The county’s landscape is a screenwriter’s dream. Hannah Bryan looks at the recent dramas, series and films that have cast the spotlight on Yorkshire.
With her perfectly preened hair, manicured nails and glamorous red lips, Catherine Zeta-Jones may look more at home on the red carpet than the windswept streets of Bridlington. You’d also be forgiven for doing a double-take after spotting Drew Barrymore standing atop the iconic Cow and Calf Rocks on Ilkley Moor, or gawping as Rupert Everett strolls down the streets of Hull. But celeb spotting is no rare thing in Yorkshire.
The county’s landscape is fast becoming a magnet for movie-makers, lured by the eclectic mix of rolling countryside, spectacular coastlines, impressive stately homes and contemporary cities. Recent months have seen a wealth of Hollywood superstars take to Yorkshire, with the big-screen adaptation of the classic British comedy, Dad’s Army, bringing the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Toby Jones and Blake Harrison to the county.
For seven weeks, the cast and crew of the big-budget production shone the spotlight on East Yorkshire, transforming Bridlington’s Old Town into the fictional Walmington-on-Sea, while the imposing white cliffs of North Landing, at the nearby Flamborough Head, formed the backdrop for Walmington beach. Scarborough, Beverley, Loftus, Pickering, Leeds and Helmsley also play a starring role in the film.
“We had a wonderful experience shooting Dad’s Army in Yorkshire. Its stunning locations give the film an epic scale and the people were beyond helpful,” says the film’s Bafta winning producer, Damian Jones, whose credits include The Iron Lady and The History Boys.
Not content with providing the setting for fictional towns, Yorkshire has even doubled up for other parts of the world – including Switzerland, for The Hunter’s Prayer. The $25m blockbuster was shot almost exclusively in Yorkshire, with actors Sam Worthington, Martin Compston and Odeya Rush filming scenes across a mix of urban and rural locations, including Leeds, Helmsley and Scarborough, as well as the pretty streets of Harrogate, which doubled up for Switzerland.
Richard Knight, Head of Production at the county’s regional screen agency, Screen Yorkshire, says: “I did some early scouting in Yorkshire, and I was slightly worried that the crew wouldn’t quite get everything they needed. But I was completely bowled over by what they were able to do. Yorkshire just doubled up for other places and they went away loving the place. If they go back to the USA praising Yorkshire, that is the best currency you can get.”
Urban locations in Hull have stood in for East London and Amsterdam in ID2 – the sequel to the cult 1990s football hooligan drama, ID – while Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, takes centre stage in the big-screen adaptation of the Arthur Ransom classic, Swallows and Amazons, and Ilkley Moor features in the Hollywood blockbuster Miss You Already, featuring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette.
Meanwhile, Hollywood stars Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Alex Sharp descend on Sheffield for the sci-fi romance, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, while West Yorkshire also plays a starring role in the horror-thriller, The Limehouse Golem, featuring Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth. For the British comedy-drama, A Royal Night Out, starring Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Rupert Everett and Emily Watson, the centre of Hull was transformed into 1940s London, with Hull City Hall masquerading as the Ritz Hotel, and Alfred Gelder Street for London’s Piccadilly.
“Hull City Council were amazing – they were so film friendly and gave us fantastic access to city centre locations. Without Hull I do not think that film would have been made, as they couldn’t find the right location without closing the centre of London for filming,” says Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire. “We are going through the renaissance of the region’s screen industry. Yorkshire is the biggest county in the UK and it needs a really strong voice for its screen industries. In Yorkshire you can do pretty much whatever you want within a 30 to 40 mile radius. Really there is everything here but the desert and the Norwegian Fjords - because of that it is very cost effective.”
Since 2012, Screen Yorkshire has been responsible for bringing around 30 new productions to the county for both the big and small screen, while the recent transformation of a former RAF base in Church Fenton, between Leeds and York, into a 440-acre studio has also helped to cement Yorkshire’s position at the forefront of the burgeoning British film industry. The venue’s first production, Victoria, is set to hit our screens this year after a mammoth seven-month shoot. Billed by some as the new Downton Abbey, the ambitious eight-part ITV drama series stars Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman and follows the early life of Queen Victoria, from her ascension to the throne at the tender age of 18, through to her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert.
Recent years have also seen an increasing number of television producers recognising the diverse locations and experienced crew Yorkshire has to offer - Kay Mellor’s BBC drama, The Syndicate, was filmed at various locations around the county, as was Sally Wainwright’s gritty crime series, Happy Valley, starring Sarah Lancashire.
And 2016 will be no different, with Yorkshire featuring in upcoming television dramas like ITV’s Dark Angel, starring Downton Abbey star, Joanne Froggatt, and Jericho, a big-budget, eightpart series following a community of pioneers, settlers and outcasts who battle to build the iconic viaduct at Ribblehead, near Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales. Meanwhile, the extraordinary story of West Yorkshire’s Brontë sisters will also be brought to life in Sally Wainwright’s To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, later this year, while the new series of Kay Mellor’s BBC One drama, In The Club, shines the light on Leeds.
Skeldale Veterinary Centre, in Thirsk, also finds itself in the spotlight once again as the second series of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet airs in April. The documentary, which attracted around 1.5 million viewers, followed the lives of Yorkshire vets Julian Norton and Peter Wright as they tend to all creatures great and small. “Over the last ten years, there has been so much stuff to come out of Yorkshire,” says Screen Yorkshire’s Richard Knight.
“We need to make hay while the sun shines - that just takes investment and the will to do it. And the will is definitely out there, both with our partner agencies and with the fantastic people of Yorkshire.”