Friday, 20 April 2012

Lights, camera, dales

Nearly 10 years before being designated a national park, the unique beauty and charm of the Yorkshire Dales had been recognised by the film industry.

The earliest feature film we have found was produced in the Yorkshire Dales in 1945. The open spaces of the southern dales were used to contrast the soot and grit of industrial northern towns, like Halifax, in ‘We of the West Riding’ – a film portraying a West Riding textile family at work and play.

This unintentionally mimicked the national park movement of the time, where more and more people escaped towns and cities at weekends for clean air and spiritual refreshment, and ‘nature preservation’ was being considered as part of the post-war reconstruction effort.  The Dower Report was published in the same year – laying a path for the legislation that created national parks in England and Wales.

Families in industrial towns surrounding the Yorkshire Dales escaped on bicycle to the countryside each weekend, and this is a common theme for many early movies. Cycling is still one of the most popular activities in the National Park, from road to mountain biking.

‘A Boy, a Girl and a Bike’ (1948) featured beauty spots, again in Wharfedale, as the Yorkshire cycling club whizzed passed. The girl being pursued, in love and on two wheels, was Honor Blackman. 

Bolton Abbey in spring time
In 1972 Alan Bennett took us on ‘A Day Out’.  A beautiful, simple picture of a Halifax cycling club's outing to Bolton Abbey in the summer of 1911. Bolton Abbey remains a top destination for urbanites to escape for a day, particularly when the sun is out.

From the realistic to the mythical, the breathtaking landscape of the area often serves as a magical backdrop. Jim Henson’s puppets in ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982) used the dramatic ravine of Gordale Scar as part of their distant planet, while Harvey Keitel and Peter O’Toole searched for fairies under the limestone cliff, Kilnsey Crag, in ‘Fairytale: A True Story’ (1996).

More recently the unique limestone pavement can be spotted in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)’ (2010). The top of Malham Cove was filmed, with Daniel Radcliffe and the terrifying action added later using CGI.

Radcliffe visited in person later in 2010 to shoot thriller ‘The Woman in Black’. The remote – and seemingly unchanged – Littondale was used to propel the eerie tale of a scorned female ghost to maximum supernatural effect.

Standing in the foot steps of Harry
Potter at the top of Malham Cove
The legendary Bette Davis has also sampled the famous Dales hospitality. In 1951 she did away with her husband (twice!) in Malhamdale as Janet Frobisher in ‘Another Man’s Poison’.

Over the past 66 years there have been 25 movies (and counting) that have recognised the intrinsic beauty of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the intangible sense of being here that seems so often perfectly caught on celluloid. 

But no round up would be complete without mention of Wuthering Heights, which has seen three versions made in the Dales, nor the ‘Calendar Girls’, who not only raised millions for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research, but brought the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the personality of its residents to a worldwide audience.

More information about the National Park on screen can be found at

Read articles like this in our monthly ‘National Park Notes’ column in the Darlington and Stockton Times.

No comments:

Post a Comment