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24 September 2014

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Bradford: City of Film

You are in: Bradford and West Yorkshire > Places > Bradford: City of Film > Bradford's fantastic film heritage...

Bradford's fantastic film heritage...

As Bradford celebrates after being named UNESCO's first ever 'City of Film', we take a look at films made right here in the city to find out why Bradford really deserves its new place on the world's movie map.

Bradford written on cinema seats

Bradford: Doing its bit to fill cinema seats...

Bradford has now joined a short list of cities across the world which have been recognised by UNESCO as centres of excellence in a creative field. As the latest recruit in the Creative Cities Network, Bradford will be supporting cities across the world who want to develop their own film industry.

Tony Earnshaw is Artistic Director of the annual Bradford International Film Festival. He's just one of the people who has been working hard to bring this prestigious title to Bradford and he's in no doubt that Bradford will benefit greatly from this recognition. Speaking to us at the time of the bid Tony explained:  "Once you get that status you are obliged to continue showcasing the city as a 'city of film' so the ball keeps rolling for the future. This means using the UNESCO City of Film tag as a shop window to show people what Bradford has done, is doing – there are still films being made now – and what it could do in the future so we are using it as a foundation to build on."

Scene from The Railway Children

The Railway Children right here in Keighley!

Tony's recent book, Made in Yorkshire, is a celebration of the many films made in the region so he is also very well placed to comment on the city's film heritage: "You're probably aware that the moving picture was invented in Leeds but on the back of that there was this huge explosion of filmmaking, and Bradford was in there at the very beginning. Over the years Bradford bizarrely has got more of a history of filmmaking than most other cities in the country. It's bigger than Newcastle, it's bigger than Birmingham and Manchester. You name it…On the basis of its heritage, its history, the films that have been made here, this place as well [the National Media Museum], the filmmakers who have come out of here like Tony Richardson and James Hill, actors like Timothy West, writers like Simon Beaufoy and artists like David Hockney (who has segued to films as well), Bradford Council and we believe that the city has got what it takes to achieve that status."

Asked which is his favourite Bradford film, Tony says he finds it very difficult to choose: "I ricochet between Billy Liar and Room at the Top." He explains he only saw Room at the Top recently for the very first time: "The story of that very objectionable and ruthless man who rode roughshod over everybody is timeless and we know people who do that today. I think it's the terrible idea of someone who gives up true love for a position in life and he recognises afterwards that he's sold his soul and lost the love of his life. I think it's a tremendous film and it's a tremendous performance from Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret.

Scene from Billy Liar [credit:CANAL+IMAGE UK LTD]

Billy Liar [credit:CANAL+IMAGE UK LTD]

"Billy Liar is a movie I can watch repeatedly. I think it's tremendous. I think it's funny. I think it's poignant and in terms of showing Bradford, so much of Bradford has changed over the years that there are bits of Billy Liar that showcase Bradford as it was and as it is. It's a time capsule of a world that has gone." Tony points out that while writers Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall very much saw Billy Liar as a Leeds film – and several sequences were indeed shot in Leeds – the film's director had different ideas: "John Schlesinger said he always preferred shooting on hills, looking up or looking down than on the flat, because it lent itself to cinematography."

So much of Billy Liar was filmed in Bradford that today it's seen very much as a Bradford film: "The exterior of the Funeral Director's office was in Southgate. They used parts of the city centre opposite the Telegraph and Argus office and Jessops photography shop. Billy [played by Tom Courtenay] starts walking down the hill past the Cathedral and he's pretending to be blind. The next thing you see he's walking across the road, he's limping and he's got his hand out to the cars. That's all the city centre and you can recognise huge chunks of it as they take their walk back to the office. The meeting with Julie Christie and her going into the superstore where the old BHS used to be - it's all been demolished now…Lots of those locations have gone but in terms of recognising the city it's still there.

Ewan McGregor in Brassed Off

Ewan McGregor looking Brassed Off

"Room at the Top was shot all over the town as well before it was pedestrianised and you had all those very steep streets. You see Laurence Harvey jumping off a bus, going to look in a dress shop and he's thinking about buying something for his lady love, then he's needled by this guy taking the mickey out of his working class roots. The street – Kirkgate – is immediately identifiable in the movie and you go, 'Ooh, there's that bit.' Bradford became as much a character in the movies as the actors."

One celebrated film that is very much about larger-than-life characters is The Dresser by veteran screenwriter Ronald Harwood. The film contains memorable performances from Albert Finney as the actor-manager of the company, known only as 'Sir', and Tom Courtenay making a return visit to Bradford as his dresser but the city's Alhambra Theatre also ends up with a starring role. Tony says: "The backdrop of the film had to be a 1940s touring theatre and they happened on Bradford and the Alhambra. They realised that the Alhambra in the 1940s and 1950s had been one of the premiere touring venues in the country, and it hadn't been renovated then, so it still looked as it did when it was built in 1914. They moved in and shot some sequences there and the Alhambra became as much a film star as Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney. It was a massive hit and was nominated for about five Oscars…"

Scene from Mrs Ratcliffe's Revolution

Catherine Tate takes a trip from Bingley

Of course, as Tony points out, filmmakers do cheat a bit when it comes to locations. Room at the Top's Warley was novelist John Braine's take on Bradford but the opening and closing sequences of the film were shot in Halifax: "When he jumps off the train it's actually Halifax Station and then when he gets married at the end and he comes down the steps of the church, he's looking terribly grim and he's crying in the car, that's All Souls Church in Halifax." And while Brassed Off, probably one of the most popular films ever to come out of Yorkshire, wasn't actually shot in Bradford, it certainly uses locations which are just down the road.

And then there's The Railway Children. Filmed on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1970, it became an instant family favourite and made a star of Jenny Agutter. She's never forgotten her time here in Bradford. Talking to this website in 2005 she said: "When we first made The Railway Children for television we used the Worth Valley railway line and I loved it. There's just something about the towns and the countryside which is so beautiful I just seem to be brought back again and again." Today Jenny is a frequent visitor to Bradford's National Media Museum and has been honoured by the city's University.

Simin Beaufoy's Oscar

Simon Beaufoy's Oscar!

But, Tony points out, Bradford has played its part in some not so well known movies. A photo on the cover of his book, Made In Yorkshire, suggests that a now very familiar Time Lord must have dropped into Little Germany at some stage: "In 1998 we were invited to cover a film that was shooting in Undercliffe cemetery and it was called LA Without a Map (LA as in Los Angeles) written by a Bradford author and starring this young actor who we'd never heard of called David Tennant, and we were there on a very sunny day and the director was going spare because he wanted grey skies and drizzle, and he's just come from LA where there was a beautiful blue sky and sunshine. He wanted a contrast and he was very annoyed."

In the film Tennant plays a bored Bradford undertaker who falls in love with an American actress. When she goes home, he follows her and finds himself in 'LA without a map'! Tony reminds us that Tennant was a little known actor in 1998: "I had pretty much an exclusive interview with David Tennant who suddenly, ten years later, is the biggest thing on British TV. A lot of people don't realise he did this film and a lot of his fans haven't seen it but we've got an entire chapter in here." Much more recently Doctor Who companion Catherine Tate has dropped into Bingley for the filming of Mrs Ratcliffe's Revolution.

Scene from Red Riding - 1980

Great drama: Red Riding - 1980

Another person who found himself in Bradford recently was Keighley's very own Simon Beaufoy, bringing his shiny new Oscar with him. Although he received it for writing the script for Slumdog Millionaire, set in Mumbai, Simon told us he is still very influenced by his birthplace: "I keep making films here. There's some strange contradiction in the Yorkshire personality that's always intrigued me. It's full of generosity as well as a kind of inward looking, withheld quality. That's always quite fascinated me. It's an intriguing place to write about." 

Of course, Bradford has also popped up frequently on the small screen. Yasmin, Simon Beaufoy's drama for Channel 4, was filmed in Keighley and it had something of a starring role in the acclaimed drama series Red Riding. James Marsh directed one of the films. He says: "We shot on location all over the city and in the surrounding countryside. We had amazing local support and hired a lot of our crew locally. Visually, the city has much to offer and we had no problem finding exterior and interior locations to serve our story. Unlike say London or New York, it was easy and simple to get permission to shoot all over the city. I'd love to come back and shoot another film in the area. I wish the city continued success as UNESCO's official City of Film."

And, hopefully, Bradford's success will lead to many more movies being made right here in West Yorkshire, films that will eventually take their place alongside the classic pictures which play such a big part in Bradford's heritage.

last updated: 19/06/2009 at 15:23
created: 29/07/2008

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