Gentleman Jack creator and showrunner Sally Wainwright revealed that the BBC "certainly is up for" continuing with the show but would need a new co-financing partner after HBO canceled the show in the US. Gentleman Jack stars Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, a real-life landowner and polymath who lived in 1830s Yorkshire and kept a diary that documented her various lesbian relationships in the days before the word "lesbian" even existed. "Gentleman Jack" was a derogatory old England slang for women who pursued and seduced other women. The title of the show reclaims the name as empowerment for gay women. The show focuses on Lister's marriage to a wealthy heiress and landowner Ann Walker, played by Sophie Rundle. While kept secret and not legally recognized at the time, theirs was perhaps the first same-sex marriage in British history.
Last week, HBO announced that it would not be making the third season of Gentleman Jack – which is a co-production with the BBC. The BBC said that it was "in discussions" with Wainwright about "what's next".
In an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, Wainwright said that HBO's decision to cancel Gentleman Jack was "a surprise", but the BBC wants to continue with the show.
"Well, I think we all are gutted," said Wainwright. "It's been a bit of a surprise really because it's been doing really well, certainly in this country. We were ready to go again, the BBC certainly is up for going again."
The second season of Gentleman Jack has been a ratings hit in the UK, with every major news outlet and LGBTQ publication covering the second season and huge UK social media engagement. However, its reception in the US has been lukewarm to nonexistent. The first season on HBO three years ago got attention and momentum, but the second season was barely written about in US publications and hardly mentioned on social media in the US. The lack of attention, and perhaps lower viewership, might be part of the reason for HBO's cancellation of the show. It might also signal HBO withdrawing from co-production of British shows, considering it has also canceled Steven Moffat's adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife after one season.
Sally Wainwright continued in her Radio Times interview, "I think if HBO had been up for it, there'd have been no question. It's been a very successful show in all areas for them – it's had fantastic reviews, it's had a very respectable audience and on top of that, it's had an impact on the community of gay women. We have the most extraordinary fanbase, they organize all sorts of events."
When asked whether there's a chance the BBC could continue the series as a solo production, Wainwright said: "I think it wouldn't want to continue with it without it having the same production values. So we would need to find another partner who would stream it globally. You know, I think all those other options are being explored at the minute given that there is a desire to go on with it amongst quite a lot of people – the BBC, Lookout Point, myself, you know."
This is the sad reality for the BBC, which has been underfunded for over a decade. It means that every drama at the BBC needs an international co-financing partner. Every single one. Even Doctor Who has to be co-funded by BBC America, which is part-owned by AMC and is a separate commercial entity from the BBC in the UK. The good news for Gentleman Jack is that HBO does not own the show, which is why the BBC and production company Lookout Point has the option to shop around for a new co-production partner. That means there's hope yet for the third season.