The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
"I've never seen a more affectionate letter!"

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

Made for the BBC and broadcast in 2010, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister stars Maxine Peake as Anne, Christine Bottomley as Ann, Anna Madeley[1] as Mariana and Susan Lynch as Isabella Norcliffe. Gemma Jones plays Aunt Anne, as she does in GJ.

Although some external shots were filmed at Shibden, the interior Hall scenes were mostly filmed at Oakwell Hall (less than 10 miles away). The "Manchester" shots were quite obviously filmed in York: the Minster can be seen in the background.[2]

The film covers Anne's life from about 1815, just before Mariana's marriage, until 1834 when Ann has moved into Shibden. Anne's infatuation with Miss Brown[3] is dealt with in detail, as are her relationships with Isabella and Mariana. Ann's role is relatively small.

None of Anne's foreign travel is covered, so there is no mention of Mrs Barlow or Vere Hobart. There's also no Marian or Captain Lister - after uncle James' death Anne and her aunt seem to be the only occupants of Shibden Hall.

The film opens with a house party at the Priestleys, with Anne, some of the Belcombe sisters, Isabella and Charles Lawton. I think the house is Haugh End, and the Priestleys are Mr John Priestley and Ann's aunt Elizabeth,[4] who asserts "nature was in an odd freak" (when she made Anne); it was actually the non-appearing Eliza ("you're playing with fire!") Priestley who said this. Charles Lawton is there so that one of the Belcombe girls can be married off to him - although we don't know if he was ever present at such a party.[5]

Anne's trip to Manchester to see Mariana in 1819 is covered, although in the film Charles Lawton is at the Albion[6] when she arrives; in reality Mariana was travelling with her mother, sister Nantz and their nephew. It is here that Anne tells Mariana that "no-one had ever given me kisses like hers", rather than in the film's first scene.

We also get Blackstone Edge[7] (but not Scarborough), although in the film the incident happens after the death of Anne's uncle (1826). It actually happened in 1823.

The rivalry between Anne and Christopher Rawson over coal is covered in much the same way as in GJ, except that Anne is threated with violence by Rawson,[8] rather than actually being beaten up. Bizarrely, Christopher Rawson asks Anne to marry him - despite being already married in real life. We also see Rawson humiliated by Anne towards the end of the film: he's overstretched himself and offers one of his pits to Anne - she tells hime where he can stick it.

The depiction of Anne's courtship of Ann is brief - considering how much effort the real Anne put into it. No moss hut. They don't get physical until after Ann has moved in to Shibden.

In the final scene Anne rejects Mariana's last-ditch attempt to get her to take her back: the diaries do relate attempts by Mariana to tempt Anne back to her even after Ann has moved in with Anne, but overall it seems that Mariana was reconciled to the relationship and also liked Ann.

The DVD is readily available on eBay & Amazon: I really like the film and think it's worth watching to get an incomplete but not-too-inaccurate idea of Anne's life before 1832. I thought Maxine Peake and Susan Lynch particularly good. The BBC DVD includes Sue Perkins' Revealing Anne Lister.

[1] Is it just me, or does Anna Madeley look like Lydia Leonard?
[2] The outside of jeweller's where Anne & Mariana buy their engagement rings, and Anne walks past on her way to the Albany Hotel, is in Precentor's Court - where the very last scene of Gentleman Jack was shot.
[3] In the film Anne meets Miss Brown at church; she actually met her at a lecture in Halifax.
[4] At one point Anne says: "We were saddened to hear of your nephew, Mrs Priestley". Ann's brother John - Mrs Priestley's nephew - had died in Italy.
[5] The Belcombes almost certainly already knew Charles Lawton through his first wife (see here).
[6] The Albany Hotel was demolished in 1928.
[7] "Blackstone Edge", aka "the three steps", is the incident when Anne walks ten miles from Shibden to meet Mariana's coach on its way to York. The dishevelled Anne leaping into the coach horrified Mariana.
[8] The scene was filmed in Chapter House Street, York - the same street where GJ's "Black Swan" was located (episode 4).
Page updated 13-Oct-2020
This page intentionally left blank