Anne Lister’s story a lesson for everyone, says Suranne Jones

The period drama Gentleman Jack follows the wealthy landowner as she returns to Halifax from her travels.

Press Association
Last updated: 10 May 2019 - 12.10am

Suranne Jones has spoken out about playing Anne Lister, regarded as the “first modern lesbian”, for a new BBC period drama.

The Doctor Foster actress takes on the role of the Regency landowner in Gentleman Jack.

The period drama follows her relationship with wealthy heiress Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle), who she intends to marry.

Set in 1832 in West Yorkshire, the eight-part series was created by Sally Wainwright and uses Lister’s infamous four million-word diaries to tell the story.

Jones as Lister (left) and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack (Matt Squire/BBC)
Suranne Jones as Anne Lister (left) and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack (Matt Squire/BBC/PA)

Jones said: “What (Lister and Walker) were doing was so transgressive.

“I think what was important to me was that there was no blueprint, there was no community that she could look to, lesbian wasn’t even a word.

“She was just being authentic and living how she felt was natural to her and again, we come back to the happiness in that.”

The 40-year-old added: “But every way that she presented herself, the way that she was gender non-conforming in her pursuits, which were quite male for that time, the way she dressed, the way she was just utterly herself.

“She called herself an oddity because she didn’t really know what she was.

“But she was happy to be an oddity because she was being truthful to herself and I feel that she was able to be heard, be seen, to speak out and I think that not just for the LGBTQIA community, that’s a lesson that we should all look at her for, because it’s truly beautiful.”

The period drama follows the wealthy landowner as she returns to Halifax from her travels, determined to transform the fate of her family and their faded ancestral home Shibden Hall.

The cast also includes Gemma Whelan as Lister’s sister Marian and Timothy West as their father Jeremy.

Rundle, best known for portraying Ada Shelby in Peaky Blinders, said having intimacy directors to help while filming the drama was a “positive, beautiful experience”.

“It’s such a sensitive subject matter and it’s such a beautiful story, you want to make sure you tell it in the right way, and it allows everybody a framework with which to do that,” she said.

“I think when you’re filming these kinds of things, everyone’s a bit awkward, the director, the crew, everybody is a bit like, ‘ooh how do we grapple with this’.

“It was a really positive, beautiful experience actually, coming into rehearsals before we even started filming and being in a room full of women and having someone lead a discussion where you could talk about your experiences, both positive and not so positive.”

Gentleman Jack starts on BBC One on Sunday May 19.

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