‘It’s just the beginning…’ Why writer sally Wainwright is so proud of Gentleman Jack

TV Times (UK)
8 June 2019

Sally Wainwright is no stranger to writing hit shows, but she admits she’s bowled over by the response to her Sundaynight smash Gentleman Jack, which is the most-watched new BBC drama of the year so far. ‘It’s been absolutely wonderful,’ she smiles. ‘I’ve been working on the script for 20 years, so if people hadn’t got it, I don’t know how I’d have felt!’

The Happy Valley writer is so delighted that her passion project starring Suranne Jones has found its audience, that she’s already mapping out what to do in series two! Here, in an exclusive interview with TV Times, Sally, 54, tells us more…

Why did it take two decades to bring the story to screen?

I was an unknown writer when I first pitched Gentleman Jack, and even if it had been greenlit, it would only have got a very niche slot on BBC2 or C4. I think it’s amazing that there’s now a primetime Sunday-night drama about a gay woman. And the fact people have responded to it so warmly is total vindication for me.

A lot of people have likened the show to Fleabag because of Anne’s glances to camera. How do you feel about the comparison?

I love Fleabag, but I was breaking the fourth wall years ago! To me, it’s about that proximity to the diaries, about feeling like Anne is speaking to you. When Suranne turns to camera it’s so intimate and immediate – you know that she’s telling you a secret.

Why did you think Suranne was the perfect person to play Anne?

It’s her energy – she’s like an athlete! Anne was incredibly physically fit with mental stamina and so is Suranne – she’s got 1,001 ideas buzzing out of her head all the time. It was really exciting rehearsing with her.

You filmed at Shibden Hall, Anne Lister’s actual home. Did you sometimes feel like she was there with you?

All the time! We did it with such respect and affection, we felt like she was on our side. I did feel a touch on my shoulder one day; I turned round and there was nobody there, so maybe it was Anne!

Series two has been commissioned already – what can you tell us about it?

Once Anne Lister has a grip on you, she doesn’t let go. She’s become part of my life! There’s tons more extraordinary material – where we finish series one is really just the beginning…

And please tell us that the rumours are true about new series of Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax?

I definitely intend to do a third series of Happy Valley and we start filming new Last Tango… in September. I went for lunch with Derek [Jacobi] and Anne [Reid] a few weeks ago, and they’re thrilled we’re doing it again!