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Performers of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of June - Suranne Jones

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The article was written by Aimee Hicks, Ellys Cartin, Lexi Greenberg, and Zandarl. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

The real Anne Lister depicted herself in her journals as a bit of a larger than life character. She was well and truly before her time. She was carving the path towards equality and acceptance before there was even a blueprint for how to get every person their natural-born right to love who they were born to love. She was so before her time that history tried to bury her in the dusty dungeons of time, but true to her character as a person, not even death and time could prevent her from having her story told. One can only imagine that if Lister was alive today, she would have some snarky comment about the hit HBO series, Gentleman Jack, that depicts her life as told through her journals and about Suranne Jones, the actress who portrays her, all the while being secretly proud to have such a gifted performer portray her. Jones has a pristine reputation in the entertainment industry as a go-to actress often sought out for complex roles encapsulating a whole wide arrange of genres and eras. It is almost always clear when a performer is truly passionate about a part or just doing it for the paycheck. In the case of Jones, and all her co-stars on this series, it is clear this was a passion project. Jones has said in many an interview that she wanted this role and it shows. She has found some way to tap into the very essence of what made Anne Lister the woman she was. Through her engaging and profound performance, she has brought Anne Lister back to life for a whole new generation to admire and learn from. To be fair, Anne Lister wasn't perfect, she had her faults, and Jones captures her faults as beautifully as she captures her strengths. The performance Jones delivers feels very real and honest and that is a key reason for why the show found such a large audience so quickly. Those reasons and many more to be covered below are key factors in why Suranne Jones was named SpoilerTV's June Readers' Choice Performer of the Month for her performance in the Season One finale of Gentleman Jack, Are You Still Talking (1x8).

The episode begins with Anne recapping what she's been experiencing lately in a letter to her Aunt Anne Lister (Gemma Jones). Guided by Jones' uplifting, whimsical and insightful voice, with her thermometer still next to her, of course, she can carefully and precisely change the tone of her voice as she goes from portraying a range of different emotions in her speech whilst describing the highs and lows of her trip. She shamelessly grins along the bumpy ride as her 24-year-old companion explains that she'll only marry for love. Jones' showing a hint of sympathy and direct understanding through her slightly nuanced facial expressions. Then the quick-paced and positive recap takes a turn when Anne shifts to writing/speaking about Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle), Jones perfectly plays this mixed sadness yet togetherness simultaneously. She always seems to fittingly break the fourth wall with such a strongly meticulous nature behind it, that it never seems out of place, though this isn't an exciting breaking of the fourth wall as her previous ones have been. She makes strong eye contact with the audience, her fumes of frustration, helplessness, and sorrow directly and powerfully impacting the audience as Jones leaves the audience with a subsequent sympathetic and uneasy feeling.

Her return to Copenhagen finds the city in horrific conditions, yet Anne seems completely unbothered, Jones radiates with her character's classic confidence and strength as she meets up with her acquaintances. She is beaming the whole way through this scene despite everyone around her feeling the gloomy weather, reflecting Anne's optimistic and brightened perspective on life. Jones emphasizes this through an unwaveringly large grin. Anne storms through the hotel, quickly making herself comfortable as Jones echoes this through the careless removal of her jacket and accessories, free-spirted and excited. Beforehand, Jones was spitting out her lines like there was no tomorrow, but she slows her pace when she realizes there's been no correspondence from Ann's sister in Scotland, stumbling for what to say, previously confident and clear in her language. Now she is reduced to her overbearing emotions for Ann that are clouding her ability to act in her normally incredibly focused and controlled manner.

Jones never surrenders Anne Lister's incapability for idleness, either of body or mind. The wheels are always turning, and Anne is forever in motion. This characteristic is at the forefront of her dinner engagement with the DeHagemanns and friends. No sooner does the carriage slow to a halt than Anne has already opened her own door and stuck her head forwards. She cannot wait for the footman, and Jones projects her eagerness for the discoveries ahead with her excited expressions. Anne's activity level is on a different wavelength than the rest of her dinner companions though. As accomplished as Anne is, she's still new to this group and out of rhythm. Jones aptly finds the humor in her character's dilemma through several subtle gestures and responses. She goes to fidget with her necklace, as if it's too tight but catches herself short of pulling on it. Sophie (Stephanie Hyam) makes a cheeky remark about Anne liking trouble, which prompts a flirty, reprimanding smile from her. The conversation of the jovial party around them prevents any further exchanges. There isn't even a chance for Anne to take a bite, much less finish a sentence. She is holding her fork upright with food on it when the others decide she shall be introduced at the Danish court. Jones punctuates the scene with a prolonged chuckle that is just a bit too deep. It's unusual to see Anne struggling to catch up, and the performance choices that Jones makes reinforce that Anne is still distracted by her recent heartbreak.

With no particularly close friends nearby to confide in, Anne's spirits get a boost from an unlikely place. Her visit to court with its vulnerable revelation is primarily effective because of how thoroughly meshed Jones is with her character. As Anne enters the court, she is a person with a singular purpose: to complete this task as efficiently as possible. Countless times throughout the season, Jones has whisked through similar walks with the same purposeful intent. Anne essentially flies across the court to the group of regal ladies standing around the throne. She sinks to the ground in a quick, polished motion. In the next moment, she is told she has curtsied to the wrong person. Jones gives Anne a half-second to collect herself before swiftly repeating the gesture to the actual Queen Marie (Sofie Gråbøl). Though it's the briefest of errors, one that Anne easily smooths over with her apology, it derails her control of the interaction. Queen Marie is genteel and playful in her inquiries about Anne's appearance and the state of her heart. Jones lets Anne soften under Marie's charm and curiosity, showing this through how Anne's initial difficulty to meet Marie's eyes fades into not looking at the queen. When Marie touches Anne's hand gently, Jones lets her entire frame gravitate toward that smallest physical connection. Her whispered confession, with just the beginnings of tears, that her heart keeps getting broken is only partially for Marie. Jones shows us just how far this newest hurt extends, she let every ounce of the ache those words cause show on her face. Marie's birthday invitation brings joy into Anne's eyes, but that only accentuates her tears. The exchange doesn't lack humor though, as Anne cringes at the queen's declaration that all the ball attendees will be wearing white. This conversation also inspires a determination to move on, as Jones shows with Anne's return to Lady Harriet's. She leaps from her carriage, hitches up her skirts just a little, and bounds up the stairs in one breath.

That same relentless pace carries right into Anne's behavior at the ball. Jones is never still in the sequence, creating the feeling that Anne is on the run. She enters the scene briskly plodding through the ballroom. Jones also projects her character's independence with the way she walks. While every other person might glide demurely, Anne doesn't tuck in her limbs but rather makes full use of them, even letting her arms swing. Her shoes click-clack against the ground forcefully. She weaves through the crowd, never in danger of collision, but people still step away from her path. Even when she fusses with the large feathers on her head or takes a glance at someone's hem, she doesn't slow Anne's pace. Her legs stop moving for a moment when Anne connects with a friend to express disdain at being trapped for ten minutes listening to someone talk. This friend asks if Anne has heard anything about Ann in Scotland, and Anne's head is already on a swivel looking for a distraction. There is confidence in her demeanor when she invites Sophie to dance, practically rushing to the dance floor. She expertly leads her partner through the dance, with flourishes and whirls aplenty. However, Anne doesn't respond to Sophie's merriment and instead looks off into the distance with a mixture of distress and determination. Jones doesn't let us forget that Anne's head and heart are also divided.

When word of her aunt's failing health reaches Anne, she hurries home to her family in a quick succession of scenes that let Jones highlight Anne's tenacity despite duress. Anne sleeps through a storm at sea, awakened by the captain when they approach shore. She inserts a couple of gestures to show Anne's perseverance and worry. She pulls her hat off when she's startled awake but pushes it back into position with both hands. Her eyes are weary, and her hair is disheveled, but the set of her jaw indicates she's already planning the next step of her journey. When her carriage pulls up Shibden Hall, Anne is standing on the back. Jones drops her body off the back, letting a tired Anne fall into a standing position. She stumbles in her run into the house to see her aunt. There is no giddiness in this sprint. She is frantically using her last reserves of energy to get upstairs. Aunt Lister is alive and well, and Anne greets her with joy.

Apart from scenes with Ann Walker, Jones gets to play out the softer side of Anne Lister in scenes with her aunt. As soon as she enters the room and the affection for her aunt and the worry she had felt evaporates as she sits with her, seemingly letting all the mounting tensions slip away. We know from the diaries Anne was very fond of her Aunt and Jones captures the sentiment on screen. She gives us a glimpse of Anne at her most tender, as she kisses her aunt before she turns heel and whisks Dr. Kenny (Daniel Weyman) out the door. In the study, she lashes out at the doctor for her unnecessary trip. Jones uses this scene to bring all of Anne's emotions to boil. She shoves Kenny against a bookshelf, berating him with a guttural snarl for making her risk her life and her servants' lives with a dangerous ocean crossing. Her rage is tempered by her exhaustion, and Jones wavers, unsteady on her feet, as Anne's adrenaline fades. She looks around her surroundings in despair, furious and sad to be home.

After leaving in a hurry with the parting words “I am sinking a pit”, it's no wonder her father, Jeremy Lister (Timothy West) is none too pleased having realized she has risked their home, Shibden Hall, on the risky venture. Normally you can tell while her father offers council, he seems to respect Anne's business sense but here he is angry and calls Anne the one thing she isn't, an Idiot. Anne is very sure of her actions arrogant most would say and assured. Jones' face instantly changes from a girl being told off by her father to anger at being called this.

Meeting Samuel Washington (Joe Armstrong), Anne keeps her composure and listens intently as he gives her the options, but all will cost money that she doesn’t have to spare. Everything is literally on the line and she is on the verge of losing it all. Not only is she still dealing with a broken heart over Ann, but she’s now facing the very real reality of losing her family home as well and the realization of it all is clearly overwhelming to Anne. Throughout this scene, the frustration and fear over it all radiates from Jones. It’s evident on her face, in her eyes, and in the way she holds her body. Jones allows the audience to see and feel that Anne is about to explode from the pressure of it all. By the time Anne walks to the edge of the cliff it's clear why Anne screams out to an empty sky. Anne needs this release or she will physically explode under the pressure of it all. The raw emotion Jones shows has everyone feeling the depths of her despair.

The moment Anne lets go to the heavens everything in her life suddenly shifts. Everything in the series to this point led up to the reunion between Anne Lister and Ann Walker. This scene had to be portrayed just right otherwise everything else that followed would not work. The audience had to feel the effects of the ten-month absence on both women and still yet understand the love they each carried with them for the other throughout their separation. So that the church scene that followed would work, this scene had to undo the tension and reunite them in heart, mind, body, and soul. Jones and Rundle did precisely that, working as a team to make this reunion feel very real and true. On Jones' part, she did a very good job early on showing Anne's hesitation to the sudden and completely unexpected return of Ann to her life. When Anne turned around at the beckoning of Ann's voice the look Jones portrayed was as if Anne had just been sucker-punched in the gut. Throughout the season, Ann had continually broken Anne's heart, no matter how vehemently she tried to deny it, and the way Jones portrayed the initial moments of this reunion showed all the scar tissue that had built up around Anne's heart. Through both her body language and vocal tone, Jones showed Anne's hesitation to get close to Ann. There is a moment when Ann closes the distance between them and as she gets closer, Jones has Anne take a step back. It was a tiny thing, but it spoke volumes to what was going through Anne's head during this moment. But that initial recoiling and uncertainty were important because they gave great value to what transpired throughout the rest of the scene.

There was a point in the mid-section of the scene where Rundle was given a long ramble of dialogue and all Jones could do was silently react. Even at that moment, one could see the wheels turning in Anne's head through the nervous way Jones had her fidgeting. When Anne finally got a turn to speak, she sounded a bit cross and then as she continued speaking and stealing soft glances at Ann her voice began to soften, with a few sly quirks of her lips emerging. No matter how hard Anne tried to be fierce and tough she did have an immense weakness when it came to Ann Walker. Jones beautifully showed the effect that Ann had on Anne's emotional walls. The second time that Ann closed the distance Anne did not recoil or step back. Jones, for the first time in this scene, honed into the powerful connection she shares with Rundle as she allowed Anne to fall back into sync with the woman who held her heart.

Then came the big reveal that Ann had almost taken her own life. The concern that immediately radiated from Jones perfectly captured the fear that Anne felt of permanently losing Ann. The next words she spoke were so soft and loving as she declared that she had never stopped thinking of her. There was this moment that Rundle played beautifully, where Ann Walker seemed almost in disbelief that she was still so loved by Ann. Jones took that moment Rundle gave her to play off of and ran with it. The emotions were getting thick and Anne seemed to understand that, and she knew they needed a change of pace. So, almost as if a switch was flipped, Anne changed the entire demeanor of their encounter and the flood gates opened as she couldn't help but want to tell Ann every amazing and incredible thing that had happened in Denmark. She wanted to share it all with her love as she had always hoped to do. Jones's eyes were sparkling with excitement and her earlier nervous movements were replaced by gestures fueled by giddy excitement. She did a phenomenal job showing all the emotions Anne was navigating through during this reunion. She didn't just rely on the written words given to her to speak, but in the bond, she had spent all season forging with Rundle to fuel Anne's actions.

And then, as if this scene wasn't already ripe with emotion, came the crescendo where it came time for the two women to decide on what comes next for them. Jones reigned Anne back in from her brief burst of giddy excitement and into business mode. This was it, the last chance for both women, after so much time and heartbreak they had a very important choice to make. Jones had to carry the weight of this moment. Rundle had done her duty and delivered Ann's side of this reunion and it was left to Jones to carry them to the big ending. When Jones had Anne beg Ann to not hurt her again one couldn't help but feel a pang of emotion slam squarely into their heart. At that moment Jones opened Anne up to the audience and allowed everyone to see that Anne Lister loved more deeply than she ever cared to admit to. There was a quiver in the tone that Jones used in this latter section of the scene. The stakes were monumentally high for Anne and Jones made the audience feel and experience that. So, when the agreement came that they were to take the sacrament together, and in the eyes of God be married, the kiss felt earned for the characters and rewarding for the audience. Actors are presented with words from writers and directions from directors, but what they do once the camera rolls can supersede words and direction and a moment takes on a life all its own. That is what Jones partnered with Rundle did in this pivotal moment. They each played a part and earned the big ending, but major recognition belongs to Jones for the journey she had to take Anne on in just this single scene. Rundle got to play a very specific side of the story as the one trying to undo the damage they caused. Jones, on the other hand, had to take Anne on a big journey in a short period. She had to take Anne from heartbroken to forgiving to fully back in love. It took a monumental acting feat to cover so much ground in such a short moment in time, but she pulled it off and made the audience feel and experience every single profound moment of it.

Because of all the hard work put into the prior scene the big church scene could exist in a beautifully quiet world of peace and love. Even as the two characters exchanged rings in the carriage ride and stole a soft kiss the mood was so different. Jones again added this giddy demeanor to her performance. The best comparison is to that of a child in a candy store for the first time. She kept smiling and her eyes just sparkled with glee. Jones sold how excited and in love, Anne was without speaking a single word to the effect. There was not a single line of dialogue between Jones and Rundle in this scene, a true testament to the bond of the characters and the connection between the actresses that so much was portrayed without words. The power of the moment came from how personal it was to them. It was done in secret, yes, but the meaning to them was beyond description. After the sacrament, they are walking back to their seats and Jones ever so sneakily wraps her little finger around Rundle's and she shuts her eyes to show Anne reveling in the moment. Anne had dreamed of this moment her whole life and to have it with a woman she loved and who loved her back was a profoundly moving moment for her. Jones dove into the finer details of the scene to make sure not a single emotional beat or profound moment was left untouched.

At the end of the marriage scene, they sat in utter silence. The characters and actresses sat in silence taking in the moment. One could have heard a pin drop. Jones' face showed Anne in a moment of deep reflection. It was as if an unseen montage was playing out in front of her regarding all she had to go through to get this perfect moment. Then she looks over at Rundle and the smile that spreads across her face says that everything Anne had been through alone and everything she had been through with Ann had been worth it for them to have that moment.

The episode drew near its end as Anne exited the church with Ann, both women all smiles. Jones has a big radiating smile as it is, but this smile was something special. The smile that she had Anne flash at her new wife was radiant and spoke volumes towards the love she felt in that moment. Then the moment they exited the sacred grounds of the church it was back to business. Jones, while still showing how happy Anne was, did change her facial expressions back to a more serious look. This was Anne in thinking and planning mode and Jones captured the fast pace in with which Anne's brain worked. Ann brought Anne down a few pegs and brought them back into the moment of enjoying their new union. While Jones came out of the gate strong, she pulled back and allowed Rundle to dictate the tone of their banter. It showed the power dynamic between the two women had changed ever so slightly now that they were married. Anne is still the strong more dominant of the two, but by pulling back a bit Jones did allow Rundle to show off the culmination of Ann's journey throughout the season from timid to an equal partner in this relationship. Everything about her performance in this ending scene was about enjoyment and just having fun. After an emotionally draining season, this was the perfect way to end the season and it was clear that Jones enjoyed every second of it as even the tone of her voice was more upbeat and jovial.

With that, the season came to an end as did the first season of Suranne Jones portraying the amazing Anne Lister. The season was an emotional minefield of everything from incredible joy to shattering heartbreak. Jones allowed the audience to see Anne at her highest highs and lowest lows while delivering one flawless performance after another. When Anne shed tears, Jones's performance made the audience want to cry right along. When Anne was filled with joy Jones made the audience want to get up and celebrate with Anne. There are all sorts of absurd arguments for why Jones should never have been offered or accepted this role. The truth is, there was no one else on this planet who could have delivered the sort of impeccable performances that she delivered in this eight-episode first season. Suranne Jones was Anne Lister and she brought her to life in a way that no one else ever could have. She took the time to learn about the woman behind the diaries and that made all the difference in the world in her performance. She invested in this character, the story, and her co-stars and it allowed her to deliver a performance that is not only worthy of the title bestowed upon her here but of all industry awards that will hopefully be piled upon her for her portrayal of Anne Lister. Suranne Jones is SpoilerTV's June Readers' Choice Performer of the Month and it was a title well and truly deserved for this truly spectacular and gifted actress.

Not every single moment of the episode could be covered in this single article. Please feel free to use the comments to discuss her performance in this episode and throughout the spectacular first season of Gentleman Jack.

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