Few films can claim to have gone from being virtually unknown to a viral success nearly ten years after their release and in the middle of a national pandemic. One Yorkshire film has this fascinating backstory. Released in 2011, Dan Hartley’s film Lad: A Yorkshire Story is set in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales and created with a minuscule budget of just £65,000. This often sad but heart-warming coming-of-age tale is now gaining the audience recognition it deserves.
It tells the story of Tom, a troubled teenage boy coming to terms with the sudden death of his father. The tragedy brings difficult times for his family, with bad behaviour, lack of money and potential homelessness causing rifts between them.
Acting out of anger and frustration, Tom commits a crime which lands him in trouble with the police. His punishment is to spend ten weeks with a Park Ranger, working in the vast Yorkshire Dales. The building of this chance relationship helps Tom grieve and look to build a positive life for himself and his family in his father’s absence.
The story is based on Hartley’s own experiences growing up in Austwick, near Settle. He emigrated to Australia when he was 16; the film was an opportunity to return to his roots and reconnect with his childhood community. Many of the tales from the film are similar to those that he experienced himself.
Hartley was also a volunteer with a park ranger in the area, volunteering to do the challenging but rewarding jobs to keep the Dales a beautiful place to visit. One of the film’s lowest moments, the near loss of the family home, is again based on childhood experiences. In 1989 Hartley’s father faced having to close his small shop because of the bank’s demands causing stress, anger and desperation for the whole family. These real-life experiences add powerfully to the authentic feel of the film.
To add further authenticity to the film, Hartley took the risk of using non-professional and local community actors to make up the cast. Furthermore, his strategy for developing the film took inspiration from acclaimed director Mike Leigh, who chooses the actors first and then develops the script around their personalities and relationships with one another.
The film locations were all set within just 10 miles of Settle and are truly reflective of the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales. The viewers see shots of Settle itself, Malham Show and the Ribblehead Viaduct. To capture the ever-changing weather throughout the seasons, the film crew returned to the locations in winter, summer and autumn.
Hartley took inspiration from other classic Yorkshire films such as The Full Monty and Brassed Off, both of which have similar themes of people struggling through times of adversity and using courage, kindness and humour to get them through.
After its completion, Hartley struggled to find a distributor who would buy the rights to the film. In an interview with The Upcoming in 2021, he reflected on the attitudes of many of the distributors: ‘People liked and admired it, but they didn’t see an audience for it, and I would get comments like “It would play really well in Yorkshire, but we’re not really sure it would travel”’.
Due to this lack of confidence in its capacity to attract interest outside Yorkshire. Hartley decided to take the film on tours of small venues across the country to attempt to drive interest. Whilst feedback from those who saw Lad: A Yorkshire Story was positive, he almost gave up due to the lack of a distributor which meant he was unable to reach a mass audience.
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, the film finally started to reach a new audience. He managed to sell the rights to a tiny distribution firm in America. Without his knowledge, the firm then essentially gave the film away by putting it on Youtube, so users could watch it free of charge. By the time he had realised the video was on Youtube, it had amassed hundreds of thousands of views and received positive comments from people globally.
This gave Hartley renewed optimism and energy. As the world locked down in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the film gained further success as it was streamed hundreds of thousands of times after he managed to get it released on Amazon just before the first national lockdown. The viewers left glowing reviews: ‘Will become a classic! An authentic and contemporary masterpiece,’ wrote one; ‘Inspirational, heartrending, extremely well written and well-acted story,’ said another.
After very slowly snowballing its way to success, Lad: A Yorkshire Story is finally getting the recognition it deserves and sits proudly among the other outstanding films this county has produced. Viewers around the world have now enjoyed and praised this inspiring tale of sorrow, loss and finding hope. The film gives the audience an introduction to the beauty of Yorkshire with its picturesque location and cast of local characters. Make Lad: A Yorkshire Story essential viewing for your next film night.
Watch the trailer for Lad: A Yorkshire Story here:
Lad: A Yorkshire Story is available on Amazon Prime.