Northern Souls – inspiring filmmakers from the North of England

Here at Soundsphere, we especially like to highlight art produced by Northern creatives. The lush landscapes of the North have nurtured and inspired many filmmaking talents over the years. We […]

Here at Soundsphere, we especially like to highlight art produced by Northern creatives. The lush landscapes of the North have nurtured and inspired many filmmaking talents over the years. We want to pay tribute to filmmakers who were shaped by their Northern roots and feature stories which were inspired by the creator’s experience growing up in the North.

Here are five recommended Northern directors and the films about their native North.

Francis Lee

Francis Lee was born and bred in West Yorkshire. A childhood spent working on the family farm shaped Lee’s feature film directorial debut, ‘God’s Own Country’ (2017). The sensitive drama features rising star Josh O’Connor as a farm worker who forms a new relationship with a Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secăreanu). He shot the film in his hometown of Keighley in West Yorkshire and the surrounding areas, only straying as far as North Yorkshire. Lee reinforces the claim of Yorkshire as ‘God’s Own Country’a landscape and a life that is harsh but beautiful.

Clio Barnard

The Arbor’ (2010)is an experimental documentary portraying the life of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar (‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’). Clio Barnard’s background as a visual artist enabled her to create a hybrid of documentary and fiction in her directorial debut which treads the line of documenting Dunbar’s difficult life growing up on a Bradford housing estate whilst giving space for Dunbar’s own writing. Barnard, having grown up near Bradford, personally recorded interviews with Dunbar’s family members to be lip-synced by actors in a mix of archival footage of the playwright and performance excerpts of the eponymous play.

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh began writing for stage and screen in the mid-1960s. Over that time, Leigh has built an illustrious career on stage and screen as a director. Throughout his work, including 1977’s stand-out play ‘Abigail’s Party’, Leigh has created fully-fleshed characters that are dealing with realistic conflicts and themes. Leigh has previously successfully collaborated with many unknown Northern actors and 2018’s historical drama ‘Peterloo’ is no different. Leigh depicts the largely underreported 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where British forces attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally taking place in his native Manchester. He does so with a cast of actors predominantly hailing from the North – including many from the Manchester area itself.

Sir Ridley Scott

One of the North’s biggest success stories. Born in South Shields, Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott grew up in County Durham with his younger brother, and long-time collaborator, Tony. Scott began his career creating adverts including the iconic Hovis commercial, ‘The Bike Ride’ (1973). The advert depicts a northern industrial village in post-war Britain, accompanied by Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony arranged for a brass band. Scott went on to release sci-fi horror ‘Alien’ in 1979, leading to an illustrious career of blockbusters including ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991) and, most recently, ‘The Martian’ (2015).

Philippa Lowthorpe

Perhaps the most notable and popular tale based in the North takes place in Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’. Ransome – who was from Leeds himself – wrote a playful children’s novel about a school-holiday adventure in the Lake District. Philippa Lowthorpe’s film adaptation in 2016 evoked the sense of the original novel, with detailed post-war period design while incorporating an additional storyline, building on Ransome’s personal history as an MI6 agent. Lowthorpe paid tribute to the iconic backdrop of the Lakes, highlighting regional details from the text and her own experience growing up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

About Beth Prior

Writer.