Sunday, February 5, 2012

Evil Lives Here.

Film: Red Riding Trilogy (In the Year of Our Lord 1974; 1980; 1983)
Year: 2009
Director: Julian Jarrold (1974), James Marsh (1980), Anand Tucker (1983)
Written by: Tony Grisoni
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, David Morrissey, Paddy Considine, Robert Sheehan, Peter Mullan, Warren Clarke, Jim Carter, Eddie Marsan, Sean Harris, Maxine Peake, Sean Bean.
Running time: 295 min.

I've always somewhat disliked television, but what I dislike even more are made-for-TV films. They usually don't have much going for them, have no stylistic intentions whatsoever and employ a who's who of B-grade actors. All too often have I likened completely average movies with a huge amount of potential to the made-for-TV area, or used it as a whipping stick of some sort. However, there was a trilogy of movies made for British televisions in 2009 which was good enough to get a theatrical release in America in 2010. It was also good enough to change my attitude towards the television movies I so disliked before. The Red Riding trilogy, based upon David Peace's quartet of books looking at a series of murder and crime in Yorkshire, is one heck of a trilogy, ranking up there with the best. In fact, you wouldn't even be able to tell that this started out as a television project, because of the high-calibre of actors and well-informed production and stylistic values.

The first instalment is In the Year of Our Lord 1974, which is directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane, Brideshead Revisited). As any good first film does, this one lays out the basis of the whole series, introduces the bad guys who remain for the rest of the series and sprinkles the all important clues that will be helpful later. Yet, it manages to stand alone as a well-rounded film that deals with everything under the sun; murder only being the start of all the problems. Andrew Garfield, just before his whirlwind 2010, stars as Eddie Dunford, a young, cocky reporter who takes it upon himself to investigate the murders/disappearances of several young girls from the area. He also becomes involved with one of the mothers of the missing girls, Paula (Rebecca Hall) and ends up getting on the wrong side of town businessman John Dawson (Sean Bean - whoops, spoiler). This film is definitely the darkest, most violent and depressing one of the series, setting the tone for what is to come so you won't be too surprised by it's nature by the end. Perhaps the relationship between Eddie and Paula at the forefront and their multiple encounters would make you think that there are much lighter things at hand, but then you remember the nature of their relationship and what's going on behind them - and therefore, any chance of this having happy material is gone. It is just that which makes this instalment the most effective of the series, as they both have a little hope. This one, especially with the end, doesn't have any at all.

In the Year of Our Lord 1980, directed by acclaimed documentary maker James Marsh (Project Nim, Man on Wire) follows with a further look into the world of corrupt cops and the Yorkshire Ripper case. Paddy Considine takes the lead here as police officer Peter Hunter who is brought into assess the murders, uncovering more than he ever wished to. This film is more of a slow-burner, which eventually pays off because the end is so good. It is probably the most dialogue heavy of the trilogy, giving up the secrets slowly and sparingly, all the while still offering a rewarding and disturbing ride. It also delves deeper into the corrupt cops who were also largely criticised during the Yorkshire Ripper case - though not for the same reasons. While this film isn't as heart-breakingly dark as the first one, it definitely gives you more to chew on and the direction improves here. There's barely any light in it, from what I can recall, hitting the atmosphere right on the head. Marsh produces the best directorial effort of the series, fully realising what he has to do with the material and keeping it consistent (the other two waver, slightly). What I like about this one the most, though, is the fact that it has such a great ending, which offers everything you need to know about the events in the first two films, but isn't even half of the story when you get to the final film.

Rounding off the series is In the Year of Our Lord 1983, which is directed by Anand Tucker, delivering something unlike his previous works Leap Year and Shopgirl. I can't really say too much about this film as giving away the smallest detail would threaten to unravel the entire yarn of intrigue. It furthers everything we found out in the first two segments but wraps up everything that we wanted to know from the very beginning, while leaving a shred of ambiguity. I could be persuaded into thinking that this is the best instalment considering that it is the one that offers all of the answers, but admittedly there is no way to choose which one is the best. They all have their strengths: the first for the effectiveness, the second for the atmosphere and this one for the story. To say this one takes you to a place you don't want to go is a bit of an understatement.  It literally took me to my worst nightmare, and I didn't rest well after I watched it; everything was too horrible to imagine, but even more horrible to imagine that this kind of thing actually happens in our world. David Morrisey, who plays Maurice Jobson throughout the entire series takes centre stage in this one, and is perhaps a less effective hero than either Eddie or Hunter, but gets the job done. However, this one relies heavily on the use of flashbacks, accounting for a solid third of the film, which seamlessly brings in the clues from the past and reminds us that many of the characters aren't really dead - their legacy lingers long and hard, refusing to go away.

Even though each of the films are marketed as individual films up for individual assessment, it is almost impossible to accurately do so since they all offer so much but rely on the rest of the series as well. As I said, each has a strength, but each has a weakness, as well. I personally found the middle film to be the weakest of the lot as the material was a little too meandering, but there is literally nothing separating the quality of each film. Being directed by different people, you'd expect the styles and tones to be different. Surprisingly, there is a bit of consistency, but each director brings a new look and approach to the dark material at hand. I, for one, will never forget one of the 'softer' scenes in 1974 where Eddie is being led out of Dawson's lit up party, with fireworks going off just outside the window. I don't know why that shot struck me, but it was just a reminder of how cruelly corrupt this world was, that evil still lived in what seemed like a happy occasion. I'd go as far as to say that this trilogy is a little like a stylistic experiment to see exactly what could be done with the made-for-TV medium. Considering that the Millenium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc) was made under those circumstances and definitely pushed the boundaries content-wise, it definitely doesn't have the zing that Red Riding has. Red Riding is much more alert, much less average (there, I said it) and definitely much more satisfactory.

One thing to savour from Red Riding, though, is the huge ensemble cast, which has people coming and going at the snap of the fingers but consistency can be found in all of them. I thought that both Andrew Garfield and Rebecca Hall delivered the best performances of the series, even though the were only used for the one film (Garfield did appear in flashbacks throughout the others, though). Their characters were definitely the most effective, and both played out of their comfort zones to produce little masterpieces of performances. Recurring actors like Sean Bean, David Morrisey, Paddy Considine, any of the people playing the corrupt police officers and especially Peter Mullan (this guy is really creeping me out in anything he's in) all do spectacular jobs, with differing levels of evil underlying their performances. But the one that impressed me the most was from young up-and-coming actor Robert Sheehan playing male prostitute BJ, who is by far the most memorable character of the series even without a huge amount of screen-time. He's about as close as you could get to finding somebody without any sort of evil hiding beneath them. Because everyone in this set of films has evil around them, and it is almost impossible to believe that innocence could ever exist in their world. That is first and foremost the reason why Red Riding is something really special, and a trilogy which I personally wish was more recognised under the shadow of the much more popular Millenium trilogy.

Whoever said that 'the devil is in the details' was definitely hoping for it to be used as an understatement for Red Riding.

What I got (for the whole trilogy):


  1. It's definitely one of my favorite trilogies of the last 10 years and I've put in my list of the best films of the 2000s (which is still going on). I don't have a favorite of the three as I see it as one entire piece. Definitely needs to be seen by more people.

    1. It definitely does need to be seen by more people!

  2. Terrific review. I myself have not seen this series, but with a cast of Sean bean, Andrew Garfield, Robert Sheehan and David Morrisey, I am looking to give this a go, especially after your review. Great job

  3. Terrific review, I was wondering about seeing this one for a long time, I think now I have to :)

  4. Wow, I had no idea this trilogy existed, and I love movies made for TV or miniseries! What an amazing cast- I have to get it now! Robert Sheenan is great, I first saw him in Misfits,an UK tv series (btw, you should check that out, it's so good and funny) and I fell in love with him immediately! Thank you Stevee for this great recommendation!

    1. I've always been curious about Misfits - I shall put that in my pile of shows I must watch! I hope you like it :)


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