Suranne Jones on Gentleman Jack – ‘There is a joyfulness about her love of women’

Suranne Jones on her thrill at playing a thoroughly modern real-life Regency heroine in BBC1 period drama Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones has made her name playing strong women. But powerful 19th century lesbian landowner Anne Lister in BBC1’s true-life drama Gentleman Jack is her most spirited and irrepressible character to date.

Penned and directed by Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey writer Sally Wainwright, the star-studded eight-part series, inspired by Anne’s coded diaries, explores how the shrewd businesswoman, who was dubbed ‘Gentleman Jack’ by her neighbours, romanced a string of woman including troubled but wealthy Ann Walker (Bodyguard’s Sophie Rundle).

Suranne Jones tells TV Times why she couldn’t say no to Gentleman Jack

TV Times: What do you love about playing Anne Lister?

Suranne Jones: “There’s so much to love! It feels really modern and fresh because she’s a woman in a man’s world. She’s a one-off character who is eccentric, unknowable, flawed, but true to herself.”

Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as Anne Lister and Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as Anne Lister and Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack

TVT: How do you see her relationship with Ann Walker?

SJ: “There is a joyfulness about her love of women but there is such sadness when her heart gets broken a lot. Their relationship is so up and down all the time, but they have beautiful scenes together where Anne is unguarded.”

TVT: What do you make of Anne’s distinctive style?

SJ: “Her top half is very male and every new cast member who saw me with my collars and top hat on went, ‘Wow!’ I like to rehearse dressed as her because I  hold myself differently. Other people’s performances change too because she and the costume are so imposing. She is unaware of people’s personal space too. I can see other actors thinking, ‘Why is nobody telling her she is very close?!’”

TVT: You worked with Sally on Unforgiven, Dead Clever and Scott & Bailey, have you enjoyed teaming up again?

SJ: “I wanted to work with Sally as a director because I’d only worked with her as a writer. She’s so clever. Sometimes she has to tell me, ‘That’s direct from the diary,’ because her writing is so seamless. I’ve had to somehow be a sponge to all of her 20 years of work on this.”

Gentleman Jack airs on Sunday 19 May on BBC1 at 9pm