Portrait of a world in turmoil comes to the region

CAREER women are commonplace in 2010, but in the early years of the 20th century, ladies were expected to keep house, particularly in the villages of rural Yorkshire.

When centuries-old customs were swept away after the First World War women's lives changed forever and the story is to be told again in a new costume drama.

BBC crews are currently filming across the region a production of the novel South Riding, which tells how a "modern woman" sends shockwaves through a 1930s community.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The book, considered a 20th century classic, tells of a county mired in economic depression and uncertainty, its inhabitants unsure of their future in the world.

Heroine Sarah Burton, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, returns home to Yorkshire from London having become one of many women who lost their fiance in the trenches.

She has since become one of Britain's first career women, but her world collides with that of Robert Carne, whose family have been working and profiting from the land for centuries.

According to dramatist Andrew Davies, who has adapted Winifred Holtby's 1936 work, the story will connect with people living through another recession and time of change. Davies, famous for adapting Pride and Prejudice for television, said: "What appealed to me most about South Riding is how fresh and relevant it feels, even though it was written and set in the 1930s.

"It's a terrific love story but it's also a portrait of a whole community in turmoil, with the country in recession, and bitter struggles between the advocates of change.

"They include our heroine Sarah the new forward-thinking headmistress, and the forces of conservatism embodied in Robert Carne. It's also full of rich comedy, with some wonderful minor characters, splendidly cast. I feel as if we've rediscovered a forgotten masterpiece."

Film crews will be taking over locations in North, West and East Yorkshire over the next eight weeks including streets in Bradford, Leeds, Harrogate, York and Bridlington.

Star names in the cast include David Morrissey, who plays Robert Carne and Penelope Wilton, who plays Alderman Mrs Beddows, the county's first female local government official.

Screen Yorkshire, the regional agency responsible for promoting Yorkshire to film and television production companies, has identified the locations to be used by the film crews and is providing support to the BBC.

Chris Hordley, production liaison manager said: "2010 has already been a fantastic year for drama in the region with A Passionate Woman, Five Days and The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister on the BBC, alongside ITV's Married Single Other and the forthcoming DCI Banks – Aftermath.

"We're delighted to be working with the BBC again on this exciting new drama that has Yorkshire right as its heart and will be filming at a wide range of locations across the region over the next couple of months."

BBC bosses said South Riding was a continuation of the corporation's new approach to costume dramas, with commissioning editors looking to bring more modern and less well-known works to the screen.

Ben Stephenson, controller of drama commissioning said the BBC had recently screened Angela Levy's Small Island, which told the story of a woman from the West Indies settling in 1940s London.

He added: "We continue to reappraise the BBC's approach to period drama – there are no cosy cliches here – this little-known novel paints a raw and real portrait of a rural community bustling humanity and humour.

"South Riding is a rich and brilliant novel full of optimistic hope for the future and we are proud to be bringing Andrew Davies' wonderful adaptation to the screen with such a brilliant cast and team.

"Like all great period drama it shines a light on us and our society while introducing us to a world and characters that I believe the audience can take to their hearts."


South Riding was published in 1936, a year after the death of its author Winifred Holtby who was only 38.

Holtby was born in Rudston, near Driffield in 1898 into a farming family. She was educated at home and at a school in Scarborough and became famous as a journalist and novelist in the 1920s and 30s, writing about post-war Britain and feminist issues.

Her first book was Anderby Wold, published in 1923, and she worked closely with the labour movement and wrote a column in the contemporary journal The Schoolmistress.

South Riding has been filmed twice before, first after its initial success in 1937, starring Ralph Richardson and Edna Best. A second, less successful film adaptation was made in 1974.

Many of Holtby's manuscripts and letters were donated to Hull Central Library in the mid-1960s and are now held in the city's Hull History Centre, which holds the largest collection of original material on Winifred Holtby in public ownership in the world.