A film tour of Yorkshire

Dev Patel in A Personal History of David Copperfield, filmed in Hull Old Town

March 26th 2021

The world’s first ever film was shot in Yorkshire by Louis Le Prince in 1888. Since then the region has hosted filming crews for everything from Hollywood blockbusters like Harry Potter to cult classics such as Monty Python, The Railway Children and Secret Garden. This film trail takes in many of the region’s most recognisable cinematic landmarks.

Keira Knightley in a scene filmed at Bradford City Hall

How long? Seven days
Where? Leeds to Hull

The natural starting point for a tour of Yorkshire’s film heritage is Bradford, the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. There’s been a local film industry here since around the time of World War One. Billy Liar (1963) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) are just a couple of the films that were partly shot around the city centre – the latter filmed some of ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ in Bradford’s Lister Park.

Most recently, Bradford’s ornate City Hall was used for Old Bailey court scenes in the 2019 Kiera Knightley film Official Secrets. Before leaving town, make a pitstop at the National Science & Media Museum, around the corner from City Hall. You can also download a Bradford film heritage trail map.

Make a detour a little deeper into West Yorkshire’s 19th-century industrial heartland to find the landscapes captured so beautifully in Jenny Agutter’s 1970 Railway Children. To this day, steam trains still chug through the valleys for a five-mile stretch along the heritage Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. Oakworth Station is the one that you’ll probably recognise most from the film, but book a trip along the whole route so you can get inside the wood-panelled carriages and plant your bum by the window on a vintage banquette.

Thanks to its characterful carriages and frozen-in-time stations, the railway line has been used in countless TV and film productions. In 2014, Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) and Hollywood actress Alicia Vikander (Lara Croft) filmed along it for Testament of Youth, the cinematic dramatisation of Vera Brittain’s life in World War One.

The Railway Children (1970), which filmed at Oakworth Station on The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway

Next, head north into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales for a hike up Malham Cove. It might sound like a marooned beach, but it’s actually a 260ft-tall natural limestone amphitheatre, carved out by a waterfall at the end of the last ice age. The plateau at its top became famous when it featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; this is where Harry and Hermione set up camp when they go into hiding. Down below, the village of Malham is a picturesque place to stay overnight, with a huddle of old stone houses around a babbling brook.

Malham Cove Top

York Shambles

From Malham, continue on the Harry Potter trail by heading east through the pastoral Dales countryside to York. There is one particular street in this handsome medieval city that is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley – the skinny Shambles is lined with half-timbered houses that almost greet in a bow at the rooftops. Despite the fact that no filming took place here, you’ll find more than one Harry Potter shop along the street selling fandom.

The one place in York where Harry Potter did film is York Train Station – the pedestrian bridge over the platforms is the spot in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where Hagrid exclaims ‘Blimey, is that the time?’ before vanishing, leaving Harry alone to work out exactly where Platform 9¾ could be hiding.

Break up your onward journey to the North York Moors with a jaunt through Castle Howard. So vast, so ostentatious and so ambitious is this 18th-century country estate that it’s easy to see why it was adopted by Brideshead Revisited for both the TV and film adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel following the lives of an aristocratic family ensconced in a lavish mansion. Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon were among the star-studded crew who settled into Castle Howard life to film the 2008 cinematic remake.

Travelling north through the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it takes just 20 minutes to get to Helmsley. This lively Georgian market town and its surrounding moorlands were central to filming of the 2020 blockbuster film version of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth. Filming locations included the beautifully restored Helmsley Walled Garden, Civil War-era Helmsley Castle ruins, and the estate of Duncombe Park.

Matthew Goode in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (2008) filmed at Castle Howard

Marooned in the middle of the North York Moors National Park, the remote village of Goathland attracts scores of film fans because of its diminutive train station, which played the part of Hogsmeade Station in the first three Harry Potter films. The rural station is also a stop on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which runs heritage steam trains between Whitby and Pickering.

Whitby is famous the world over for its Dracula connections, but just a little further south lies lesser-known Robin Hood’s Bay. Tumbling down to the sea through a series of fishermen-cottage-lined lanes, this traditional village stops abruptly at a cliff-backed beach that featured in Testament of Youth.

Daniel Day-Lewis (Reynolds) and Vicky Krieps, (Alma) in Phantom Thread, filmed at Robin Hood’s Bay

Right on the harbourfront, the Bay Hotel pub’s large sea-fronting dining room is recognisable from Phantom Thread, which was Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film before retirement. Other scenes from that movie were filmed along the rugged clifftops and in nearby Staithes.

Continue down the North Yorkshire coast for a final stop in Hull, a fascinating maritime town that played a historic role in both Britain’s whaling industry and the British abolition movement. Its old Georgian wealth is immortalised in Hull Old Town, which is often used by film and TV makers as a stand-in for early 19th-century London – most recently, in Armando Iannucci’s 2019 The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring Dev Patel.

'The Personal History of David Copperfield' filming on location in Hull’s Old Town.