Doctor Foster star Suranne Jones is to star as Regency adventuress Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright’s new drama for BBC1 and HBO.
The eight-part drama will tell the true story of Lister, a 19th century Yorkshire woman who embarked on a determined and passionate courtship with another woman.
The series, originally called Shibden Hall, is set in West Yorkshire in 1832 and tells the real-life story of the charismatic 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 was no ordinary Regency lady: she walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and breezed through high society. She also planned 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.
The drama will explore Lister’s relationships at home with her family, her servants, her tenants and her industrial rivals who are determined to bring her down.
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.
The new retelling will be the latest collaboration between Jones and Wainwright, following their previous work together on Dead Clever, Unforgiven, and Scott & Bailey.
Suranne Jones said, “I first worked with Sally 10 years ago and I remember the feeling of reading her scripts like it was yesterday. They were scripts for women; fresh, daring and bizarre in a wonderful, modern, fun, complex and challenging way. Now I get to once again speak the words of an almighty talent on a show I know she holds close to her heart.
“To have Sally direct me on this feels like I’ll finally get to work on a project with her where the connection will be immediate, exciting and new each day and we can enjoy that amazing ride together! I’m thrilled to be back at the BBC with this role and to be joining the Lookout Point and HBO family.”
Sally Wainwright (pictured below), whose dramas include Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and To Walk Invisible, added, “I am delighted to be working with Suranne once again, not just as a writer this time, but as a director. Bringing Anne Lister to life with all her complexity, passion, brilliance and wit is an epic challenge that will require all the boldness, subtlety, energy and humour that I know only Suranne will bring to it.”
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said, “Suranne is a screen actor of the highest calibre who brings wit, depth and attack to every character she plays. We are so fortunate to have her as our Anne. Sally’s wonderful writing is in some very exciting hands.”
Gentleman Jack will begin filming next year, with further casting to be announced in due course. Before then Jones can be seen in the second series of Doctor Foster which returns to BBC1 in the autumn.