“ Genre: Drama / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Anand Tucker, Julian Jarrold, James Marsh / Actors: Rebecca Hall, Brendan McCoy, Stewart Ross, Robert Sheehan, Paddy Considine ... / DVD released 2009-04-13 at Optimum Releasing / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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As a native of West Yorkshire who grew up and worked in the area throughout the 1970s and 1980s, I can certainly identify with the dystopian atmosphere that suffused this dark and miasmic trilogy, or 'thrillogy' as some advertising slogan might had it for something else entirely.
Police and general political corruption is never an easy thing to have to contemplate in an ostensibly democratic country, especially in a TV programme that almost eviscerates the dark underbelly of a society in which violence is seemingly never too far away. This is true of Red Riding, a tale told over an extended time period but with the same depressing message of hopelessness, the stink of poverty and the overweening power of ill-gotten wealth gained through threats and intimidation - and worse. As Bob Dylan once wrote, 'money don't talk, it swears.'
Against a background of casual brutality, gratuitous homicide, child disappearances and tit-for-tat revenge, we are thrown the festering carcass that is the Ripper investigation, a badly mismanaged snafu that exposed police incompetence on a truly staggering scale, and which was brought to a end only through a bit of luck and some vigilance. Let us not also forget the social engineering aspect of this particular case, and the way that it shaped behaviour in a region stripped of hope and meaning, of imploding economies, and the spectre of rising unemployment and all the ills that accompany it.
Red Riding is detective drama, sure, but it is also part social satire, part commentary on the fragility of human existence. It also seems to celebrate the thread of violence that runs through it, and the sheer pointlessness of seeking justice in the face of the Burkian triumph of evil.
That said, there were a number of excellent performances that lifted the tale above the ordinary: Peake, and Warren Clarke seemingly suffering from aggravated Tourette's Syndrome, Morrissey looking permanently depressed, and Sean Bean doing very effective, cheerfully dark menace. Good stuff. Many more fine performances, I concede, but all brought together to paint a bleak picture of a specific time and place that will live long in the memories of those (un)fortunate enough to have been there.
There was a lot of hype for this three-part drama recently shown on Channel 4, and for once the hype was thoroughly deserved. Red Riding is a murky, violent and frankly terrifying exploration of corruption in the West Yorkshire police spanning across the 70's and 80's. Each episode centres around a particular year (1974, 1980 and 1983) where serial murders of women or children are occurring. The 1980 episode involves the real-life Yorkshire Ripper case, which becomes entangled with the other fictional killings.
This is a world where the police routinely torture and even kill suspects and anyone who gets in their way (including their less corrup colleagues), money talks louder than truth and even the nominal heroes are fundamentally compromised. Anyone who comes out alive can count themselves lucky.
"Red Riding" may evoke deadly the peril for young girls of the fairytale, which is certainly the case with the serial killers at large, but the Red also signals the huge amount of blood spilt in the West Riding authority toasted by the cabal of corrupt officers as the place where "we do what we like".
There's no point going into too many plot details here - it's dense, dark and tricky to follow, which makes it quite hard going. But that's partly the point - we share the protagonists' struggle and confusion: first a cocky journalist for the Yorkshire Post, then an investigating officer from Manchester, then a cynical solicitor together with a corrupt cop whose always had more misgivings than his colleagues attempt to get to the bottom of the murky depths of what the hell has been allowed to happen here. It's gripping.
The cast is superlative - Paddy Considine, David Morrissey, Maxine Peake, Mark Haddy, Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, Warren Clarke, Lesley Sharp, Peter Mullen - and many more familiar and unfamiliar faces, all excellent.
The evocation of a grimy West Yorkshire of 30 years ago feels very real. It's a pretty dingy and depressing place. Having grown up in Yorkshire in the '80s it certainly felt convincing to me (more the general feel of time and place rather than the catalogue of deaths and corruption though!).
So, any bad points? Well, as I said, the violence is extremely violent in an unglamorized way, and can be hard to stomach. The piece is relentlessly depressing, so don't expect to be uplifted. And I was not so impressed with the character (rather than the actor) of BJ - witness, victim and eventually 'the boy that got away' - I just didn't believe him. Also, you will be confused - but with the DVD repeat viewing will make things a little clearer - and definitely be worthwhile.
This three-part drama was shown last month on channel 4 and is based on a quartet of books by novellist David Peace about Police corruption in Yorkshire over the course of several years. Peace of course has become better known recently, mainly for writing the novel The Damned United about football manager, Brian Clough, which has been filmed starring British actor, Michael Sheen. Channel 4, when it commissioned this series, decided the Red Riding books would work better on television as a trilogy and dropped the second book from their story-line as it featured more incidental characters rather than the big personalities that dominated the other novels. Whether or not this has made any difference to the plot remains to be judged by those who have read the source material and are familiar withy the original novels. For someone who has not yet read the books, I think it is fair to say that I was impressed enough by this series to pick up the novels at some later stage.
The series begins in 1974 and a young girl has gone missing from a local housing estate in Yorkshire, the second in a very short stretch of time. A young up and coming reporter, Eddie Dunford, thinks there could be a link between the two disappearances and starts smelling a potential story but the Police are keen to put him off the scent almost as if they are covering up for something or someone. When the second young girl's body is found abandoned with swan wings attached to her back, Dunford becomes even more determined to uncover the truth but jealousy and rivalry in the Press Office of the Yorkshire Post and personal complications in his own life begin to get in the way and it is not until he is threatened that he begins to realise that the story is bigger than he first thought and that he might just be out of his deoth and out of his league. But by then it is too late and there is no going back from the path of destruction he has chosen.....
Years later, in 1980, the Yorkshire Police are closing in on the infamous Yorkshire Ripper and a key figure high in the ranks of the Force who played a major role in the previous episode is effectively persuaded to retire following his lack of progress in catching the killer. At the same time, an Internal Affairs officer, is called in to investigate the Yorkshire Constabulary admidst fears of corruption and mis-handling of evidence. What he discovers is that many of the Officers involved in an investigation possibly linked to the Yorkshire Ripper case may just be less than whiter than white. And that someone, somewhere is once again trying to conceal the truth and keep certain secrets firmly and securely buried. His case draws parallels with the investigation of a certain young reporter and a mass shooting that occurred at that time at a local bar frequented by undesirables. The true facts behind that shooting have never been fully explored or examined until now, and as the Internal Affairs Officer gets closer to the truth, he finds more and more people willing to protect it.
The final episode is set in 1983 and brings all three stories to a close as the truth is finally revealed, the murderer of the missing girls brought to justice and a certain amount of closure is reached for those characters who have survived the journey. A dis-illusioned solicitor reluctantly finds himself defending a simple lad accused of the murders of several young girls in the area in his appeal against his conviction when he returns to his home town but, the further he investigates, the more he begins to truly believe that an injustice has been done. Incidental characters and events from all three stories pull close and, with flash-backs and new footage revealed, we begin to see how everything fits together to form a bigger picture. This is perhaps the weakest of the three episodes with it's sudden and dramatic ending that leaves several questions unanswered about what happens next but it is a fine close to what has been a very heavy and convulted dramatisation of what I can only assume must have been hard books to film.
The cast of characters in this drama is more than a tad impressive- Mark Addy, Paddy Consatine, Sean Bean, Warren Clarke are just a few of the most famous names to appear and every character is brilliantly concieved and oh so scaringly believable. The Radio Times, when they covered this show, asked the question "Was the Yorkshire Police ever really this corrupt?" The answer is I certainly hope not! This is an awful and yet frighteningly realistic portarait of a group of individuals whose power begins to go to their heads and who very quickly forget about the public they are supposed to be protecting when their own backs are threatened! Every episode has it's own little twist and I left this drama feeling that I really needed to pick up the books in order to get deeper into the story and discover for myself the bits that may have been left out. The sign of a good drama is when it leaves you wanting more and though I cannot say how close this series is to the books as yet, I do know that this is one of the best dramas to feature on channel 4 this year so far and fully deserves all the critical acclaim it has recieved.
The show is now available on DVD so if you missed it originally, you would do well to pick this up; me- I'm off to hunt down the original novels and discover the story all over again!