Gentleman Jack, a drama about a woman in 1800s England “who had a passion for life and a mind for business, and bucked society’s expectations at every turn,” according to HBO, starts April 22. Sally Wainwright created Gentleman Jack, not to be confused with the charcoal-mellowed Jack Daniel’s whiskey of the same name (80 proof!), and spoke to us about how the show came to be. She grew up in Halifax, England (between Manchester and Leeds, if you’re scoring at home), where the series takes place, and has long been interested in the iconoclastic woman, Anne Lister, at the center of it.
There is plenty about Lister that is interesting, much of it detailed in the book Female Fortune. She’s charming and fiercely intelligent. She’s a serious negotiator. She’s a lesbian at a time, and in a place, where it is not easy to be. She aims to make another woman, Ann, her wife. She kept loads of diaries, and wrote them in a secret code.
Wainwright said the journals weigh in at about 5 million words spread across 27 volumes. The diaries are kept in a temperature-controlled room at Halifax Library, and all 7,500 digitally photographed pages will be online soon.
“You can’t underestimate how big this journal is--it’s massive,” said Wainwright. “It’s a document of real significance.”
If Lister went through such pains to code her journals, and hide her innermost thoughts, what would she think of them being decoded and shared? “It’s a difficult one to answer,” said Wainwright. “I do believe she intended for her journals to live after she died. She was quite proud of them.”
Suranne Jones plays Lister. Sophie Rundle plays Ann. There are eight episodes. Gentleman Jack will air in the U.K. on BBC One.
Despite Gentleman Jack being an offbeat period piece, Wainwright said she had a relatively easy time shopping the show to prospective network partners. “It’s been a really good experience,” she said. “We were left to get on with it, in the way we wanted to do it.”
Wainwright’s writing process was, spend a month transcribing a journal, then a month penning the script.
The show is shot at Shibden Hall, the 600-year-old West Yorkshire estate where Lister grew up. “It was a really magical experience,” said Wainwright.
Another series about a woman with a mind for business who was OK with bucking society’s expectations starts on Telemundo. It is season two of La Reina Del Sur, beginning April 22.
The sophomore season lands a full eight years after season one did. The first season of La Reina, about a female drug dealer taking on a variety of fearsome foes, was the most successful show in Telemundo history, according to the network. Kate del Castillo plays kingpin Teresa Mendoza. The show was inspired by a novel with the same name, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, who created the series.
Why eight years between seasons? “Arturo Perez-Reverte and Roberto Stopello took some time to develop the continuation of the story and we worked alongside them with a lot of dedication to their adaptation,” said Marcos Santana, exec producer and showrunner.
The new season shot in eight countries. “The project was very complex and expensive,” added Santana.