The Red Riding Trilogy is entertaining but be sure to see the films in quick succession or much of the impact will be lost.
The Red Riding Trilogy is close to being a masterpiece in filmmaking, but tragically it fails due to the sheer scope of story it is trying to present. Adapted by Tony Grisoni from David Peace’s cult noir novels, the trilogy is an impressive achievement as three different filmmakers have given each installment its own tone and style while still managing to unify the works as one cinematic experience.
The films take place in Northern England in the 1970s and 1980s and focus on two series of crimes that have terrorized the communities over the course of two decades. The first is a series of abductions of young girls on their way home from school. In Red Riding: 1974, the third victim is found in a work zone with swan wings sewn to her back. Two other girls went missing previously but were never found. Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), a young hotshot journalist, begins looking into the murders after he is tipped off by an anonymous source. As he digs deeper into the ownership of the site where the girl was found, Eddie finds himself the target of a millionaire developer and the Yorkshire police force.
The second string of crimes, which is the focus of Red Riding: 1980, is perpetrated by the man the police have dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper who has killed nearly a dozen young women in the last six years. Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is brought in from Home Office to investigate the murders and lack of progress that has been made. This means he is investigating fellow police officers which makes him a target for ridicule and mistrust. Hunter was also in charge of the investigation into the Karachi Club shooting which figures prominently into 1974. That investigation was abandoned as no answers could be found.
Red Riding: 1983 brings the myriad characters and stories together as we see the true face of the corruption that makes up the Yorkshire police force. Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) is confronted with another child abduction that has similarities to the abductions that took place in the early 1970s. This is even more chilling because the man the police say abducted and killed the young girls has been in prison for the last five years. An overweight lawyer named John Piggott (Mark Addy) is asked to visit the man who was convicted, Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), to see if an appeal is possible. Immediately, Piggott figures that something is not right about the “confession” Myshkin gave on record.
The three films can only be viewed as a trilogy since no one film can stand on its own. The largest disadvantage is given to 1983 and director Anand Tucker as so much of the plot takes place in flashbacks. Such a significant amount of the film is told in flashbacks that it is frequently difficult to remember the action that is in present day and the action that is clarifying or explaining the past.
James Marsh, who directed 1980, is the most successful in telling his story as he only reveals the most pertinent information throughout most of the film, leaving the audience guessing up until the final scenes. Marsh literally obscures much of the action and characters by placing the camera so that only part of a face or the back of a car can be seen. He is clearly sending the message that there is more to reveal both in this film and the trilogy as a whole.
Once the series is completed, it is fascinating to watch how all the events and characters have been interconnected in ways we couldn’t even have guessed. However, this is more a testament to Peace’s skills as a novelist than the filmmakers’ influence. Peace’s stories actually take place over the course of four novels (1977 has been broken up between the three films) which makes us wonder if the films could have been more successful if they had been adapted as a quartet instead of a trilogy. There is simply too much squeezed to fit into three films and the result is too overwhelming to process after only one viewing. The various connections and relationships between the first and third films require a detailed plot summary in order to make sense of what has happened.
The filmmakers also fail to give adequate attention to the most interesting characters in the films. Eddie Marsan plays a drunk and pessimistic journalist in 1974 that steals the murdered child story from Eddie Dunford. Marsan is wonderful in his role because you hate him for being such an ass but you can tell there is a little bit of justification hidden in his past. Similarly, a character named B.J. (Robert Sheehan) figures prominently in all three films and yet is used mainly to give incredibly convenient information about other characters. We learn more about B.J.’s past in 1983, but more should have been made about where he has been and what has happened to him than the filmmakers allow.
As a filmgoing experience, the Red Riding Trilogy is entertaining and certainly great to talk about for hours afterward, but be sure to see the films in quick succession or much of the impact will be lost due to the massive amount of information that the audience is expected to remember. | Matthew F. Newlin