"To the North - where we do what we bloody want!" - a toast by West Yorkshire's Chief of Police
'So when someone kicks down your front door, kills the dog and rapes the wife, who you gonna call?'
- Peter Hunter questioning the Reverend Laws
'Well it certainly wouldn't be the West Yorkshire Police - they'd already *be* in there, wouldn't they!'
- Laws' response
Yorkshire, the large northern county of England, is regarded by southerners as a wild, uncultivated place where windswept moors are the backdrop for "Wuthering Heights" of fiction or the real life infamous Moors Murders of the early 1960's. Global focus once again turned to Yorkshire in the 1970's, specifically the electoral district of West Riding, when the Yorkshire Ripper began claiming his victims. Combining fact with the debated fiction of an unprecedented siege of police corruption, four books by David Peace have been adapted into a trilogy of films by Tony Grisoni ("In This World," "Brothers of the Head") which paint West Yorkshire as "Red Riding."
The three films, which were shown a week apart on British television last year, perhaps are better suited to that medium even though the intent was always theatrical distribution. Three different directors share a common script, but only the first film feels fitted out for the big screen. The series is not about the Yorkshire Ripper, but about police corruption so evil and epic it strains credibility. By the time the three films are over, it seems like we've seen at least two generations come and go, not just a period of 9 years.
In "1974," Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus") is a young journalist back in Yorkshire after trying to make it down South. When a young girl goes missing from a local school, Eddie learns of two older similar cases within a small radius. Eddie lusts after the story, but he's sloppy and seemingly has forces against him. When he goes to interview Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), the mother of the second missing girl, he's unaware her husband committed suicide. Then he's beaten by two cops for his trouble. But another meeting leads to an affair and when the same two cops show up to make him over again, his story broadens in scope. The death of his closest colleague, Barry Gannon (Anthony Flanagan), leads him to wealthy construction boss John Dawson (Sean Bean, LOTR's Boromir) whose love of swans ties him to the most bizarre detail of the missing girl's recently discovered body. A young male hooker delivers Barry's life work to him and when Eddie realizes just what he's up against he takes matters into his own hands.
Julian Jarrold, the director of such disparate films as "Kinky Boots" and "Brideshead Revisited," makes a stylistic leap forward with his part of the trilogy. Shot in 16mm, the film seems coated in a haze of cigarette smoke. Aurally, the film is the murkiest as well, the Yorkshire accents requiring a bit more concentration than in the subsequent outings. Jarrold uses a lot of texture, such as the ridged glass in Paula's door which splinters her into multiple images, none of them clear. In one stunning set piece, Eddie takes leave of Barry in the stairwell of a parking garage, Barry elevated on steps going upwards in the right of the frame, Eddie lower on the left. Jarrold cuts to Eddie center frame walking towards his car as a series of overhead concrete beams intersect the top of his head, foreshadowing Barry's fate. In addition to the soul standards which are used throughout the three pictures, the first film features a guitar-based score which is fitting of both its time and melancholy place. "1974" is the only one of the films which can really stand on its own artistically, even though the viewer will not understand the full complexity of the story by what is revealed here. B+
"1980" is the film set against the Yorkshire Ripper murders and although this film, like the first, is seen through the POV of a character who is not present in the other two films, the West Yorkshire police force carries on. After the Ripper's victim count enters double digits, the competence of the local police is called into question and Inspector Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine, "Hot Fuzz"), along with two hand-picked subordinates, arrives from Manchester to begin the investigation afresh. Although he tries to convince local counterpart Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) that they are on the same team, Hunter's not welcomed, especially by 'loaner' cop Bob Craven (Sean Harris, who ironically played Ian Brady in a telepic on the Moors Murders), whom viewers of the first film will recognize as one of Dawson's two thugs. Craven's partner has retired, but Hunter ties him to one of the Ripper victims, a prostitute whose slaying doesn't line up with the rest, and Hunter is also revealed as the outsider who investigated the Karachi Club killings, the event that capped "1974." His handling of that case was tainted when he left Yorkshire to attend to his troubled wife. Now, years later, someone knows that Hunter had an affair with the female officer who is accompanying him now and who has Hunter troubled with her confidences in kindly reverend Martin Laws (Peter Mullin, trampling on organized religion once again).
Documentarian James Marsh ("Man on Wire") tackles the second film, shooting in a straightforward style in 35mm. This second film, which paints the West Yorkshire police as first degree multiple murderers, has a strong subtext of woman and their children. Hunter's wife is depressed and needy because she can't conceive while his lover is troubled because she's pregnant with his child. The victim that is central to the case, Clare Strachan, in addition to being a witness at the Karachi Club, was rumored to have been inconveniently pregnant as well. This trio is directly linked to "1974's" Paula, a woman who loses her life because of having lost her child. The problem with Marsh's film is that these women make a far stronger impact than his central character ever does. B
"1983" spends a lot of time filling in the blanks of both "1974" and "1980" as a third-rate lawyer (Mark Addy, "The Full Monty"), is compelled to to take the case of Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), the developmentally disabled young man who was railroaded for the 1974 child killing (this story strand is also based on the factual case of Stefan Kisko), just as a new child abduction hits the news. But while John Piggott's new POV kicks off this film, we see more through the eyes of Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), the cop with a guilty conscience who gets tied up with a medium and faces the wrath of Chief Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke) and BJ (Robert Sheehan), the young male hooker whose knowledge is like a ticking time bomb. "1983" is satisfying in that we see many events in a new light, but Jobson is too complicit in the evil that has taken place to be sympathetic which is the light he is cast in by director Anand Tucker's ("Hilary and Jackie," "Leap Year"). The revelation of just what went on behind the child snatchings is so seamy you may just want to take a bath afterwards, and the evil is so widespread it defies comprehension. At least Anand ends on a hopeful note, although only Piggott's redemption, and 'the child who got away's' (BJ) feels earned. Jobson's arc is just problematic. "1983" has the most modern feel, perhaps too modern, having been shot in HD video. B
IFC is releasing the "Red Riding" trilogy as a road show which means it will require some effort to see all three films in a theater. While "1974" deserves to be, the latter two, even thought shot in a wider aspect ratio than the first, feel more like superior television. Hopefully they will be packaged together for their DVD release.
Robin gives "1974" a B-. He did not see "1980" and "1983."
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