Sally Wainwright & Suranne Jones on “Gentleman Jack”

HBO’s “Gentleman Jack” has joined the ranks of English period dramas like “The Crown” and “Downtown Abbey”- but with a twist. It showcases the life of Anne Lister, a 19th century businesswoman who defies the era’s stereotypes by following her heart and marrying a woman. Actress Suranne Jones and writer/director Sally Wainright join the program to discuss their groundbreaking new series.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What made you choose this particular topic? How did you even know about the famous or infamous Anne Lister?

SALLY WAINWRIGHT, WRITER AND DIRECTOR, “GENTLEMAN JACK”: Well, I grew up in Halifax, which is where the drama is set and where Shibden Hall is. And I used to visit Shibden Hall a lot as a child and there was never any mention of Anne Lister. It’s like she was a bit of a secret for a long time. And I was amazed that I had grown up in this area that I knew Shibden Hall really well and I knew nothing about this extraordinary woman.

AMANPOUR: Isn’t that because she was a lesbian and she had these amazing life and people didn’t talk about it for some reason, even until recently?

WAINWRIGHT: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. She was hidden away because of her sexuality. And obviously, times have changed and we now live in a world where we can talk about these things. But she’s kind of still being discovered. You know, she’s still be — she should be world-famous and I hope she will be very soon, but she’s — you know, we’re still getting there with Anne Lister. And, you now, of course, she’s most famous for her journal, her huge diary, the 27 volumes, the 5 million words of the journal. Most of which is yet to be transcribed.

AMANPOUR: Suranne Jones —


AMANPOUR: — what did you think when you were asked to portray this really dashing, charismatic, amusing woman who made no bones about — I mean, she obviously didn’t talk about her sexuality, but she dressed like a man and yet, she was also — you know, she had a real feminine streak as well.

JONES: Well, first of all, I’m 40, Anne Lister is 41. So, for a 40-year- old actress to find a character like this that is full bodied, three dimensional and complex was an absolute gift. And I think only Sally could have written this the way it’s been written. It’s funny, it’s human, it’s courageous, it’s vulnerable at times, it’s all the things that Anne Lister is. And Sal manages to weave the story of her being an industrialist at the time of the industrial revolution, of her being an astute businesswoman, let alone all that before we come to her sexuality. It’s — there’s a beautiful complex coming out story with her and Walker, played by the brilliant Sophie Rundle.

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Christiane Amanpour speaks with Mariana Mazzucato about the Green New Deal; Sally Wainwright & Suranne Jones about “Gentleman Jack;” and John Oschendorf about the key to repairing Notre Dame. Walter Isaacson speaks with Ray Dalio, who manages the world’s most successful hedge fund, about the widening wealth gap.