Judge Daryl Loomis toasts to his power every night...if only somebody cared.
Evil lives here.
Yorkshire County, England is partitioned into three sections known as the Ridings: East, West, and North. During the 1970s, the streets of North Riding ran red with the blood of women who met the Yorkshire Ripper, a monster who terrorized the area. Until Peter Sutcliffe was caught in 1981, the entire area was paralyzed with fear. Beginning in the late '90s, David Peace, a native of North Riding, wrote a quartet of novels dramatizing the case and the effects it had on the community in subsequent years. In 2009, Britain's Channel 4 knocked one novel out and produced Red Riding, a trilogy of crime films that surpasses nearly everything else on television today.
Facts of the Case
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983
Grim stuff, this. Great stuff, but really grim. The Yorkshire of Red Riding is a place where redeemability gets you murdered and where fear is the only accepted virtue. If you're "one of the good ones," then either you are great at hiding your corruption or you don't have long to live.
These cops and the people who futilely try to stop them make for five gripping hours of viewing thanks to the intricate writing and brilliant performances in Red Riding. Having not read the novels, I cannot say how the films stack up next to them, but Tony Grisoni (Tideland), who wrote the adaptations, has a clear understanding of how to tell a detailed, compelling story without spelling everything out for the viewer. Each film takes place in the year of its title, but as the story progresses it becomes less and less linear. The beginning of the saga, 1974 has a natural, straightforward timeline. As we move forward into 1980 and, most strongly, in 1983, the flashbacks make it hard to discern exactly when things take place. As we jump forward through the years, Grisoni makes no attempt to catch the audience up on the events of the intervening years, instead he puts that responsibility on us, and lets the characters speak for themselves. There is amazingly little expository dialog in the trilogy, which is refreshing, but far more difficult than your average television production.
At the start of 1983, we find out that Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays, The Bank Job), a mentally challenged boy, has been convicted for Clare Kemplay's murder. Grisoni doesn't include a recap of what we've missed; he lets this information come out in the story. The boy was introduced in 1974, but only as the one who found the girl, not as a suspect. Yet now, Michael has been in prison for eight years and Grisoni doesn't even bother to mention this fact in 1980.
This is no oversight; missing information is an important part of the trilogy. While the trilogy deals with one broad series of events, the individual films focus on very different things. 1974 is a journalistic thriller, in which the reporter fights to find the truth when everybody's too afraid to ask questions. Shot in 16mm and directed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots), 1974 has a dreamy, nostalgic quality, like the story is someone's memory of past events rather than the events themselves. We follow Eddie and see the world through his eyes; very little goes on outside of his presence. Because all he gets from the police is resistance and violence, our impression of them is a monstrous, Kafka-esque organization that can inflict much more damage than any single ripper could. Andrew Garfield is in nearly the entire film, and performs admirably. This is the most suspenseful of the three films, and Garfield's exuberance and integrity really help us to care for the character's wellbeing. 1974 doesn't reach the levels of intricacy that the other two do, but this is a very good start to the saga.
1980, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire) and shot in 32mm, is the best of the trilogy, both in performance and production. Paddy Considine is fantastic as the cop who believes in his work but whose job alienates him from most of his colleagues. Like Garfield previously, Considine carries a great bulk of the film on his shoulders; it's hard to imagine a better performer in the role. His sadness is palpable from the first moments, and this feeling turns ever darker the more he finds out. Peter Hunter's arrival in Yorkshire is met with a deep mistrust that quickly turns hostile. Because Hunter is a powerful man, however, the police can't be as "persuasive" as with regular citizens, and they must play the game more carefully. The suspense is built here through the chess game Hunter plays with the Yorkshire police, trying to wedge his way into their world to make connections. Marsh employs sharp, confining camerawork to drive the film at a crackling pace. It isn't the exercise in violence that was 1974, but it doesn't have to be. The execution is near flawless in every way.
1983 sits comfortably between the other two films both in terms of quality and style, and is a very strong end to the epic. There are two people we focus on this time, which changes the dynamic significantly. Stylistically, director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl) checks in somewhere between the previous two films. Shot on HD-video, there is more visual flair than in 1980 and a brightness that the 16mm in 1974 couldn't offer. Tucker fluidly slips between the stories of Detective Dobson, the corrupt cop who was complicit in countless horrors and only now feels guilty, and John Piggot (Mark Addy, Around the World in 80 Days), the locally-bred lawyer with guilt over his father's role in all of this. When he is hired to prepare an appeal for Clare's supposed murderer, he starts digging into the case and finding out many of the same facts that got Eddie Dunford in trouble. He tries to reconcile his known fear of the police with his sense of justice at the same time Dobson begins to take responsibility for his actions. Things get extremely dark as the two stories converge, but they conclude together in a very smart and satisfying way, though it's no less grim for the satisfaction.
As different as these three films are in style and characterization, the intricate writing by Grisoni carries the themes of loss and standing up for what's right throughout. Like the Adena Watson murder in Homicide, Clare Keplay's specter hangs over the entire trilogy; even when she is out of the picture entirely, it's her death that sets the chain of events in motion that ruined so many lives. Grisoni never lets us forget about it, and through his fantastic use of flashback, really conveys the persistent sadness that looms over Yorkshire. Over five hours of real time and a decade of story, we are witness to staggering levels of corruption and have watched good people destroyed by overwhelming evil. This is why it's so chilling to hear, toward the end of the trilogy, the toast from the chief of police when we see the force getting in bed with John Dawson before the first film takes place, "To the North, where we do what we want!" By then, we've seen more than enough of what these men want, and it's a truly disgusting thing.
Red Riding comes to us from MPI on the IFC Films label in a nice-looking box housing three slimline cases. The films are presented in 5.1 Surround and in anamorphic widescreen with a slight smattering of extras on each disc. 1974 shows its share of film grain, the expected result of its 16mm stock. The film has a somewhat gauzy look with washed out colors, but this is all as intended. 1980 looks inherently better in 32mm; the image is perfectly clear with solid colors and rich black levels. 1983 looks thoroughly modern in HD video. The picture is extremely sharp and detailed but, while it is the most color-saturated film of the lot, the tones are much deeper in 1980. The sound is quite good on all three discs, with a full and dynamic surround mix on each. The extras are basically the same across the board. Each film is supplemented with a few deleted scenes, a trailer, and either an interview or a brief making-of segment. 1983 carries a few extras pertaining to the trilogy as a whole, which mostly consists of a highly detailed featurette on the production that is by far the best supplement in the set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I wish that a film of 1977 had been made, and there isn't much of an explanation of why they didn't produce it. I could happily spend another two hours in this world, but really there are a few holes in the story that could have been filled with information from the unfilmed novel. It's brilliant as it is, but I'd love to see how it would fit into the picture. I guess I have to read the book.
I doubt the Yorkshire tourism bureau will use Red Riding for promotion any time soon, but this is top-shelf crime fiction. A deathly tone carries through the entire trilogy; the people involved have created a hellish atmosphere that perfectly fits the environment. Very well done all the way around.
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Scales of Justice, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974
Perp Profile, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974
Distinguishing Marks, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974
• Deleted Scenes
Scales of Justice, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1980
Perp Profile, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1980
Distinguishing Marks, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1980
• Deleted Scenes
Scales of Justice, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1983
Perp Profile, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1983
Distinguishing Marks, Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1983
• Deleted Scenes
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