Sally Wainwright is back. The Bafta-winning writer has returned with new period drama Gentleman Jack, a series following the real life and times of one of the most formidable women of the 19th century, Anne Lister.
Famous for her forthright style and same-sex relationships, the Shibden Hall owner caused a stir with her unconventional attitudes, all documented in her four-million-word diary.
Here’s everyone you need to know about the new drama…
Suranne Jones plays Anne Lister
Who is Anne Lister? The strong-willed lead of the series, Lister is the Gentleman Jack, the nineteenth-century Yorkshire landowner who was renowned for breaking social norms of the time.
Her four-million-word diary – which the drama quotes verbatim at points – documented her lesbian relationships, extensive travelling and renovation of ancestral home Shibden Hall. Lister was called Gentleman Jack by her neighbours as an insult, mocking her masculine appearance and interest in women.
The character is quite the enigma, according to Jones. “She is a noble, unlikable, flawed, beautiful. True to herself. Harsh to herself (and to others). She’s a perfectionist. She is a self-educator. She is an amazing lover. And there’s a joyfulness about her love of women,” she explained to RadioTimes.com. “But yet there’s such a sadness when her heart gets broken – and it gets broken a lot. She is a carer. She’s funny. A bit mean. And she’s very bloke-ish but sensitive. She’s everything. And getting to play all those things and yet find a constant was the difficult thing.”
What else has Suranne Jones been in? Perhaps best known for her Bafta-winning lead role in Doctor Foster, Jones first came to fame as Karen McDonald in Coronation Street from 2000-4. Since leaving the soap she’s also starred in the likes of Scott & Bailey, Unforgiven, A Touch of Cloth, Save Me, The Crimson Field and Vanity Fair.
Sophie Rundle plays Ann Walker
Who is Ann Walker? Walker is a wealthy heiress who lives in Halifax and is seduced by Lister – but not for romance’s sake.
“[Lister] sets her sights on Anne Walker because she was rich,” explains Sally Wainwright. “Actually, Ann Walker was her match. [She] was quite damaged and fragile. She had a lot of sadness in her life. But she had a real core of steel inside her.”
What else has Sophie Rundle been in? Her biggest role so far was in hit BBC1 drama Bodyguard, where Rundle played Vicky Budd, wife to Richard Madden’s David. Rundle has also played Ada Shelby for all four series of Peaky Blinders, and appeared in The Bletchley Circle, Happy Valley, Jamestown, Dickensian and Brief Encounters.
Gemma Whelan plays Marian Lister
Who is Marian Lister? Marian is Anne’s younger sister. She’s concerned by the repercussions of Anne’s eccentricities, including her sibling’s administration of the family estate.
As we see in the series trailer, Marian berates Anne for undertaking a “man’s job” and frowns on how her sister “always manages to become the topic of any given conversation.”
What else has Gemma Whelan been in? The actress and comedian is best known for playing Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, but she’s also enjoyed roles in Upstart Crow, Uncle and The Agency, and has starred as Karen Matthews in The Moorside and police officer Eunice in The End of the F***ing World.
Timothy West plays Jeremy Lister
Who is Jeremy Lister? Anne’s elderly father, Jeremy Lister spent his youth in the army, fighting for the British during the American Revolution. He had four sons before Anne and Marian, but they all died at a young age. Rebecca Battle, mother of all the children and wife to Jeremy, died in 1817.
Jeremy doesn’t have an easy relationship with his eldest daughter. “I think he has a very hard time understanding the nature of Anne’s relationships. He’s sympathetic but doesn’t really know what it’s all about,” West explained to RadioTimes.com. “He will help Anne when she’s trouble. And he is very pleased when he sees her delight when things are going well between her and Ann Walker.”
What else has Timothy West been in? Throughout his lengthy career on stage and screen, West has enjoyed roles in EastEnders (as Stan Carter), Not Going Out (Geoffrey) and Coronation Street (Eric Babbage).
He also starred in Last Tango in Halifax, another drama penned by Sally Wainwright. He is married to Fawlty Towers actress, Prunella Scales, with whom he has two sons – including actor Samuel West. The couple appear together on Channel 4’s Great Canal Journeys.
Gemma Jones plays Aunt Anne Lister
Who is Aunt Anne Lister? Aunt Anne Lister is Jeremy’s sister and – you guessed it – Anne Lister’s aunt. And the two don’t only share a name, but a loving relationship. “I knew Anne since she was a little girl,” Jones told RadioTimes.com about her character.
“She’s referred to as her favourite aunt and they’re very close and she’s very devoted to her and loves her dearly and is quite un-judgmental. I’m very defensive and loyal. And the bottom line is that I want people to accept who she is and for her to be happy.”
What else has Gemma Jones been in? Jones’ biggest roles have been in Emma Thompson’s Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility adaptation, Bridget Jones’s Diary and its sequels (in which she played Bridget’s mother) and Harry Potter (Madam Pomfrey). She also won a Bafta TV Award for 2015’s Marvellous. Interestingly, she’s already played Aunt Anne Lister in 2010 BBC drama The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, which starred Maxine Peake as the titular diarist.
“It was very well done and Maxine Peake was splendid playing Anne Lister, but my character didn’t have a great deal to do,” explained Jones. “It was an enjoyable job, but [Gentleman Jack] is more complex and interesting.”
Lydia Leonard plays Marianna Lawton
Who is Marianna Lawton? Anne Lister’s long-term lover. The two met in their early twenties and began a love affair, but Anne was heartbroken when Marianna married a man, destroying her hopes that they could build a future together. Despite Marianna’s marriage, the two now continue to visit each other and sleep with each other, and remain close confidantes – but their relationship is also fraught with the pain of Marianna’s decision to marry another.
What else has Lydia Leonard been in? Her screen credits include Absentia, Quacks, and Apple Tree Yard. You may also have heard her voice in video games from Total War: Warhammer II to Star Wars: The Old Republic – Knights of the Eternal Throne.
Jodhi May plays Vere Hobart
Who is Vere Hobart? In Gentleman Jack, there are flashbacks to what recently happened in Hastings when Anne Lister’s latest attempt to seduce a woman went drastically wrong.
What else has Jodhi May been in? For her performance in the 1988 movie A World Apart, Jodhi May became the youngest winner of the Best Actress award at Cannes. Her other credits include The Last of the Mohicans, Sister My Sister, A Quiet Passion, Strike Back, Emma, and The Amazing Mrs Pritchard.
Rosie Cavaliero plays Elizabeth Cordingley
Who is Elizabeth Cordingley? Cordingley is Anne Lister’s maid at Shibden Hall.
What else has Rosie Cavaliero been in? From Friday Night Dinner to Unforgotten and Little Dorrit, Cavaliero has enjoyed plenty of roles in TV comedy and drama. She’s featured in the likes of Doc Martin, Peep Show, Green Wing, Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise.
Albane Courtois plays Eugenie Pierre
Who is Eugenie Pierre? Anne Lister’s new French maid, who is still adjusting to her boss and her adventures.
Eugenie did actually exist – but she wasn’t employed until a little later on in the story, and never crossed paths or had an affair with Anne’s loyal servant George Playforth (who was, indeed, shot in the head while scaring birds out of a tree). Eugenie was recruited after an extensive search for a “clever lady’s maid” who had to be “sufficiently fond of travelling to make the best of everything.” Unfortunately, Anne was disappointed with her new lady’s maid and they didn’t immediately get on.
What else has Albane Courtois been in? On TV she was in the series Victoire Bonnot, and the film And Then I Was French.
Shaun Dooley plays Jeremiah Rawson
Who is Jeremiah Rawson? Jeremiah and his older brother Christopher are powerful businessmen in Halifax. The Rawson brothers are in the coal business and are keen to lease the coal at Shibden, but they have wildly underestimated Anne Lister – who will NOT be taken advantage of.
What else has Shaun Dooley been in? Recent appearances include Rev Michaelmas Whitaker in Jamestown, Sir William Wade in Gunpowder, Steve Richards in DCI Banks and DC Carl Hawkins in Cuffs.
Vincent Franklin plays Christopher Rawson
Who is Christopher Rawson? A coal baron and businessman in Halifax, who operates less than honourably. He and his brother are interested in the coal on Anne Lister’s land.
What else has Vincent Franklin been in? The actor was last seen as (bald) Mike Travis in Bodyguard, starring alongside Keeley Hawes as Julia Montague. He has also played Chris Parsons in Doct Martin, Prendergast in Decline and Fall, Andy Shepherd in Happy Valley, and Henry Best in Cucumber and Banana. Feature films include Vera Drake, The Bourne Identity, and The Riot Club.
Peter Davison plays William Priestley
Who is William Priestley? Ann Walker’s cousin.
What else has Peter Davison been in? Yes, it’s the fifth incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who. Davison played the celery-wearing Time Lord from 1981 to 1984. Davison has also starred in Law & Order: UK as Henry Sharpe and in All Creatures Great and Small as Tristan Farnon. He’s also cropped up in Holding the Fort, Sink or Swim, A Very Peculiar Practice, Campion, At Home with the Braithwaites and – more recently – Liar, Grantchester and Toast of London.
Amelia Bullmore plays Elizabeth Priestley
Who is Elizabeth Priestley? Eliza is William’s wife. She regularly features in the diaries of Anne Lister as one of the author’s closest confidantes.
What else has Amelia Bullmore been in? Bullmore is known for her role in ITV drama Scott & Bailey, where she played DCI Gill Murray, and as Steph Barnes in Coronation Street. Alan Partridge fans will also know her as Sonja, Alan’s Ukraine girlfriend in BBC series I’m Alan Partridge and she has also featured in Sally Wainwright drama Happy Valley, playing Vicky Fleming. Alongside her acting work, she has penned episodes of This Life, Attachments and Scott & Bailey.
Thomas Howes plays John Booth
Who is John Booth? A servant of Anne Lister at Shibden Hall.
What else has Thomas Howes been in? You are most likely to remember Thomas Howes from his role as lovestruck footman William Mason in Downton Abbey. Recent appearances include Samuel Hartley in Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, George Ward in Dark Angel, and Constable Booth in Houdini and Doyle.
Joe Armstrong plays Samuel Washington
Who is Samuel Washington? Anne Lister’s new land steward. In the drama – as in real life – she recruits him after the illness and death of her previous steward Mr Briggs. He also manages the nearby Walker estate at Lightcliffe, and has a wife, Hannah, and a young family.
In her biography of Anne Lister, Anna Choma writes: “He was both sharply intelligent and of sound moral fibre, a characteristic that Anne looked for in all her employees. He was a skilled draughtsman, able to produce the accurate and precise estate maps that would be vital to her ambitious remodelling plans. Over the coming years, his services would become indispensable to Anne.”
What else has Joe Armstrong been in? The actor starred in one of Sally Wainwright’s previous shows, Happy Valley, as Ashley Cowgill. His other credits include Britannia, Darkest Hour (as John Evans), Black Mirror episode Hated in the Nation, The Village, Robin Hood (as Allan A Dale) and Land Girls.
Anthony Flanagan plays Sam Sowden
Who is Sam Sowden? One of Anne Lister’s tenants. He is furious about Anne’s behaviour as a landlord and her hardline approach.
What else has Anthony Flanagan been in? The actor played policeman Tony in the comedy drama Shameless, and Bastien in period drama Versailles. Recent roles have included John Morfin in The Terror, Dave in TV movie Care, and Francis Lovell in The White Princess; you’ll soon also see him in new ITV drama Wild Bill.
Tom Lewis plays Thomas Sowden
Who is Thomas Sowden? Sam Sowden’s son. He has a certain amount of admiration for his landlord Anne Lister, and suffers at the hands of his father.
What else has Tom Lewis been in? He made an appearance in the popular daytime drama Shakespeare & Hathaway.
Stephanie Cole plays Caroline Walker
Who is Caroline Walker? Caroline is aunt to Ann Walker, Anne Lister’s love interest.
What else has Stephanie Cole been in? Best known for playing Joan Norton in ITV drama Doc Martin, Cole has also appeared as Mrs Featherstone in Open All Hours, Sylvia Goodwin in Coronation Street and Nesta in Man Down. Other credits include Tenko, A Bit of a Do, Keeping Mum and Waiting for God.
Ben Hunter plays Joseph Booth
Who is Joseph Booth? Anne Lister’s servant.
What else has Ben Hunter been in? Ben Hunter previously played Alfie Proudman in the TV series Offspring.
Gentleman Jack airs on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1