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Sally Wainwright - Gentleman Jack writer looks forward to the second series

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 July 2019

Suranne Jones as the formidable and eccentric Anne Lister  in Gentleman Jack (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Aimee Spinks

Suranne Jones as the formidable and eccentric Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Aimee Spinks

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Sassy Yorkshire-based period drama Gentleman Jack has proved such a hit that it'll be back for a second series. Susan Griffin caught up with its writer Sally Wainwright.

Sally Wainwright  directing on the Gentleman Jack set (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Ben BlackallSally Wainwright directing on the Gentleman Jack set (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Sally Wainwright has certainly done her bit to shine a light on her home county of Yorkshire.

Usually fearless females are at the heart of her work, and none more so than the Anne Lister, played by Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack, the drama which has drawn in millions of viewers and earned a second series.

'I was amused to see there was a guided tour of some of the locations used in my shows. I thought it was hilarious but brilliant,' says the Bafta-winning writer who notably penned Happy Valley and Last Tango In Halifax.

She's thrilled by the prospect of another Gentleman Jack series but confesses she doesn't watch much television these days.

Sally Wainwright on set with Sophie Rundle who plays Ann Walker  (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Matt SquireSally Wainwright on set with Sophie Rundle who plays Ann Walker (C) Lookout Point/HBO - Photographer: Matt Squire

'One of the downsides of being a TV writer is you know too much about how telly's made, but I think it's exciting TV's become so global. A few years ago, people thought telly was dead because of the boxset but we'll always love being told stories, and people in film now want to get into telly. We were regarded as the poor relatives for so bloody long and now we're the sexy relatives.'

She loves working with quality actors and it's why she's worked with Suranne Jones on Unforgiven, Scott and Bailey, and most recently Gentleman Jack.

Suranne has been wonderfully swaggering and eccentric in her portrayal of lesbian Anne Lister, owner of Shibden Hall who embarked on a relationship with the heiress Ann Walker in 1832.

'I find a lot of period drama these days a bit formulaic and po-faced; a lot of it is humourless and worthy and Anne Lister was neither. She had this extraordinary energy and was so far ahead in the way she responded to her homosexuality,' says Sally.

Anne's diaries ('a stream of consciousness' largely written in code) had to be painstakingly transcribed.

'I had to raise my game a thousand-fold to reflect how truly clever Anne was'. says Sally. 'But the other thing that became apparent to me was that she had a healthy opinion of herself and I don't mean that in a pejorative way, I find it inspiring.'

Sally loved filming at Shibden Hall in Halifax. As a director, she wanted to showcase 'the magical, wonderful old building'.

'I was taken there a lot as a child. It always felt like the Listers had just popped out and were coming back', says Sally, who divides her time between homes in Yorkshire and Oxfordshire.

When writing, Sally tends to start work at 3 or 4 in the morning, 'and if I can work through to 9am, I can get so much done. I just think it's easier to concentrate then.'

But her characters are a constant presence.

'I've just been to see my doctor and she's told me I've got obsessive compulsive disorder, so I'm obviously obsessive compulsive about my characters. But I love living inside my head with these mad people.'

She's excited at what's next for Anne Lister now a second of Gentleman Jack has been confirmed.

'There's so much fantastic material in the diaries that will make extraordinary television,' says Sally who admits her protagonist is constant source of inspiration.

'When I'm feeling low, I think what would Anne Lister do? The series has a special place in my heart. However well dramas do, I put the same amount of effort into them. They're like my children really.' 

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