Why was Gentleman Jack cancelled - and how did the cast react?

HBO have axed the historical drama, but why was Gentleman Jack cancelled will the BBC continue to produce it?

Why was Gentleman Jack cancelled and cast reaction
Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle attend Gentleman Jack Yorkshire Premiere at The Piece Hall
(Image credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty/Future)

Earlier this month, it was announced that the BBC One and HBO co-produced series Gentleman Jack was to be cancelled after only two seasons.

The show, based on the lengthy diaries of real-life Yorkshire landowner and queer icon Anne Lister, won critical acclaim and a dedicated fan following. The historical drama, set in the 1830s, shows Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as lovers Anne Lister and Ann Walker as they navigate their relationship in an era decidedly against same-sex partnerships. 

Why was Gentleman Jack cancelled?

US co-producer HBO decided not to renew Gentlemen Jack for a third season, with Deadline (opens in new tab) reporting that the cancellation was because the show was among the network’s lower-rated original series in the US.

The news followed announcements by Warner Bros (HBO’s parent company) that CEO David Zaslav was pursuing an aggressive policy of scaling back, hoping to save £3 billion for the company within two years.

These cutbacks are speculated to be the reason Gentlemen Jack and two other HBO series have recently been cancelled. HBO didn’t offer a reason for the cancellation, instead issuing a simple statement breaking the news and thanking the cast. 

What has Suranne Jones said about the cancellation?

Following news of the show's cancellation, star Suranne Jones posted a blooper reel from the series on Instagram (opens in new tab), alongside the caption, "I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on our beautiful journey making this show. While it is sad news Gentleman Jack will not be renewed, this show has brought so many together, enabled people to share their stories, brought joy, emotion and creativity and gave me a real connection to you as an audience.

"I have never been involved in a show that has made such a huge impact and touched my heart like this one has. It wasn’t always the easiest job I’ve had… but it was always worth it to see the response it got."

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How did the rest of the cast react?

Creator Sally Wainwright told RadioTimes (opens in new tab), "You never know if you’re going to get recommissioned but we were kind of quietly optimistic that it would happen. When you have a show that doesn’t do well, you think: 'Well, fair enough,' but I think what’s bewildering is that it appeared to be doing perfectly well but clearly not the same in America. I think they're not as interested in period drama. They're certainly not interested in 19th century English lesbians by the sound of things."

Sophie Rundle took to Instagram, posting a series of behind-the-scenes shots with the caption, “What a privilege it has been to play Ann Walker and bring her and Anne Lister’s extraordinary love story back to life. I am so proud to have been a part of reclaiming their place in history…. I am overwhelmed by the love this show inspired. And PROUD. So fiercely proud.”

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How successful was Gentleman Jack?

The show first aired in the UK to an incredible reception by viewers and critics, with a peak audience of 5.6 million for season one's first episode. Gentlemen Jack was the most successful debut episode for a BBC programme in 2019 and was quickly awarded a second series. Series 2 averaged 3-4 million viewers in its Sunday night BBC One timeslot. 

Deadline.com (opens in new tab) noted that Gentleman Jack was among the lower rated of HBO’s original series, though HBO broadcast the series on Mondays, a day that tends to attract lower ratings generally. 

Could Gentleman Jack ever return for season 3?

HBO cancelling the series means they have withdrawn from participation in future series, but it doesn’t mean that the BBC will not make another season with another co-producer.

The BBC has confirmed that it's "in discussions" with Wainwright. In an interview with RadioTimes.com (opens in new tab), creator Sally Wainwright confirmed that there was material for a follow-up season, and that the remaining Anne Lister diaries had been transcribed ready for new episodes to be written.

She said, "We had the diary transcribed for a possible third series and, you know, I haven’t read them all yet because I didn’t want to tempt fate but I know a lot of what’s in there and it’s good stuff, it’s juicy stuff, it would make great drama."

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is royal news and entertainment writer for Goodto.com. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.