The “Gentleman-like” Anne Lister on Gentleman Jack: Queerness, Class, and Prestige in “Quality” Period Dramas
This article examines the significance of queerness to class and prestige illustrated by the series Gentleman Jack (BBC/HBO, 2019–present). Although previous scholarship has discussed LGBTQ content and network brands, the development of “quality” television, and the status of period (heritage) drama, there has not been significant consideration about the relationships among all these elements. Based on the life of the 19th-century Englishwoman Anne Lister, Gentleman Jack depicts Lister’s gender and sexual nonconformity—particularly her romantic interactions with women and her mobility through the world—as a charming, cosmopolitan queerness, without addressing how this depended on her elite status. The cachet of GJ’s queer content interacts with both the prestige of the period genre and the BBC’s and HBO’s quality TV brands, with the show illustrating how narratives in “post-heritage” drama can gesture toward critique of class, race, and nationality privileges while continuing to be structured by these hierarchies. This article points to new avenues for theorizing how prestige in television is constructed through the interaction of content, genre, and production contexts.