Yorkshire has always been an interesting setting for varying types of films, ranging from masterpieces like Ken Loach‘s Kes which is one of the greatest works of cinematic social realism of the 20th century to cult comedies like The Full Monty. With time, the depiction of Yorkshire in contemporary films has been evolving as well.
Emily Brontë’s rendition of the bleak Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights is generally considered to be the definitive portrayal due to its widespread popularity. However, future generations of artists have been probing deeper in order to truly capture the nuanced vicissitudes of the geographical as well as the psychological landscapes of Yorkshire.
In order to explore the impressive set of cinematic projects that attempt to translate the spirit of the place to the visual medium, we take a look at an interesting mixture of classic films as well as contemporary gems set in Yorkshire.
The 10 best films set in Yorkshire:
10. Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold – 2011)
Although William Wyler’s 1939 interpretation of the classic novel is often touted as the finest, Arnold’s modern adaptation deserves praise for its beautiful cinematography and atmospheric elements. The film won the Osella for Best Cinematography at the Venice Film Festival, among other accolades.
Arnold said: “I’ve got no education. I don’t know about the Brontes. To this day I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I watched a lot of old films on television, including the 1939 William Wyler Wuthering Heights, with my Nan and Granddad in Kent as a kid. Because of all the adaptations, I was expecting the book, which I read in my late teens, to be a traditional love story.”
Adding, “It’s really a dark book and quite troubling. When I got asked to direct it, I knew it was a bit of a stupid thing to do, because it’s such a famous and difficult book and there have been so many adaptations. People keep trying to have a go at that, but the book survives all of that. It’s its own beast. We should probably leave it alone.”
9. Four Lions (Chris Morris – 2010)
Chris Morris’ brilliant satirical work follows the plans of terribly incompetent domestic terrorists who try to launch an attack on London. It was rated as one of the best films of the year by many at the time, and Morris ended up winning a BAFTA for his fantastic debut.
“Four Lions is about a group of terrorists and the flawed male psychology of the typical bunch of guys that constitutes that kind of cell. This is about a group of people the government decides are terrorists,” Morris explained. “About governments betraying citizens in the name of some bogus war on terror, flawed in its conception and execution.”
8. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard – 2013)
Drawing inspiration from Oscar Wilde‘s eponymous short story, this moving drama tells the story of two young boys who start collecting scrap metal instead of going to school. The Selfish Giant was named as British film of the year by the London Critics’ Circle and received widespread critical acclaim.
“I knew I wanted it to be contemporary,” Barnard stated. “I knew that I wanted the children to be contemporary teenagers, so that you get excluded in the way that the children are kind of shut out of the garden in the original story. The trickier thing was the giant and the garden.
“That was the thing that it took me a while to figure out, but it was always going to be kids like the kids that I’d met when I was making The Arbor. I think the two things happened simultaneously – thinking about doing that adaptation and wanting to work with the kids.”
7. God’s Own Country (Francis Lee – 2017)
Francis Lee’s bold directorial debut attempts to chronicle the sexual awakening of a Yorkshire farmer who falls in love with a migrant worker from Romania. God’s Own Country won the title of Best British Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards as well as multiple other prizes.
In an interview, Lee reflected: “I grew up in Yorkshire, very close to where the film is set and shot. My dad is a sheep farmer in Yorkshire. I left Yorkshire when I was 20 to go to London to train as an actor. But in all that time, I always went back. I could never get that landscape out of my head. I started to think about what life might have been like if I’d have never left, if I’d have stayed in Yorkshire, and if I’d have met someone there that I liked. What would that have been like?”
6. The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo – 1997)
One of the most intriguing cult comedies of the ’90s, The Full Monty is about the plight of six unemployed men who decide that the only way out of their poverty is by working as striptease dancers. The film earned four Oscar bids and was named by the British Film Institute as the “25th best British film of the 20th century.”
The filmmaker revealed: “Film4 and Miramax passed on The Full Monty because they thought it was too similar to Brassed Off. Then, after our film became a huge hit, Harvey Weinstein reportedly said: ‘I had two films about British unemployed guys who put on a show. In one of them, they took their clothes off – the others blew trumpets. And I chose the fucking trumpets.’ Fox Searchlight ended up financing it very low-budget, for almost £3m.”
5. Threads (Mick Jackson – 1984)
This low-budget 1984 production imagines a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the US, documenting the consequences of such a terrible event and its effects on Sheffield. For the unparalleled scope of its vision, Threads won four BAFTAs including the Best Single Drama and Best Design categories.
“Threads was very graphic and the shoot asked a lot of everybody, especially the actors,” Jackson said. “Once it was over, we all ceased being members of a movie ensemble and just became anxious individuals in the 1980s. What we’d depicted and its implications stayed in the minds of every actor and crew member for a long time. I’m sure there were some nightmares.”
4. Brassed Off (Mark Herman – 1996)
Mark Herman’s 1996 cult comedy is definitely one of the most quintessential Yorkshire films out there. Set in the context of the privatisation of the British coal industry, Brassed Off tells the story of a local brass band formed by miners whose coal mine might be shutting down soon.
While looking back on the production process, director Mark Herman commented: “I always say film-making is 20% misery but actually the other 80% is torture, and I’d probably say the same about Brassed Off, but that’s just a misery-guts director with too much responsibility on his shoulders.”
He continued: “What was true about this film above all others, though, is that the atmosphere and spirit on set was just amazing. We had a pretty much entirely southern based crew (and cast) up in South Yorkshire having their eyes opened, wide, and because of that, they took the project hugely to heart. It was a very emotional shoot.”
3. This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson – 1963)
Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 film adaptation of David Storey’s novel follows the life of a coal miner (played by Richard Harris) who ends up getting selected by a professional rugby team. For his captivating performance, Harris received the coveted Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Anderson reflected, “By the end of the ’60s the radical impulse in British filmmaking was over. In particular, the rush to conformism which has characterised Britain during the last twenty years has deeply affected movie making here.
“On the positive side, television, and specifically the policy of Channel 4, has helped filmmakers in this country, since it has given some relief to the eternal economic problem.”
2. Billy Liar (John Schlesinger – 1963)
Based on the novel written by Keith Waterhouse, John Schlesinger’s employs the cinematic techniques of the French New Wave in its attempt to translate the unique sensibilities of the Kitchen Sink Realism movement. Billy Liar revolves around the suffocating life of a young man who wishes to break free but is hindered by his own decision-making.
“If most of my films have anything in common,” Schlesinger said during an interview with Roger Ebert, “It’s an interest in human relationships, particularly the more extraordinary and difficult kinds. I find the struggle of characters against the odds terribly interesting.”
1. Kes (Ken Loach – 1969)
Ken Loach’s 1969 masterpiece is cited by many as one of the greatest coming-of-age films of all time. It examines the bleak life of a working-class boy who oscillates between an abusive household and a hostile environment at school. The British Film Institute named Kes among the Top Ten British Films ever made.
Loach revealed: “I had always enjoyed the comics of Yorkshire and Lancashire. The humour is my humour, really… We walked from his house in Hoyland Common through the woods to the wall in the book, which is where Billy found the kestrel. That was how it came about.”