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After three-year respite, ‘Gentleman Jack’ remains a force

Suranne Jones (left) and Sophie Rundle in "Gentleman Jack."Matt Squire, HBO

The good news is that “Gentleman Jack” is finally back on HBO with season two after three years.

The great news is that it remains as compelling as season 1, with Suranne Jones continuing to be a force of nature as Anne Lister in 1830s England. Lister, for those who haven’t seen the show, was a gender-nonconforming lesbian living relatively openly for the time, blazing a trail with her fierce intelligence and her willpower. She kept a coded diary about her love affairs, which forms the foundation of the action.

If you’ve seen “Gentleman Jack,” you know that the show, from Sally Wainwright of “Happy Valley,” “Scott & Bailey,” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” is not quite a polite, conventional period drama. It’s modeled in some ways after its top-hatted heroine, as it charges forward with energy, unencumbered by the rules of the time.


This season, Anne moves ahead with her plan to live as a couple with Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle), despite the strong resistance of Ann’s greedy family. Anne presents herself as the fragile Ann’s savior, as she works to combine their estates. Anne also copes with the desperation of her ex, Mariana (Lydia Leonard), who is finding it hard to let Anne move on with someone else. Mariana wonders whether Anne is deeply in love with Ann, a question that haunts Anne.

Of course, little else matters when Jones is on the screen, which is almost always. Jones gives a big, charismatic performance, to match Anne’s big, charismatic personality, but she isn’t chewing up scenery or anything like that. She has many subtle — and sublime — small moments, and when she gives us Anne in love, it is brilliant. Also, she makes it work when Anne looks and speak into the camera every now and then, giving us glimpses of the more reflective Anne who invests so fully in her diary-writing.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him @MatthewGilbert.