The impact of Bradford as a film and TV location

By Dave Baldwin

City Hall played host to the A-list actors Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent as the latest major film production rolled into the district. Dame Helen has clearly been enjoying her stay, telling her many social media followers about Mumtaz curry house, Snow White at the Alhambra Theatre and an 80s night out, commenting about “the one and only Bradford with its own magic”.

The Academy Award-winning stars are appearing in The Duke, directed by Roger Michell of Notting Hill fame, which tells the story of Kempton Bunton, a taxi driver who was convicted of stealing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961. Bunton claimed he wanted to raise £140,000 to help pay for TV licences for old-age pensioners in his home city of Newcastle.

David Wilson, director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film, told the local newspaper: “It was a real pleasure to host the first scenes of this film in Bradford. We have worked closely with the production for the past few months to prepare some excellent Bradford locations.

“In addition to the excitement of having such great talent in the city there is also the economic impact in terms of hotel stays for crew and local spend at cafes. We have also managed to get some great opportunities for students from the University of Bradford and Bradford College to support the production.”

Experience like this will be invaluable for the lucky students. It means they don’t have to pack their bags and travel to London or Hollywood to get a taste of what it is like to work on a major film production. The industry opportunity is on the doorstep here in Bradford.

The region saw almost non-stop production again last year, with the Bradford Film Office playing a vital supporting role in providing locations, production office space, hotel accommodation, local crew and extras. Peaky Blinders, Gentleman Jack, Victoria, Pennyworth, Ackley Bridge, the Downton Abbey movie, and Official Secrets were all shot in or around Bradford and the wider region.

Clio Barnard, the director of award-winning Bradford-based films The Arbor and The Selfish Giant, has returned to the district to make her latest feature, Ali & Ava, with filming in BD3. AA Dhand, the acclaimed Bradford-based crime writer, is making his first film, No Ordinary Life, which is set to premiere at the Bradford Literature Festival.

All this work provides a direct boost through multiple employment opportunities in front of and behind the camera. The longer term impact comes from promotion of our district as a tourist destination, both urban and rural. The City of Film offers location tours for film fans from across the world. The Bradford Movie Trail takes in scenes from classics such as Billy Liar, The Railway Children, Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life as well as many more recent favourites.

Success breeds success. As in other areas of our economy, momentum is building in our domestic film industry. Mr Wilson said: “It is very clear to me that the Bradford district is held in very high regard and with a lot of affection by production managers, producers and directors who are making repeat visits but also recommending Bradford to other productions.”

We are living in a content revolution. Tech and media giants are pumping billions of dollars into original material in the global battle for attention. Netflix is spending $15bn a year on new content. Apple is committing $6bn to catch up. Disney is joining the fray with its new streaming brand. Not to mention BBC, ITV and Channel 4, which I understand is already operating in Leeds ahead of its head office move. It is estimated that more money will be spent on new content this year alone than during the entire 90s.

With our incredible architectural heritage and awe-inspiring natural landscapes, it is highly likely the flow of investment to Bradford will increase in coming years. Little Germany could easily pass for Gotham. The Dales for the Shire. Not only do we have the stunning locations, we also have the creative writing, acting and directing talent that is now bursting its way to the fore. Our film industry will form an important part of our bid to host UK City of Culture in 2025. And that would be the best starring role in a generation.

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