When it comes to superstardom via the big screen, it’s not all just about Hollywood. Bursting with character and full of as many quirky characters as stunning locations, Northern England has built up a reputation over the years as something of a film star. But unlike the slinky sirens and insalubrious celebrities who throw tantrums and make ridiculous demands of bodyguards and personal assistants, Northern England is no diva. With easy travel between locations, friendly and accessible guides and an easy-to-navigate landscape, stepping behind the silver screen into Northern England’s movie history is straightforward as it is fun.
Slytherin to Durham Cathedral
Even if the stunning Gothic surrounds of the 1093-built Durham Cathedral hadn’t been one of the settings of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films, it would still be a tremendous site to visit. Durham City is located just south of Newcastle, with the cathedral known as one of the great and mighty buildings of Europe.
While you’re on your Potter quest, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was also used in the Harry Potter films. It’s as easy to imagine monks in deep prayer here as it is to imagine a fast-paced game of quidditch with Daniel Radcliffe zooming by on his broomstick. Alnwick Castle was also used as Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey, where the Crawley family stayed at Christmas.
Do it out of pride
Oh, Mr Darcy, why do you torment me so? When you visit the likes of Lyme Hall and Park in Cheshire, if you squint your eyes enough, you may just see the outline of that troubled, serious chap gorgeously sauntering along. Lyme Hall and Park were used as locations in the 1995 BBC television series of Pride and Prejudice. Anyone who has seen this version (and many who haven’t) will remember the breath-taking “Lake Scene” set in front of Lyme Hall, masquerading as Darcy’s Pemberley Estate, where he emerges fully-clothed from the lake.
Lyme Hall was originally a remote hunting lodge, turned into a palace used on occasion during the Tudor period, then inhabited by blue bloods ever since. It comes complete with Mortlake tapestries, wood carvings and a rather impressive collection of English clocks. An impressive Dutch garden and the Orangery containing plants from the estate’s original owners, the grounds are well worth strolling about with your betrothed. It was also used in the BBC series The Village.
Of course, Pride and Prejudice has had more than one film incarnation, and if you happen to be of the Keira Knightley bent, visit Stanage Edge in the Peak District National Park, where Lizzie was filmed standing on the edge of the world. Nearby is Chatsworth House, which is believed to be Jane Austen’s original inspiration for Pemberley.
Spoken like a king
You probably know that Colin Firth gave a moving depiction of King George VI’s speech impediment, cured by the untiring efforts of Geoffrey Rush’s speech pathologist character in The King’s Speech. But you probably didn’t know the movie was filmed in the West Yorkshire city of Bradford. Bradford has also been the location of other films such as The Railway Children, A Private Function and The Dresser – with plenty of locals employed as extras throughout. In fact, there are so many films made in Bradford that a lot of filmmakers base themselves in the city. In 2009, it was actually the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. Make sure you visit the National Media Museum, where you’ll find galleries devoted to movie, television, photography and gaming. There are seven floors of galleries to explore, including a huge IMAX screen, three cinemas and collections catering to everyone’s media tastes, from the very youngest in your family to reminiscence sessions for the older members.
Sniffing our Sherlock
Film buffs should be sure to add Liverpool to their travel itinerary. Dozens of films have been shot and made here, including The Yellow Submarine animated movie by those famed sons of Liverpool themselves. Many Beatles-inspired stories, including the wonderful musical film version of Across the Universe (2007) were also, not unsurprisingly, filmed in various locations across Merseyside.
A number of big blockbusters also have links to Liverpool. The 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Rachel McAdams (and directed by Madonna’s then-beau Guy Ritchie) used Liverpool’s iconic dock area to shoot a number of its scenes. While you’re at the docks, take some time to wander around the Albert Dock. A base for boats in WWII, these days the dock is a centre for culture as the home of the Tate Liverpool, The Beatles Story and the Mersey Maritime Museum.
Excellent 1993 film, In the Name of the Father, used the city’s Georgian Quarter as a double for London. And for a bit more Harry Potter, the chase scene between Lord Voldemort’s death eaters was shot partly in the Queensway Tunnel.
Time for telly
If you spend more time perusing the small screen, Northern England has also a rich history of television shows shot in its rich surrounds. Popular British show Utopia is set in London, but was mainly filmed during 2012 in Merseyside and Yorkshire, with the show’s producer explaining that no other area in the country provided them with such a variety of locations.
If you’re a fan of the show The Last Days of Summer Wine, you really can’t miss a visit and tour to the gorgeous little town of Holmfirth. Located only 37km west of Manchester, this lovely town is full to the brim with galleries, cafes and cute shops.
Manchester’s movie magic
While we’re on the topic, pop by Soap Street in Manchester to relive the 2004 version of Alfie, starring Jude Law. This is where the café scenes with Marisa Tomei’s character, Julie were filmed. Other parts of the movie were shot in the city as an alternative to filming in New York.
For something a bit edgier, Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002), about the city’s incredible music scene in the 1970s to 1990s, was filmed in Manchester. The Factory Records office was shot at Beehive Mill in Ancoats, while the bar where one of the characters shoots a gun was filmed at the Dry Bar in Oldham Street.
While you’re in Manchester, consider catching a movie at HOME. Manchester’s new multi-art venue for theatre, film and contemporary art is a British centre for arthouse film.
A surprise waiting to be opened
Discovering Northern England’s cinematic history is like discovering an incredible musician that no-one else has ever heard of. It’s your little secret, and your own, personal joy. With easy transport links between major cities and smaller towns, it’s easy to create an itinerary to deliver you from location to location – both blockbusters and art films alike. Of course, taking in the wonderful history of the region and the beautiful scenery along the way can’t hurt a bit, either. Just remember to do your research before you head off – preferably propped up on your couch with a big bag of popcorn in your hand and a cat in your lap.