The global success of productions such as The Red Riding Trilogy, The Damned United and This Is England helped earn Yorkshire the nickname Celluloid Dale.
Yet just two years ago God’s own county feared that its film and television industry could be about to go the way of its wool mills, coalmines and steelmaking in the decades before. Swingeing government cuts and ITV’s decision to close its once mighty regional broadcasting base in Leeds left creative types staring at the abyss, or worse: moving to London.
Suddenly the clouds over the moors and their movies appear to be lifting. Screen Yorkshire, which was set up to act as a hub for film companies eager to take advantage of the region’s stunning backdrops and pioneering storytellers, has announced a new £2m investment package and revealed its biggest production slate in a decade.
Five new projects, bankrolled by the European Regional Development Fund and private sector backing, will include an eagerly awaited film by the Sheffield-based Warp Films, maker of the double-Bafta winning This Is England. Set in Ulster at the start of the Troubles, ’71 – by Gregory Burke, who wrote Black Watch – recounts the experiences of a young soldier surviving a night on the streets of Belfast amid the simmering tensions of the period.
Catch Me Daddy, meanwhile, tells the story of Laila, a young Asian girl on the run from her family and hiding out in the West Yorkshire “badlands” with her drifter boyfriend Aaron. Two feature-length dramas marking the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery are also being made for BBC1. A new gangster drama, Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill, has already been shot on location in Yorkshire and will be screened in the autumn.
Today’s announcement marks a phoenix-like recovery for Screen Yorkshire, which lost its two biggest funding bodies virtually overnight. First the Film Council and then the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward were abolished as part of the Coalition’s austerity measures. Its chief executive, Sally Joynson, admitted it had been a difficult time for her staff as the workforce was cut from 25 to just seven. It is hoped that the new investment will bring jobs and stimulate the growing digital sector.
“What you get in Yorkshire is something very, very special,” she said. “It is a combination of factors. Funding is hard to find for drama, so if you have that you are going to attract attention. But you have to have the right locations and provide a highly skilled and adaptable workforce.
“The reputation of Yorkshire from the projects we have secured in the past is very good. They have all had a good experience and have acted as ambassadors for shooting here,” she added.
ITV Studios, meanwhile, is investing £5m in its studio complex in Leeds to provide high-definition facilities for the production of its soap Emmerdale. This followed the decision in 2009 to mothball Heartbeat and The Royal and make 192 staff redundant.