06 March, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Red Riding"

Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"Red Riding is a kind of Life On Mars for grown-ups - dark, desperate and wonderful" "They must be tearing their hair out at the Yorkshire Tourist Board. First of all Heartbeat and The Royal are cancelled, two shows that pointed a camera with a rose-tinted lens at the county. And now along comes Red Riding, Channel 4's trilogy of films based on David Peace's novels, which hardly paints the place in a friendly light. Hardly paints it in any light at all in fact; this must have been a rare production when good weather would have stopped filming. Except that you don't get good weather in Yorkshire, of course. It's grim up north, unremittingly so. Come to Yorkshire, for the relentless rain, and the dark skies, the gloom, and above all for the fear ...

We are in the past, in 1974 in this first one. Rookie reporter Eddie Dunford (excellently played by Andrew Garfield) comes back up north after a failed attempt at making it as a journalist in London. While investigating a series of horrific murders of young girls, he gets caught in a web of corruption surrounding a property developer (even more excellently played by Sean Bean, who has real swagger and menace) and the West Yorkshire police, who are definitely not a force for good.

If you're thinking: the 1970s, badly behaved rozzas, leather jackets and Ford Cortinas, hang about, haven't we done all this recently, then you need to think again. This is Life On Mars for grown-ups. That was more nostalgic, for the music and the clothes; even the corruption was fun. This goes somewhere different. Yes there are some big collars around the place, King Crimson is on the music centre, there's yet another fine performance from a Vauxhall Viva, a car that looked the same going backwards as it did going forwards. But it's more than that - they just help in creating a mood.

And the mood is a dark and desperate one. This is a wonderful portrait of brutality and corruption, a huge and unstoppable machine from which there is no escape.

Where the line between fact and fiction runs is not always clear. By using real events - the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper plays a part in the next one - the writing more than hints at some historical value. I can't quite believe that the West Yorkshire police were quite so institutionally rotten to the core (Abu Ghraib? Ha! That was preschool compared to what went on in Yorkshire cop shops in the 70s). But whether the torture and terrorism are genuine or not, the characters certainly feel authentic.

As drama then, it works beautifully, and maybe begins to answer a call for a new seriousness in television. Perhaps at last someone is sitting up and taking notice of what's going on across the Atlantic. And, like the best TV from America - The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men etc - it captures a time and a place. Even the smoking in Red Riding is up there with Mad Men's. And as this is Yorkshire, it mixes in with the mist coming down from the moors, and the thick fug of cover-ups and corruption ... yeah all right, enough of that.

If I have one tiny criticism - and I'm going to find it hard to put my finger on this - it's that it takes itself a little bit too seriously, tries too hard, almost to the point of self-consciousness. If something is good, it can just be good, rather than jabbing you in the chest and shouting "this is good", which is kind of the impression I sometimes got during Red Riding.

Anyway it is good. Very good. And actually I don't think the Yorkshire Tourist Board needs to worry. In spite of (maybe because of) the murk and the gloom, the concrete car parks and run-down estates, Yorkshire looks amazing - much better than the chocolate-box version in Heartbeat. "


Tim Teeman, The Times

"The first episode of Red Riding may have announced itself as taking place “In the year of our Lord, 1974”, but its doffing of cap to godliness was fleeting and surely sly. Tony Grisoni's amazing adaptation of David Peace's quartet of novels is unremittingly bleak, its canvas distinctly ungodly.

The only thing to conclude at the end of two hours of torture, grey multi-storeys, beatings, torture, child disappearances and moral corruption was that it really is grim up North. Red Riding knocked the stuffing out of you, then, smiling viciously, set it alight. It was astonishing, unbearable, tough, and beautifully written and mounted. Julian Jarrold's direction couldn't have been further from the lush canvas of his big-screen Brideshead of last year. All that grandeur was vaporised. Here the palette was grey, fawn, scrubby clouds, scored skin, starkly lit basements, derelict streets. Everything was a permanent winter of discontent and horribly beautiful to watch.

Andrew Garfield's Edward Dunford had returned to Yorkshire, the young Turk journalist out for his exclusive: the disappearances of some young girls. His friend Barry warned him darkly of police “death squads”, which he laughed off: his friend was paranoid, he supposed. At the start, Garfield was the typical hungry reporter: glib, ruthless, dismissive of authority, wanting the glory. But his cockiness was no match for the mass of primordial slime gathering around him.

Barry was probably right about the death squads and was beheaded while driving in his car. It was unbearable to watch Garfield - who must surely be nominated for gongs, as must the drama - become aware of the hideous spider's web of inescapable criminality and corruption all around him. He finally knew what right and wrong was - too late. The police were rotten. The puppetmaster, the local criminal big cheese John Dawson (Sean Bean in black poloneck with thugs at heel for menace), controlled everything, as his mad wife muttered darkly of bodies under carpets. Bean snarled at Garfield that the country was at war with itself: the Government had lost it, the “Pakis, wogs and poofs, even the bloody women, trying to turn back the tide”.

The horrific knot of Red Riding was the notion that there was no escape for Garfield, no chance for justice to be done, or to reveal the scale of the corruption around him. His growing sense of powerlessness was pungent: he went from a journalist trying to get a story to a man trying to stay alive. Garfield is an actor who resides in tics and grimaces and Dunford was a rattish hero, hard to really like until it became apparent that he was the best thing in the benighted world of Dawson and his cohorts.

There was one glint of light. Janette, the mother of one of the missing girls, fell for Dunford. He imagined a life away from the mess around them: “They've got sunshine down South.” But cometh the hour, she wasn't there. She had been killed. He was being framed for her murder and then tortured almost beyond endurance by the police and by Bean's henchmen (whatever the difference was). Then, into a grey day, he was thrown, brutalised, from a van.

Numb, Garfield returned to kill Bean and his bullies and then in a final frame, seemed to drive suicidally at a police convoy in pursuit: the screen shattered on his fatalistic face. The cock of the walk had become a wounded, compromised victim. They may have sunshine down South, but it seemed unlikely that he was going to see it soon.

Some have said that this series is too bleak, but Grisoni has remained faithful to Peace's tone. If he had successfully made the unadaptable adaptable, then Jarrold had made the unwatchable watchable. You felt every crack on bone and smelled every overflowing ashtray. The second episode will take us to 1980, and the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders and investigation, so really if you thought this was tough, it was just the aperitif for worse horrors to come. "


James Walton, Daily Telegraph

"You can understand why Channel 4 hasn’t stinted on the publicity for Red Riding. It’s a hugely ambitious trilogy set in the Yorkshire of the Seventies and Eighties. Each of its two-hour episodes is made by a different bona fide film director. The cast includes Sean Bean, Warren Clarke, David Morrissey and Rebecca Hall. According to one of the writers, the overall plan is to create nothing less than a new TV genre, to be known as “Yorkshire noir”.

The series began with 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited). Despite all the advance publicity, it still arrived on screen with an undeniable bang – and has already laid a strong claim to being one of the most darkly powerful dramas of the year. Even so, I can think of several groups who won’t enjoy it much. Among them are anybody with a weak stomach, any retired officers from the West Yorkshire police, and any viewers who’d hoped that these tales of old-school coppers would plunge them back into the cheerfully irreverent world of Life on Mars.

That cheerfulness, mind you, was never very likely. After all, the series is based on the novels of David Peace, which combine fact, fiction and conspiracy theory to explore the Yorkshire of his childhood. If Peace is to be believed, this was an unrelentingly seedy and corrupt place, where the misdeeds of the police went far beyond giving villains the odd slap – and where all the people with any sort of power swigged their whisky, smoked their fags and plotted their crooked schemes together. As one typically psychotic officer put it last night, “This is the North. We do what we want.”

In the first episode, what the schemers wanted was a convenient solution to a series of child murders. To this end, the police followed the traditional path of fitting up the local oddball, Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), and apparently torturing a confession out of him. As often in Peace’s work, there were deliberate echoes of a real story here: the framing of Stefan Kiszko for the murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975. (Like Kiszko, Myshkin was the son of East European immigrants, and had what in the Seventies were certainly not referred to as “special needs”.) The senior officer in the Kiszko case, incidentally, was DCI Dick Holland, who’d go on to investigate the Yorkshire Ripper murders – which feature in the next episode of Red Riding.

Amidst all the corruption and violence, one Yorkshire Post journalist, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), did eventually come up with the radical idea of trying to do the right thing – partly because he fell in love with one of the bereaved mothers, Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall, trying hard but unavailingly not to look too glamorous). Inevitably, however, his new-found righteousness didn’t do him, her or the cause of justice any good.

Through all of this, Julian Jarrold’s highly atmospheric direction determinedly matched the bleakness of the narrative. As a rule, the relentlessly brown interior shots were broken up only by relentlessly grey exterior ones. The housing estates of Seventies Yorkshire looked alarmingly like Third World shanty towns.

Meanwhile, the fractured story-telling meant that you had to pay careful attention. Yet even if you did, elements of the plot (the love affair between Eddie and Paula, for instance) remained somewhere between sketchy and inexplicable. In such an avowedly revelatory drama, it was also disappointing that the chief baddie turned out to be John Dawson (Bean), a ruthless property developer from central casting, who announced himself by saying how much he hated black people, gay people, Asians and women.

But there’s perhaps another problem too. Peace’s own theory is that his mix of history, speculation, reinvention and pure invention allows him to explore different possibilities without arriving at anything as simplistic as a conclusion about what actually happened. But mightn’t this just be a cunning ploy for having his cake and eating it? On the one hand, the apparently factual stuff doesn’t have to be accurate – because this is fiction. On the other, the fiction can gain extra resonance by seeming to be true. Either way, it means you spend quite a lot of time wondering not merely how much of the dark conspiracy stuff is true, but how much is supposed to be.

Paradoxically enough, though, this ability to make us feel gripped, disorientated and slightly infuriated at the same time only helps Red Riding to achieve its central aim. In the end, the result really is a triumphantly unsettling antidote to everything bland and comfortable on television. "


Overnights: 2.5 million (13%)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gave up after an hour and it would have been earlier had Sean Bean not turned up. I've no problem with bleak and dark, I love the Wire/Sopranos etc etc, but this just felt too aimless and derivative of Ellroy's work.