Thursday, January 07, 2010

RED RIDING - 1980 - Arguably the best of the trilogy

Peter Hunter: You don't like the police much, do you?
Martin Laws: No love lost, no.
Peter Hunter: So when someone kicks down your front door, kills the dog and rapes the wife, who you gonna call?
Martin Laws: Well it certainly wouldn't be the West Yorkshire Police - they'd already *be* in there, wouldn't they.

RED RIDING: 1980 is perhaps the best in the trilogy of Channel 4 films, in that it has both the best of the lead performances (Paddy Considine as Peter Hunter), the most thematically dark and obscure material, and the best direction. The film opens with the West Yorkshire police under pressure from the public for not finding the Yorkshire Ripper - a serial killer who preys on whores. Hunter is brought in to investigate the Ripper case, but to covertly investigate corruption in the West Yorkshire police. Rozzers who were in the minor leagues in 1974 have now risen to positions of power in 1980 and will be even more ruthless in the attempt to protect the status quo. Hunter's case rest on tip-offs from BJ - a male prostitute - and the insane ramblings of former Yorkshire Post journo Jack Whitehead - both of whom believe that the Ripper murders are being used to cover up non-Ripper murders.

The strength of the material is its willingness to deal in endemic corruption. The idea that you cannot escape from the evil, even when you have uncovered the truth, continues. The impotence of all good men is the tragedy. Paddy Considine is always impressive and nowhere more so than here: conveying both Hunter's ambition and earnest good intentions, but also his flaws and vulnerability. Just as Eddie Dunford, Hunter is no saint. I particularly liked David Morrissey in the increasingly important role of bent copper Maurice Jobson. As villains, Joseph Mawle and Sean Harris impress as the Ripper and copper Bob Craven respectively.

Acting aside, what raises this film above its predecessor is the shooting style. British director, James Marsh (MAN ON WIRE, THE KING), conveys a sense of claustrophobia and moral quagmire through the way he frames and lights his characters. DP Igor Martinovic's use of technoscope is inspired, because it gives the grainy feel of the 16mm DV used on 1974, but without the hazy dream-like quality. The lines are more defined and precise, which makes sense in a chapter where we are starting to see the truth more clearly, but are still helpless to make it stop.

The only flaw is the soft-pedalling on the sexual and verbal brutality seen in the novels. Which is not to say that this film is anything other than dark and disturbing. Nonetheless, as in 1974, our eyes are spared the worst of it. Worst of all, as in 1974, there seems to be a need to foreground a romance - this time between Hunter and his assisting policewoman Helen Marshall - out of proportion to its importance in 1980, the novel. The continuing foregrounding of the relationship also detracts from the power of the final revelation in the novel. As in 1974, the complexity of the final chapters is significantly reduced to tie in with the simpler ending in 1974 and to keep the story moving, presumably. I feel that this is to the film's detriment.

Despite these flaws, one has to be thankful that something this dark and subversive made it on to our screens at all, not least with the resources of first-rate casting and direction. But before I sign off, a few words on the producers decision not to shoot the novel 1977. You can, sort of, see their logic because Hunter will investigate, in 1980, the same crimes being investigated by Jack Whitehead in 1977. The problem is that if you just have Hunter investigate in 1980, and then the opening revelations in 1983, the motivations of the police come a little out of the blue. Whereas 1977 goes right to the heart of the money motive and the sheer scale of the police corruption at the heart of the novels.

1980 was first shown on British TV in 2009 and is available both on DVD and on Channel 4's video on demand service.

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