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Suranne Jones says Anne Lister ranks ‘top’ in list of characters she has played

Suranne Jones reprises her role as Anne Lister in the second series of historical drama Gentleman Jack (BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks/PA)
Suranne Jones reprises her role as Anne Lister in the second series of historical drama Gentleman Jack (BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks/PA)

Actress Suranne Jones has said diarist Anne Lister ranks “top” in the list of characters she has played during her career.

Award-winning historical drama Gentleman Jack is returning for another eight episodes on April 10 after a successful first run on BBC One.

Jones plays Regency landowner Lister, of Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire, who is regarded as the “first modern lesbian”.

Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones meets fans as she arrives for the screening of Gentleman Jack at the Piece Hall in Halifax (Danny Lawson/PA)

The TV show, created by Sally Wainwright, is a dramatisation based on Lister’s diaries, which were part-written in a cryptic code.

The first episode of the new series was shown at a screening event at the Piece Hall in Halifax on Tuesday.

Speaking on the red carpet ahead of the screening, Jones said: “I’ve played a lot of interesting parts, but what’s wonderful about playing a real person is you’ve got a wealth of wonderful research at your fingertips, and there’s five million words of a diary that Sally’s team is unravelling and decoding, and I think that has just been an absolute joy.

“To delve into someone and to put my spin on a character and bring her to life has been wonderful.”

Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones said diarist Anne Lister ranks ‘top’ in the list of characters she has played during her career (BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Sam Taylor/PA)

Series one followed Lister’s life as she inherited her uncle’s fading estate, Shibden Hall, which she attempted to restore while beginning a romance with Ann Walker, played by Sophie Rundle.

The forthcoming episodes will pick up in Yorkshire in 1834 as all eyes turn to Lister and Walker as they set up home together at Shibden Hall as wife and wife, determined to combine their estates and become a power couple.

Jones told the PA news agency: “It took us a year to make. Three years ago we started it and the fans have just kept the buzz going for us, which has been wonderful.

Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones (right) as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack (BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks/PA)

“We have a great relationship with our fans and they’re dying to see it and we’re just dying to get it out there.

“I guess you never know whether something’s going to be a hit the way that this has, but we have a statue of Anne Lister in the Piece Hall now, we’ve got the plaques up at the place they got married, there’s a college named after Anne Lister.

“It’s been wonderful, grabbing these women from history and celebrating their life, and the way Sally’s done it, it’s in such a punk rock period drama – it just feels very different to what else is on the telly and I’m really proud to be part of it.”

Creator, writer and executive producer Wainwright said the response to the first series had been “phenomenal”.

Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones said she is ‘really proud’ to be part of telling Anne Lister’s story (BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks/PA)

She told PA: “I think for gay women to realise that they’ve got history, and that Anne Lister has been there and done it all 200 years ago.

“I think most people who saw the first series just did not know she existed, so I think it’s been a real energising experience for them to realise that this fantastic woman lived 200 years ago and was so true to who she was, and lived her life so openly and freely and with such charisma and intelligence, and panache.”

Wainwright said of series two:, “They’re now conspicuously living as a married couple at Shibden Hall and so season two is really about the ups and downs of the marriage and how they negotiate their way through polite society.”

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