Everything you need to know about the BBC One Halifax-based drama Gentleman Jack

We take a look at the new drama Gentleman Jack starring Suranne Jones.

Suranne Jones stars in Gentleman Jack.
Suranne Jones stars in Gentleman Jack.

When's it on? Sunday, BBC One, 9pm

What is it? New period drama from Happy Valley writer Sally Wainwright based on the secret diaries of controversial figure Anne Lister.

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What’s the story? Halifax, 1832. Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) returns from Hastings to Shibden Hall, having discovered that her would-be companion and lover, the aristocratic Vere Hobart (Jodhi May), has accepted a marriage proposal from a man.

Hang on isn’t that a bit, um, modern? Yes, in fact Anne Lister has been described as the first modern lesbian.

What happens next? Despite her affection for her elderly aunt (Gemma Jones), Anne is frustrated by the shabbiness of her ancestral home and finds her father (Timothy West) and long-suffering sister (Gemma Whelan) difficult to live with. A visit from her ex-lover Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard) compounds Anne’s fear that she is destined to be alone.

A woman in a man’s world However, when Anne discovers that her land is rich in coal, her plans to transform the estate soon provide a welcome distraction from her broken heart. On the neighbouring estate, Crow Nest, shy heiress Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is quietly delighted to hear that charismatic Anne Lister is back.

What else is going on? Meanwhile, Anne’s servants and tenants have problems of their own. A hit-and-run accident on Shibden land puts a child’s life at risk, and Anne’s French maid Eugénie finds herself in trouble.

Is It set in Halifax, West Yorkshire? Yes, and in fact the series was shot on location at the real life Shibden Hall (which is open to the public) and in the surrounding area.

What were these Diaries? Lister’s diaries were a mind-boggling four million words long. But what’s even more fascinating is a sixth of it was written in a secret code that has now been cracked. Hidden within the pages were the most intimate details of her life, including her describing the sex she had with women.

Star Suranne Jones says: “She was so convinced that she wanted a relationship in the same way that she looked at straight relationships; she wanted a marriage, she wanted to live with a woman, she wanted all the things that a straight relationship could bring her, and find happiness in that, and she didn’t veer from that in any way,”