Suranne Jones reveals set secrets of first episode of new BBC drama 'Gentleman Jack'

Greer McNally
Contributor

A period drama is never just a period drama, when it has exploded from the mind of BAFTA-winning writer Sally Wainwright. So, expect something a little different this Sunday night, when Gentleman Jack hits our screens, with the inimitable Suranne Jones in the lead.

Actress Suranne Jones poses for photographers on arrival at the 2019 BAFTA Television Awards in London, Sunday, May 12, 2019.(Photo by Grant Pollard/Invision/AP)

Ahead of the first episode Jones and Wainwright sat down and chatted about filming the series, which is based on the life of Anne Lister, who some have labelled the “first modern lesbian”, and filming at her family home, Shibden Hall.

Read more: Suranne Jones says actors are singled out when playing LGBT roles

The actress and writer have worked previously on hit legal drama Scott & Bailey and have a clear camaraderie. Both raved about making the series, which is a passion project, 15 years in the making, for Wainwright.

Lister ran Shibden Hall and didn’t let the conventions of the time hold her back. Jones explained how the physical aspects of the role – from driving a coach, to uprooting trees to striding across the countryside – meant that she actually found herself experiencing a high level of discomfort on set.

“Basically, you shouldn’t behave like Anne Lister behaves wearing a corset and I actually started to get welts,” she revealed. “Underneath all that costume is the corset and then we built on top – and the summer was very hot.

“Our designer Tom Pye, who is predominantly a theatre opera designer said his ballet dancers had power net corsets – so I said great. I want one of those. I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded great.”

Read more: Suranne Jones Wore Men's Underwear While Filming 'Gentleman Jack'

In Sunday night’s episode, watch out for the first scene with Suranne in which she drives a stagecoach. It looks like the coach is being pulled by horses, but in reality there was a Range Rover providing the power.

“I kind of just clambered up and down that carriage like it was my carriage,” said Jones. “For some reason I just got on with it. It felt like mine. I was like ‘give me the horse. Give me the whip. Let’s get on with it’.”

The scene wasn’t originally intended to play out as it does in the final cut. “I remember hearing,” Jones explained, “that the stunt woman had gone up the curb, which had been a mistake. But actually that was exactly how Sally wanted it.”

There was also meant to be even more livestock in the shot. But the one cow in the background was having none of it. “There was supposed to be a cow, but it ran off,” Sally Wainwright said.

Peaky Blinders’ Sophie Rundle and Games of Thrones’ Gemma Whelan also join the cast as well as Gemma Jones and Timothy West.

Watch the first episode of Gentleman Jack on Sunday night at 9pm on BBC One.