Happy Valley writer Sally Wainwright’s new drama will tell the true story of a C19th Yorkshire woman who embarks an a passionate courtship with another woman, the BBC has confirmed.
The eight-part drama series Shibden Hall is set in West Yorkshire in 1832 and tells the real-life story of the charismatic Anne Lister who, after years of exotic travel and social climbing, is determined to transform her fortunes and the fate of her faded ancestral home in Halifax by marrying well.
But Lister (pictured below) is no ordinary Regency lady: she walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and breezed through high society. She also plans to marry a wealthy woman against all the conventions of the age.
Every part of Anne’s story is based in historical fact, recorded in the four million words of her diaries that were written in a secret code that has now been broken.
In it she details her passionate courtship of a local heiress called Ann Walker and their subsequent union which included a “marriage” involving vows and the exchange of rings.
Her story has already been the subject of a 90-minute BBC film in 2010, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, starring Maxine Peake (main picture).
The BBC said: “Shibden Hall is a remarkable and unlikely love story, set in the complex, changing world of Halifax – the cradle of the industrial revolution – just as it’s all kicking off.
“The drama will explore Anne Lister’s relationships at home with her family, her servants, her tenants, and her industrial rivals, who will use any dirty tricks they can to bring her down. At its heart is her relationship with her would-be wife, the wealthy heiress Ann Walker. It has all the warmth, wit, humour and complexity that audiences have come to associate with Sally Wainwright’s writing.”
Wainwright (pictured below), whose other dramas include Last Tango in Halifax and To Walk Invisible, has already spoken about her plans for the drama, but it has only been formally confirmed today.
The writer said that the life of Lister is “a gift to a dramatist” adding: “She is one of the most exuberant, thrilling and brilliant women in British history, and I can’t wait to celebrate her. Landowner, industrialist, traveler, mountaineer, scholar, would-be brain surgeon and prolific diarist, Anne returns from years of travel to her ancestral home, determined to restore it to its former glory, and determined to marry Ann Walker.
“It’s a beautifully rich, complicated, surprising love story. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfillment of an ambition I’ve had for twenty years. Shibden Hall is a place I have known and loved since I was a child.”
Piers Wenger, Controller BBC Drama Commissioning, added: “The originality and ambition of the writing in Shibden Hall is Sally Wainwright at her boldest and best. In dramatising the life and loves of Anne Lister, Sally might just have found her most complex and uncompromising female character yet and I’m so proud that they will be making their home BBC1.”
Executive producer Faith Penhale said, “This is an extraordinary story about a remarkable woman. We’re in early 19th Century Yorkshire and here is an independent, land-owning, industrialist recording in her diary her own civil partnership with a neighbouring heiress. I can’t wait for Sally to bring Anne Lister, with all her wit and warmth and unpredictability, to life for BBC One and HBO. And it’s a joy to be working together with Sally again after our wonderful collaboration on To Walk Invisible last year.”
The drama is being made by the production company Lookout Point and is a BBC co-production with HBO. Filming will begin in Yorkshire in 2018 for a possible broadcast at the end of the same year.
Casting details are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.