Suranne Jones: Filming at Anne Lister’s home of Shibden Hall was magical

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister. Picture: Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Jay Brooks
Suranne Jones as Anne Lister. Picture: Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Jay Brooks

The highly anticipated BBC One drama, Gentleman Jack, will hit our screens on Sunday (May 19) and Suranne Jones is the one to bring Halifax diarist Anne Lister to life.

Known for her detailed diaries and passionate relationships with women, the 19th century landowner's life will be brought to life in the latest series penned by Calderdale writer and director Sally Wainwright.

Read: Telling the story of Anne Lister was a 20-year passion project for writer Sally Wainwright

Suranne and Sally have worked together on a number of projects before, including police drama Scott and Bailey, but this was the first time Sally would be directing her.

Speaking at the Yorkshire premiere of Gentleman Jack, Suranne said: "This is my fourth time working with Sally and to be directed by her is amazing.

"This is a passion project for her so to be in close proximity to the writer everyday was thrilling and for her to know so much about the character as she's been developing it for 20 years.

"I had six months rehearsal time and we were still decoding the diary as we were filming, which was thrilling and it felt very raw, very immediate and we had our own little secrets coming through as we were actually filming.

Anne Lister’s diaries are the reason why her story can be told in such great detail.

For over 30 years she recorded over five million words, writing about her life in minute detail, with intimate details of her love life also written in a secret code.

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

Suranne had the chance to visit Halifax library and see one of the famous diaries.

She said: “They’re actually beautiful and they all have marble coverings.

“Sally and Anne Choma, who’s written the book that goes with the series and who’s a historical adviser, read the code with me from the actual diary.

“That was magical because it was like she was talking to us because if you read anyone’s diary it’s a very personal experience.”

Reading the diaries and filming at Anne’s home of Shibden Hall, Halifax enabled the cast to experience how the characters lived back in the 19th century.

“I got to read bits of the diary and it said ‘I was sitting in my sitting room’ and then we got to actually film in the sitting room she was talking about,” she said. “It was magical.”

The first episode of Gentleman Jack will appear on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday (May 19).

Read: Anne Lister: The woman who had a lesbian church ‘wedding’ – and whose diaries turned everything historians knew about sex on its head