Last Tango in Halifax creator to pen new lesbian period drama

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Last Tango in Halifax creator Sally Wainwright is penning a new big-budget lesbian period drama for HBO.

Wainwright is the creator of a string of successful series including To Walk Invisible, Last Tango In Halifax and Happy Valley.

It was announced today that she will pen a new drama, commissioned as part of a partnership between US network HBO and the BBC.

The eight-episode drama Shibden Hall is set in West Yorkshire in 1832, and tells the story of a historical lesbian figure, landowner Anne Lister.

A release explains: “Charismatic, single-minded, swashbuckling Anne Lister – who walked like a man, dressed head-to-foot in black, and charmed her way into high society – has no intention of marrying a man.

“True to her own nature, she plans to marry a woman. And not just any woman: the woman Anne Lister marries must be seriously wealthy.

“Every part of Anne’s story is based in historical fact, recorded in the four million words of her diaries that contain the most intimate details of her life, once hidden in a secret code that is now broken.”

It adds: “The drama will explore Anne Lister’s relationships at home with her family, her servants, her tenants, and her industrial rivals, who will use any dirty tricks they can to bring her down. At its heart is her relationship with her would-be wife, the wealthy heiress Ann Walker.”

Sally Wainwright, the show’s creator, writer and director, explained: “Anne Lister is a gift to a dramatist. She is one of the most exuberant, thrilling and brilliant women in British history, and I can’t wait to celebrate her.

“Landowner, industrialist, traveler, mountaineer, scholar, would-be brain surgeon and prolific diarist, Anne returns from years of travel to her ancestral home, determined to restore it to its former glory, and determined to marry Ann Walker.

“It’s a beautifully rich, complicated, surprising love story. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfillment of an ambition I’ve had for twenty years. Shibden Hall is a place I have known and loved since I was a child.

“I’m also delighted to be working with Faith Penhale again and the wonderful team at Lookout Point after our collaboration on To Walk Invisible, and of course thrilled to be working with the BBC and HBO.”

Faith Penhale, Lookout Point Executive Producer, said: “This is an extraordinary story about a remarkable woman. We’re in early 19th Century Yorkshire and here is an independent, land-owning, industrialist recording in her diary her own civil partnership with a neighbouring heiress.

“I can’t wait for Sally to bring Anne Lister, with all her wit and warmth and unpredictability, to life for BBC One and HBO. And it’s a joy to be working together with Sally again after our wonderful collaboration on To Walk Invisible last year.”

Piers Wenger, Controller BBC Drama Commissioning, said: “The originality and ambition of the writing in Shibden Hall is Sally Wainwright at her boldest and best. In dramatising the life and loves of Anne Lister, Sally might just have found her most complex and uncompromising female character yet and I’m so proud that they will be making their home BBC One.”

The cast has not yet been announced, but the show will begin shooting next year.

It’s not Wainwright’s first depiction of lesbian characters.

The creator featured lesbian couple Caroline and Kate on Last Tango in Halifax, though there was a strong fan backlash when one of the pair was killed off.

The writer later said the plot twist was a “mistake” after learning about the “extraordinary numbers of lesbian characters [that] end up being killed off” in the TV world.

Of the criticism, she said: “I found it hard and I regretted it. I do think I made a mistake. I wished I had found a better story.”

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