An audacious true-life-story, the eight-part series “Gentleman Jack” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) puts a breathtaking new spin on period dramas. Created by Sally Wainwright (“Happy Valley,” “Last Tango in Halifax”), it recalls wealthy landowner and industrialist Anne Lister, portrayed with gusto by Suranne Jones.
Lister stood out from her contemporaries by outwitting and out-negotiating every male businessman she encountered. She wore only black, even to weddings, and kept a fantastically detailed diary. It eventually came to more than 4 million words, many written in a code of her devising. Her need for discretion arose from her unabashed lesbianism and her passionate feelings for other women at a time when male homosexuality was a crime punishable by hanging and same-sex feelings between women were so unspeakably taboo that it wasn’t even codified into law.
“Jack” begins in 1832, when Lister has inherited her family’s estate from her uncle because he recognized her head for business. Aware of the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution, she sets about exploiting the coal on her family’s property and protecting her assets from unscrupulous mine operators who had been stealing from the Listers.
Against the background of economic change, new laws grant extended suffrage, but only to men. Anne recoils at the thought that the least educated farmer might be able to cast a vote, a right denied to her gender.
Suranne Jones strides through her role as this indomitable woman. Jones also conveys Lister’s many passions, and not just her longings for neighbor Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). A beauty just shy of 30, Walker is treated like a nervous invalid by her family, who blame her sickly ways for the reason she just never settled down with the right man.
“Jack” begins with a horrible carriage accident that costs one of Lister’s impoverished young tenants his leg. She is as adamant about bringing that boy justice as she is pursuing her fortune and her lover.
The title “Gentleman Jack” refers to a name given to Lister by her neighbors and contemporaries, most of them men, who were simply awed by her strength, determination and mannish ways. The show’s theme song is derived from a folk song written about Lister, a woman who was very much a legend in her own time.
- The new reality series “Live Rescue” (8 p.m., A&E) follows first responders at work all over the country.
- “Independent Lens” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14) presents the documentary “Charm City,” which follows community organizers, police and neighbors who confront endemic violence on the streets of Baltimore. Filmed over a three-year period, “Charm” captures the reaction to the death of Freddie Gray, a resident who died in police custody in 2015.
- “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alum Anthony Head stars in the whimsical heist drama “The Invisibles,” about crooks who come out of sedate retirement to ply their trade. Streaming today on Acorn.