You might think that Drew Barrymore would be more at home in the Hollywood Hills than on the Yorkshire Moors. Yet here she is, standing on the famous Cow and Calf Rocks outside the market town of Ilkley, rain lashing down from the sort of apocalyptic sky that God's own county does so well.
Barrymore and co-star Toni Collette are in a pivotal scene in their new movie Miss You Already, which went on general release last week. It's a heartbreaking yet uplifting story of friendship, love and loss – and thanks to a vital plot point in which Barrymore and Collette take a drunken taxi ride north to deliver some home truths to each other amid the startling West Yorkshire landscape and a flock of sheep, Miss You Already is being chalked up as another success for the White Rose county's bid to become nothing less than the Hollywood of the UK.
Titter ye not. It's true and it's thanks to various factors, chief among them the double whammy of an aggressively proactive investment body in the shape of Screen Yorkshire and the designation of one of the region's biggest conurbations, Bradford, as the first Unesco City of Film in 2009. (It beat Los Angeles, Venice and Cannes to the honour.)
Thanks to the work of both of those bodies, a huge number of the hit television shows and British films of recent times have been shot, partly or wholly, in Yorkshire. The BBC's An Inspector Calls, shown earlier this month, is perhaps an obvious one as it's based on a play by one of Bradford's most famous sons, J B Priestley. But there's also the recent Sunday-night serial Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; Andrea Arnold's 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights; and Bill, the current family comedy by the Horrible Histories team based (very loosely) on Shakespeare's life.
The versatile Yorkshire landscape has doubled up for other parts of the country as well – notably Cornwall in last year's small-screen version of Jamaica Inn and the Midlands in Peaky Blinders – and there are more big-screen productions set to carry the “Made in Yorkshire” tag; the cinema version of Dad's Army, for example, The Hunter's Prayer starring Sam Worthington, and an adaptation of Arthur Ransom's classic Swallows and Amazons, featuring Sherlock's Moriarty, Andrew Scott.
Sally Joynson is the chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, which was set up in 2002 as part of the national network of regional film agencies. That came to an end in 2011 and Screen Yorkshire – then “three people and a pot plant,” says Joynson – rebuilt itself with a new raison d'être: not just promoting the region as a potential location, but investing in productions. It now does this with £15m of funding from the European Regional Development Fund – but it's not just about tossing grants hither and thither. Says Joynson: “We put in finance on a commercial basis, and look to recoup that through profits. And for anything we put in, we organise match-funding from the private sector.”
Joynson firmly believes film-making in Yorkshire is going through a “real renaissance” and says: “We have invested in 30 productions, and the vast majority would not have come to Yorkshire without us.” And key to the future is a 440-acre studio site opened this summer on a former airfield in Church Fenton, between Leeds and York. “We were turning away work because we didn't have the studio space for production companies, she explains.
Yorkshire's strength is its versatility, says Joynson. “We're much more than stone walls and sheep,” she continues. “We have the coast, the moors and urban locations. As well as people filming in Yorkshire for itself, we've had Hull double up for London in A Royal Night Out and Harrogate for Switzerland in The Hunter's Prayer.”
While Screen Yorkshire is a region-wide body, of course, it is Bradford that does seem to be becoming one of the major hubs. It has a long heritage of film – it is, after all, the home of the National Media Museum, a superb resource with its own Imax screen and invaluable exhibits from the history of film, television and photography – and an influential champion in its former head Amanda Nevill, now chief executive of the British Film Institute.
Nevill – who was born and raised in Yorkshire, and still has family and a home there – says the BFI is working hard to both bring foreign film-makers into Britain and its regions, and to develop home-grown talent. The tax breaks for film-making are proving very attractive, she says, as is the fact that Britain has the infrastructure and, yes, comfort appeal for foreign studios. “British crew is now considered the best in the world,” she says, “so it's not difficult for studios to persuade their stars to come and stay in the UK for filming.
“We are making sure that talent finds its way into the industry. When I was growing up in a village in Yorkshire, it seemed fantastical to even think of working in a career in film. But there's talent everywhere and we need to find it wherever it is, whether that's in Wigan or Bradford or anywhere.”
Now the City of Film team works with the University of Bradford and Bradford College on film studies and training, and runs its own training courses as well. Even children from primary school age are given opportunities. Not that anyone should be surprised. As early as 1914, films were being made in Bradford (notably the first instalments in a series based on the Captain Kettle books by C J Cutliffe Hyne). And since then, the city and its environs have played a part in some high points of cinematic history.
Meanwhile, the investment in Yorkshire is providing concrete business opportunities for local companies. Film producer David Wilson says: “There are the locations, of course, and the extras. But if you look on the credits of a film like Miss You Already there are something like 40 electricians – and these are opportunities that local companies can grab. Film production companies need catering, they need transport, hotels, costumes… anything you can think of.
“Those sheep on Ilkley Moor with Drew Barrymore? They were provided by a local man, Nigel Launder. He's a farmer, but he's built up this nice sideline of providing services to film production companies. These are the sort of opportunities local companies and businesses need to grab hold of.” No wonder Hollywood is, ahem, flocking here.
MADE IN YORKSHIRE
The Railway Children
Jenny Agutter famously waving her red bloomers was shot on the Keighley and Worth Valley line, which still runs steam trains for tourists.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too
The bleakly hilarious tale of life in inner-city Bradford was written by local girl Andrea Dunbar, whose life was as tragic as her work.
The 1979 Second World War epic featured Richard Gere also climbing on board a train on the Keighley and Worth Valley railway… No red bloomers in sight, but plenty of hankies for this weepy.
Written by and starring Victoria Wood, this 2006 ITV drama about a Second World War diarist was shot in Huddersfield and – you've guessed it – the Keighley and Worth Valley railway.
LA Without a Map
Early film outing for David Tennant, in 1998, which used Bradford's imposing Undercliffe cemetery as a backdrop. Johnny Depp also starred but only in the LA portions.
Testament of Youth
The 2015 adaptation of Vera Brittain's First World War memoir was shot around York, Doncaster, Bradford and Leeds.
This summer's Sheridan Smith vehicle, a gripping psychological drama, was filmed in Leeds.
Downton's Joanne Froggatt stars in this TV dramatisation of the life of Victorian poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, currently in production.
A star-studded big-screen adaptation of the classic TV sitcom is set for general release in February next year.
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Some was shot in Yorkshire, including the 'Every Sperm is Sacred' segment, filmed at Bradford's Cartwright Hall.
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- Screen Yorkshire
- Drew Barrymore
- British Film Institute
- Jamaica Inn
- Peaky Blinders
- Toni Collette