Why Yorkshire’s diverse landscape attracts filmmakers from across the world

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 October 2018

Castle Howard, location for Brideshead Revisited among other productions

Castle Howard, location for Brideshead Revisited among other productions

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From Hollywood blockbusters to local dramas, Sam Twyman from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust explores the most iconic uses of Yorkshire in film


Yorkshire is unique in British cinema and has a voice like no other. While the latest spaceship is being spun around and covered in smoke at Pinewood studios, the films set in Yorkshire are always about people. Authentic with a true beating heart, they offer the chance for people around the world to connect with the many voices of Yorkshire.

In 1997, a small low budget comedy set in a deprived area of Sheffield became an international box office success. Starring Robert Carlyle, The Full Monty tells the story of six unemployed men who decide to form a male striptease act. Dealing with mature subjects like suicide, parental rights and same-sex couples, the post-industrial areas of Sheffield are the perfect backdrop for these unlikely lads to find redemption.

Echoing a similar theme, 2003’s Calendar Girls starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters also features an unlikely group baring all. Shot in the picturesque village of Kettlewell in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, it focuses on a community of older women who create a nude calendar to raise money for charity. An incredibly funny and moving real-life story, this film has inspired countless stage productions, musicals and charity calendars. Like The Full Monty, it showcases Yorkshire’s community spirit and what people will do to help and support each other in times of need.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is so grateful for that community spirit. We have hundreds of volunteers helping us all year round, for example, enabling us to deliver nature and wildlife projects for everyone to enjoy. Our calendars tend to feature animal rather than people, though.

Aysgarth Falls, location for Robin Hood Prince of ThievesAysgarth Falls, location for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

With a rich history of social commentary, the films of Yorkshire have often become classics of British independent cinema. From football dramas such as When Saturday Comes (1996) and The Damned United (2009), to comedies like A Private Function (1984) and Rita Sue and Bob Too (1987), all these films have a strong local identity. Ken Loach’s landmark film Kes (1969) is set in the coal mining area of Barnsley. To escape his hard life, a young boy befriends a wild bird; a kestrel. Through this unlikely friendship and connection with nature, Billy’s outlook changes. Shot in and around Lundwood, Barnsley and Hoywood, many of the film’s original locations have been redeveloped or de-industrialised. Luckily, there are still opportunities to spot a wild kestrel – particularly in areas with rough grassland. Nature reserves such as Wheldrake Ings near York, and Potteric Carr in Doncaster are two great spots to encounter them.

But it’s not just local dramas that Yorkshire has featured in. The very first reel of film shot for Harry Potter was at Goathland Station on the North York Moors Railway between Whitby and Pickering. A beautiful heritage site, it was perfect for Hogsmeade; the station serving Hogwarts. The crew then returned to Yorkshire 10 years later to film The Deathly Hallows, when Harry and Hermione must hide from the Lord Voldemort in a rocky encampment. Malham Cove was chosen for this dramatic scene because of its incredible natural limestone formation. The 70m high, curved cliff is a wonderful attraction for walkers and is home to a pair of nesting peregrine falcons. You can also see peregrines at Scarborough Castle, and the antics of York Minster’s resident pair can even be followed on their own Twitter account (@YorkPeregrines).

Another natural location popular with Hollywood producers is Aysgarth Falls near Leyburn. You might recognise the location from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991), when Robin fights with Little John in the river. Wild and wooded, the large natural rock shelf over which the waterfall flows is the perfect stage for the scene.

Another iconic natural area is the North York Moors, and no telling of Wuthering Heights would be complete without featuring this majestic landscape. It appears in countless film and TV adaptations; most recently a 2011 version supported through the Screen Yorkshire’s Fund. Dramatic, moody and drenched in mist, the Yorkshire landscape was described by the film’s cinematographer Robbie Ryan as ‘another character’ and ‘as important as Heathcliff’. Filmed exclusively across Yorkshire, the locations for this production also included Thwaite, Cotescue Park, Coverham, Thrushcross Grange, Moor Close Farm, Muker and Swaledale.

Robin Hood's Bay, location for the 2017 Daniel Day-Lewis film Phantom ThreadRobin Hood's Bay, location for the 2017 Daniel Day-Lewis film Phantom Thread

Lying just north of York is the magnificent Castle Howard. This baroque stately home from the 18th century is an excellent visitor attraction, and perfect for film and TV buffs who revel in spotting parts of their favourite period dramas. In 1975, Stanley Kubrick (who famously researched every possibility for his films) chose it as the location for the countess’ extravagant estate in Barry Lyndon. It also features in the Sophia Loren film Lady L (1965) and the TV adaptations of Brideshead Revisited (1981/2008) and Death Comes To Pemberley (2003).

The recent Daniel Day Lewis film, Phantom Thread (2017), explores the toxic relationship between a dressmaker and his muse in the mid-1950s. Featuring the iconic coastline at Robin Hood’s Bay, with unbroken views stretching for miles, it’s like watching a beautiful painting. Also used in key scenes in the movie is the Victoria Hotel, which stands proudly above the clifftops near Whitby. You can visit the hotel, sit where the characters sat and enjoy the same beautiful view over the sea. Some hotel staff were even hired as extras, so you may learn some insider gossip as well.

I can think of no better way to explore this coastline than the many boat trips organised by Yorkshire Coast Nature, Real Staithes and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust every autumn. The voyages embark from Staithes, a beautiful fishing village that also features in Phantom Thread. With luck, you may see minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, bottle-nosed dolphins and even the occasional humpback whale. If that’s not film-worthy then I don’t know what is…

Wherever you look in Yorkshire, there is something to inspire you. No wonder countless films have been shot here. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust works hard to ensure that our natural spaces remain intact for future generations to enjoy. Who knows what the filmmakers of tomorrow will make here next?

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