT of this is up to interpretation of the diaries, and we see this from historian to historian. Liddington has a more “hardline” approach (AL was not so super in love with AW but kind of endured her) to a softer approach from Whitbread and Choma.

AL was also kind of a dick to her tenants, often bullying them into voting how she wanted them to and definitely not getting little kids with no legs into cool schools and what not. But ultimately none of us want to watch some chick from the 1820s do what she had to do to be taken seriously: we want to watch some GAYS FALL IN LOVE, which is still pretty true, even if that love was way more fraught with heartache and drama and irritation than the show lets us see (thank god, don’t show us that shit).

Leanne Agreed with Mary, but also I think that the show does an extraordinary job of showing us a woman who is imperfect and complex and human. That makes her dynamic, and it makes her easy to identify with, and it also is seriously refreshing to see on television. She was HUMAN! Just like all of us, with complicated emotions and flaws and a moral compass (shall we say thermometer?) that didn’t always point north, and with judgment that was not always keen. And when we see those characteristics (even the small pieces we see) in the show, they don’t automatically make her crazy, or stupid, or render her unlovable.

Were there things that happened, or parts of Anne Lister that were cringeworthy? Absolutely, but it’s impossible to hold a 19th century woman to our 2019 code of ethical conduct and expect her to check all the boxes. Also, it’s television, so by virtue of the unwritten law between the audience and the creatives, they’re going to clean it up and make it a little bit more palatable and more dramatic and more romanticized. And I’m going to watch, be riveted, and hand over all my money. If we wanted a less-photoshopped version of a historical figure like this, we’d be talking about a documentary right now instead of show airing on HBO/BBCOne.

What’s your favorite Anne Lister accessory? What about it excites you?

Mary CRAVAT, something about the soft butchness of it, the way it looks when she takes it off, the way it looks when it’s ON her, literally everything about it.

Leanne My favorite Anne Lister accessory is ANN WALKER. And I’m using “accessory” here not in the “what ring goes best with this cravat” sense, but more in the “accessory to murder” sense. So yeah, Ann Walker. Because despite everything she had to go through, she MARRIED Anne Lister and thinking about it continues to blow my mind. That took ridiculous strength and courage. I admire her so much and wish I could give her the biggest, proudest hug.

If you could access one fully unedited scene from the show, which would it be?

Mary Ending scene from 1x03 - I just really want that entire thing. From the lip biting on the couch (I WANT THAT LAP SITTING) to the whole bedroom situation. Like, take me from the tear kissing to the hand holding uncut please.

Leanne HILLTOP SCENE 100%. From a practical standpoint, this is one of the LONGEST scenes and just by reason of that, I’d end up with the most amount of raw footage in this hypothetical scenario. But also because I’d love to see the different choices the actors made in different takes, and each of their reaction shots to EVERY WORD that the other person said. Since we’re cutting back and forth, we’re missing out on half of each of their reactions. Plus, let’s face it, I want the rest of that kiss before the beautiful crane shot moves over them.

Do you have a favorite Anne Lister/Ann Walker quote?

Mary For me it’s going to be not from the show (omg does that make me sound douchey?), but it’s something that I just absolutely love: 

“Monday 29 November 1819 [Halifax] 
Halifax letter, just opened it, beginning, ‘As I understand you advertised in the Leeds Mercury for a husband…’ Saw no more but reclosed, three drops of sealing-wax & sent it back to the post office. I begin to care not much about these impertinent insults. Their intended shafts of annoyance fall harmless & I shall never read them. What the eye will see not, the heart will grieve not.”

Leanne Good Lord, there are too many. I really am terrible with picking favorites. Anne Lister was so ahead of her time and there is so much about her character that I identify with - believing she was gay since birth, not really struggling to reconcile her sexuality with her religious faith, but especially just wanting to have what everyone else gets to have, i.e., a partner with whom to spend her days and nights. And to be able to do that not as a mistress or secret side piece or then having that person go home to their own spouse, but as her spouse. So this is a long answer to a short question, but I think my favorite quotes would be the diary entries where Anne writes things like, “I think we shall be very happy together,” [Sept. 30, 1832] and “& after all, I really think I can make her happy & myself too” [Sept 27, 1832]. Because that’s what life is all about right? Finding your person and just being happy? It’s such a simple concept, but it’s so complicated when you’re a queer person. 

Also, let’s face it, I love anytime AW is thirsty in the diaries (obviously) like, “She [Miss W] asked me to dine with her at five & stay all night” [Oct. 4, 1832]. Classic.

Who is your absolute favorite tertiary character?

Mary OK, if we’re being legit, I gotta go with Aunt Anne. No one accepted Anne IRL or in the show the way Aunt Anne did. She is the real MVP of Anne’s entire life, always being there for her and supporting her. If we’re being silly, I gotta go with either the cravat or the jacket she wears in the final episodes while she’s traveling that she likes to leave open while she sits on beds without corsets on with her cravat loose and her pony low.

Leanne Yes! Thank! You! James! No explanation necessary. 

How do you think Gentleman Jack compares to a show like The L Word (2004-9)?

Mary I think The L Word presented a VERY different view of lesbian culture: it was super modern, and it presented a lot more casual sex and relationships than GJ does. Additionally, GJ has a bigger budget (obviously), better writing, and a team that is devoted to focusing on telling a single story instead of a whole bunch of stories. GJ is Sally Wainwright’s epic love story that she has been waiting to tell for DECADES NOW, so it makes sense that it’s perfect in every way. It’s able to guide us along the path of a love story as it unfolds, and use some carefully placed foils along the way instead of just throw lesbian sex at us from every angle like The L Word did. Don’t get me wrong, I love and always have loved The L Word, but it’s like comparing The Real Housewives to Pride and Prejudice. GJ is practically art.

Leanne The fact that these sorts of comparisons are inevitable just goes to show that there’s a dearth of lesbian content out there, as they’re so far apart in my book in terms of style, structure, mood, genre, everything. Everyone loves to hate the L word and it was clearly problematic at times, but I think culturally it was so significant because we’d never seen anything like it. And if you boil it down to the bare bones, I think that it tried (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) to show women that were all unique and strong and flawed and human and how women and sexuality don’t fit into neat little boxes, which was something a lot of us had never seen before. I’m a huge fan of Marja Lewis-Ryan’s film “Four-Faced Liar” and I think she’s really talented so I’m really excited to see where they go with the reboot. But yes, the L Word was good TV for its time. Gentleman Jack transcends that.  It’s glorious. It’s perfect. It belongs in the fucking Smithsonian. Well, it’s British. So I guess I should say it belongs in the National Gallery. 

What content would you like to see presented differently in Season 2? 

Mary I would really like less straight stuff. No, but for real, I would like to see more of the servant’s stories. I want to know more about Cordingley! Give me some of that Hemingway. I just want to really dig in at Shibden and see more there than I do of Anne’s tenants, personally. Give me that day to day life, ROLL YOUR EYES AT ANNE’S SHENANIGANS, ugh I just can’t stand how good they all are at their jobs. Also please tell me James comes with Ann. 

Leanne This is somewhat cheating because at this point Sally Wainwright has already given us some information about what we’ll see in Season 2, but I want to see the Ann(e)s getting out a little more. We saw them leave Halifax at the end of Season 1, (Ann to Scotland and Anne traveling through Europe) but Ann in Scotland still felt stuffy and stifled and Anne couldn’t seem to shake the Ann-Walker shaped raincloud no matter where she went. So I’m excited to see the landscape open up now that they’re back together; as much as I love the intricate interiors of Shibden and Crow Nest, I think a change of scenery and some fresh air is going to be good for them and fun to watch.

What are you most looking forward to in Season 2?

Mary Domestic!Ann(e)s + Power!bottom Ann and newlywed can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other-ness.

Leanne Agreed, agreed, and couldn’t agree more. 

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1 comment

  • I have listened to the weekly Shibden after dark podcasts. it is so good to get someone else’s perspective on Gentleman Jack. There is so much detail in the show and quite often it’s miss if we only watch it one or twice. I have watched it from episode one to eight about four times and i will continue watching it. Yeah, I can’t get enough. On my favourite scene is the hilltop scene. I think it is the most raw and emotional scene in the first season. Thanks again for creating this podcast. I cannot wait for next week’s installment.

    Take care


    Karen on

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