My Yorkshire: Film director Francis Lee, Bafta nominated for God’s Own Country, reveals his favourite people and places

Film Director Francis Lee. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Film Director Francis Lee. Picture by Simon Hulme.
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Theatre, film and TV actor Francis Lee was born on his family’s farm in Soyland, West Yorkshire and his film God’s Own Country, which he wrote and directed, has been nominated for a Bafta.

What was your first Yorkshire memory? Going to the Cow and Calf rocks in Ilkley crammed in a Mini with my grandma and great aunts. My big sister Nicky and I would stand staring up at the Calf from the bottom longing to climb it but I don’t think we ever got too far.

Francis Lee would like to take Diana Riggs' Game of Thrones character Olenna Tyrell out to dinner. Photographer: Macall B. Polay/HBO.

Francis Lee would like to take Diana Riggs' Game of Thrones character Olenna Tyrell out to dinner. Photographer: Macall B. Polay/HBO.

What’s your favourite part of the county and why? Anywhere in West Yorkshire. It’s where I was born and where I live. I love the juxtaposition of the beauty and brutality of the Pennine hills with their heather covered moors undulating down to the Victorian powerhouse industrial towns in the valleys.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend out in Yorkshire? A late breakfast with good bread and eggs bought from Booths. Then flasks of hot tea and cheese baps wrapped in tin foil packed in my rucksack for the long hike over the windy moors past Ponden Kirk, accompanied by my favourite person, Sam. Home hours later muddy with weary legs but a full heart to be met on the doorstep by our German short-haired pointer Darwin for a cuddle. We’d then watch the sun disappear behind the hill with steaming tea and my step-mum’s cake. At night, we’d pop over for very strong cocktails at our friend’s Richard and Chris’ house. Followed by bed with a smile.

Do you have a favourite walk or view? The one I save and savour is from Flints Moor in Soyland looking down the valley right towards Halifax. From a certain point, I can see the cottage I was born in, the homestead I spent my childhood wandering freely around the fields, woods and moors from and the house I awkwardly mooched around in as a teenager.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? I tend to only socialise with my family and friends, but Diana Rigg would be fun – only if she came in character as Queen of Thorns from Game of Thrones though…

If you had to name your Yorkshire hidden gem, what would it be? Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley. It’s an incredible eclectic cornucopia of local history, fossils, architecture and art. There’s even a ‘three faced sheep’.

If you could choose somewhere or some object, from in Yorkshire, to own for the day, what would it be? The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. It’s a beautiful old Edwardian independent cinema run by the most passionate film expert Wendy Cook, who’s been an incredible support to lots of local filmmakers including myself. I’d sit in the stalls on my own watching film after film late into the night.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? For me it’s the landscape and people. It’s a place where the landscape very much impacts on the people who live and work there.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? I don’t tend to go to pubs much, but the one I go to the most is the Turkey in Goose Eye. It’s always got lovely welcoming fires lit in the grate. I took the two lead actors Josh O Connor and Alec Secareanu there on the first day of rehearsals for God’s Own Country and the three of us always go back whenever they come to visit, usually after an impossibly long hike, Favourite restaurant is Mother Hubbard’s fish and chips in Keighley. The best.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Keelham Farm Shop near Thornton. It has an amazing range of local and international food. If I have money in my pocket, Booths in Ilkley for their incredible bread.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? My grandma Ethel. She was born the second eldest of eight children just before the First World War, left school at 14 and went into domestic service. Through sheer bloody hard work, grit and determination she made something wonderful with her life. She was and continues to be a massive inspiration.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work? Yorkshire is the biggest influence on my work, and so far, has ‘been’ my work. I made three short films all written about and shot in West Yorkshire and my first feature film God’s Own Country is all about Yorkshire.

Who is your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? Barbara Hepworth. Her work feels totally resonant to me, the mix of the brutal material with the softness of form. As a woman working with the materials she did, she was groundbreaking. I also love the gallery that bears her name, the Hepworth in Wakefield.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? Halifax Indoor Market. It has everything, every type of person and is the perfect slice of Yorkshire life.

What are you working on at the moment? I’m looking forward to the DVD/Blu-ray and digital release of God’s Own Country on January 29 and writing a new film script.

God’s Own Country has been nominated for Best British Film at this year’s Baftas and the awards night will take place on February 18 in London.