A three-part miniseries that was later released theatricallyin 2009, Red Riding is the story of a series of horrific murders in England’s west Yorkshire area, and the deep-rooted corruption in the police department that these killings expose. It’s based on novels by David Peace, inspired in turn by a few notorious real life cases, including that of the so-called “Yorkshire Ripper” in the 1970s.
Expertly adapted by Tony Grisoni, each part of Red Riding was fashioned by a different director. The focus is on the moral depravity of the police, and the depressed, traumatized experience of the people in Leeds and the surrounding country. It’s as if the entire area has been infected by a contagion of lies, and anyone who seeks the truth is looking for serious trouble. In the first part, taking place in 1974, that truth-seeker is a reporter played by Andrew Garfield, whose investigation leads to a wealthy, corrupt businessman (Sean Bean) and into the arms of a woman (played by Rebecca Hall), whose daughter was one of the serial killer’s victims. In part 2, taking place in 1980, an honest cop (Paddy Considine) is brought in from Manchester to investigate, but must contend with some very dangerous opposition from within the force. In the final part (in 1983), one of the top crooked cops (David Morrissey) begins to suffer pangs of conscience, and is aided by a lawyer (Mark Addy) who takes an interest in the case.
The story is so complex that it took some careful attention on my part to be clear about who did what, when, and why. The picture creates an atmosphere of dread and paranoia that is very spooky. There are subtle differences in style between each part, since they have different directors. I especially like Julian Jarrold’s contribution in part 1, with its shadowy, sometimes hallucinatory visuals. It’s interesting how much older Garfield and Hall appear than in their later American films—I could barely recognize Hall, looking wearily middle-aged in a blonde wig. The second part, directed by James Marsh, has the ripest sense of evil. There’s a palpable feeling of things getting alarmingly out of control and a heightened paranoia aided by Considine’s expert performance. Anand Tucker fashioned part 3, which seems sadder, more elegiac in tone. The picture as a whole is an impressive example of gritty, downbeat social drama. Peace’s pessimistic, anti-authoritarian vision is presented raw, and what redemption there is does not come cheaply.
Red Riding is available on DVD.