I attended the fascinating Ilkley Literature Festival event, Sally Wainwright and Ann Dinsdale in conversation with James Nash on Wednesday 19 April.
Attendees were shown a clip of the fabulous Walking Invisible and then James introduced Sally who is a writer, director and producer and Ann who has worked at the Bronte Museum for over 28 years. Sally grew up in Sowerby Bridge and read Wuthering Heights at 10. Ann grew up in Keighley and went on a school trip to the museum in the 1960s and had not heard of the Brontes before then. She had a similar dynamic as she came from a family of three sisters and one brother and at 11 she started to read Wuthering Heights.
The project for Walking Invisible became a joint thing and Sally felt the museum were generous with their approval. The BBC approached Sally 5 years ago to write a biopic on the Brontes to celebrate the bicentenary but given carte blanche, she was writing Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax at the same time. Knew the project would be in safe hands as they have known each other for 15 years and encouraged the production team to go to the parsonage. From January 2015 onwards they copied any drama prop they could and measured the parsonage to recreate it for authenticity. The actors stayed in Howarth and came to the parsonage and were showed pieces from the collection.
Ann saw a script early on, but it did change a bit, and went to a read through in Manchester.
The fact that it is in West Yorkshire means that you are going to get some stunning scenery and there is to be a new exhibition working with Simon Armitage.
Sally was conscious when she was writing the epic drama that the last 3 years of their lives, they were living with an alcoholic on a downward spiral - The Tennant of Wildfell Hall is massively about Branwell and there are alcoholics in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
When it came to accents, Charlotte and Patrick did retain their Irish accent, but Emily would have had a Yorkshire accent.
Filming involved closing the street for a week and Sally made it a priority to look at contemporary descriptions of them, e.g. Charlotte 4 foot 10, Emily 5 foot 6, as she used to lean or hide behind her sister and the Charlotte actress was particularly alike.
Adaptation of The Tennant of Wildfell Hall for the bicentenary and Sally is writing a new 8 part drama about Shibden Hall, Anne Lister.
The parsonage have 5 years of bicentenary festivals, Charlotte, Branwell, then Emily, then Patrick and in 2020, Anne's.
The floor was then opened up to questions which revealed: A sequel could be written for the rest of the Brontes after Branwell's death. The imaginary world of Gondal was hugely significant to their writing - 10,000 hours before they were 16. Larger than life Gothic background with Yorkshire characters. Sally felt that in the 2 hours she had to tell the story, real life leant itself to the dramatic structure but she had to drop a couple of sequences (it was originally 2 hours 15) which were fantasy scenes, James Norton as Napoleon andWellington and then James as Charlotte's fantasy hero leaning on an obelisk. They had built a classroom for this, so it was a shame, but as it didn't further the plot and just added texture, it had to go.
Ann sees Branwell as a victim as his Father was a hard act to follow. Sally has always been an Emily fan, but she now has more respect for Charlotte and Anne. Anne was the glue that held Charlotte and Emily together ass they were so opposite. To achieve the vibrancy, some shots were taken from a drone.
Ann loved Gaskell's book (a biographer who met Charlotte Bronte) and Sally thought it was a good read but did Patrick a disservice as he was an enlightened man to let his daughters read what they were reading.
When asked about the writing process, Sally said at the moment it was really hard work (reading the diaries of the person before writing the script), but a mix of easy and hard. Sally has advisers, literary for Walking Invisible and a police adviser for Happy Valley. She tried to get a police adviser on Scott and Bailey but she only got half an hour with a sergeant. She feels she can be more inventive with the Yorkshire accent, as you can nuance it more. Sally writes strong women but historically on TV characters were written by men, so only now getting great women writers. There are not enough women directors as it is changing very slowly on this. Sally did approach funders for the Walking Invisible project as a film. She wanted relatively unknown sisters and they would not do that with film. TV is getting more filmic and you can do more now.
Ann finished by saying there was a more natural selection process with which pieces from the collection to pick for the Branwell bicentenary, but not as much with Emily as not as many with a connection.
There was an opportunity to buy a copy of the DVD and meet Sally for a signing opportunity and I was lucky enough to take a selfie with her too. I may have fan-girled just a little bit.
The Ilkley Literature Festival 2017 takes place Friday 28 September - Sunday 15 October and tickets go on sale on 29 August.