The lives and loves of a 1930s Yorkshire town explored in a passionate tale of politics in small places. South Riding charts the story of Sarah Burton's homecoming to Yorkshire in 1934 after twenty years teaching in London and the Empire. After a fiery interview with a conservative interview panel, outspoken Sarah takes up her first headmistress-ship at Kiplington High School for Girls, determined to demonstrate to her new pupils that the future is theirs for the taking.
Sarah arrives at the school, determined to transform both the teaching and the buildings.
Sarah’s ambitions for her school find their focus in Lydia Holly, the gifted oldest child of a labourer and his wife who live with six children in the nearby shanty town.
Sarah throws herself into work to take her mind off the pain of unrequited love.