Gentleman Jack: everything we know about BBC's new period drama about Halifax's "first modern Lesbian"

Gentleman Jack tells the story of Halifax's Anne Lister (Picture BBC)
Gentleman Jack tells the story of Halifax's Anne Lister (Picture BBC)

Gentleman Jack is a new, BBC Halifax-centric drama from Sally Wainwright, the writer of shows like Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.

Also set in the Calder valley, the period drama tells the story of Anne Lister, a Yorkshire landowner who lived between 1791 and 1840 and is remembered for breaking many of the social norms that were expected of women at the time.

READ MORE: Premiere of BBC drama Gentleman Jack to be shown at huge Halifax screening
She’s often dubbed “the first modern lesbian”, and was known as "Gentleman Jack" by Halifax residents, where she suffered harassment for her sexuality.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new series.

Who was Anne Lister?

Born in Halifax in 1791, Lister is most famous for her four-million-word diary, which documented her relationships and her efforts to return her ancestral home Shibden Hall to its former glory, and more.

The more intimate details of the diary were written in a code that wasn't deciphered until decades after her death. Lister enjoyed affairs with fellow schoolgirls from an early age, and then with other women as she grew older, despite the prejudices of the time.

READ MORE: Date revealed for the first BBC One episode of Gentleman Jack
“She loved women, and she loved sex,” star Suzanne Jones (Doctor Foster) said at the BFI & Radio Times Festival. “The pool of women she could choose from [was] quite small, because you have to be very careful who you’re talking to.

“The women that she had affairs with or dalliances with or fell in love with, often then went on to marry men for love or to keep up appearances or for money.”

Lister put her intelligence to use when she inherited Shibden Hall from an aunt in 1836, taking a hands-on approach to the estate and maximising her business opportunities.

What happens in Gentleman Jack?

Written by Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley), the new series begins in 1832 when Anne Lister is 41.

Reeling from the failure of a relationship with a high-class woman who turns out not to be interested in those of the same sex, and after years of travel and social climbing, Lister has returned home to Halifax

To restore Shibden Hall she must re-open the coal mines and marry well, but she has no intention of marrying a man; she plans to marry a woman.

Soon after her return, she meets wealthy local heiress Ann Walker, and the fate of Shibden Hall seems to be more secure than ever.

“She was great at conversation, she was very charismatic, and she was just unusually clever,” Wainwright said at the BFI & Radio Times Festival when asked about Lister’s charms.

“She’s running her business, she’s had her love affairs and been heartbroken and every time that happens, she’s put on another layer,” the screenwriter and director told the audience.

Who stars in it?

The star of the show is Suzanne Jones, who plays Lister, but she’s backed up by a cast of impressive names.

"I first worked with Sally 10 years ago and I remember the feeling of reading her scripts like it was yesterday,” said Jones. “They were scripts for women; fresh, daring and bizarre in a wonderful, modern, fun, complex and challenging way.

"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!”

Also on the cast, Katherine Kelly (Happy Valley) plays Elizabeth Sutherland, the sister of Lister’s intended wife Ann Walker, who is played by Sophie Rundle (Bodyguard).

On joining Gentleman Jack, Katherine Kelly said, “I’m thrilled to be reuniting with Sally once again. I know how passionate she is about the life and times of Anne Lister, and I’m delighted to be portraying such a key historical character in Anne Lister’s story.”

Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing) will make an appearance towards the end of the series as Queen Marie of Denmark, with her scenes having been shot on location in Copenhagen.

“When asked if I would like to play the Queen of Denmark in Sally Wainwright’s brand-new series, I could not have said ‘yes’ fast enough!” Gråbøl said.

Elsewhere, Gemma Whelan (Game Of Thrones) plays Lister’s sister Marian, with whom she has a fraught relationship.

Timothy West (Last Tango In Halifax) plays their father Jeremy Lister, and Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary) is Aunt Anne Lister.

When can I watch it?

Gentlemen Jack begins on BBC One on Sunday 19 May at 9pm