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Non-Review Review: Red Riding – The Year of Our Lord 1980

Talk to someone else!

There is no one else, they’re all %$#!ing dead!

- BJ and Hunter

Red Riding: 1980 isn’t quite as strong as its direct predecessor. In fact, it’s probably the weakest of the films in the trilogy. There are quite a few reasons for this, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth watching. For all its flaws as part of a continuing narrative, Red Riding: 1980 is still a fascinating tale of police corruption, and arguably the movie of the trilogy that works best as a standalone feature. Or, at least, better than it does as one connected narrative. Red Riding: 1974 depends on Red Riding: 1983 for an ending, and Red Riding: 1983 depends on Red Riding: 1974 for a beginning. Red Riding: 1980 sits in the middle, and serves as something of an example of the type of endemic corruption that has taken root in this version of Yorkshire.

Hunter on the prowl…

Part of the problem with Red Riding: 1980 is due to the way that the David Peace’s stories were adapted for film. One of the four books, Red Riding: 1977, was omitted from the cycle due to the cost involved. There were mumblings about producing it as a standalone film, given the success of the trilogy, but it seems that those rumours have died a bit of a death. Red Riding: 1977 carries over a few threads from Red Riding: 1974.

For example, the story of Eddie Dunford’s fellow journalist Jack Whitehead and Bob Fraser, the cop he trusts with the incriminating evidence. None of these threads are obviously missing from the trilogy, but they do feel like loose ends given how carefully everything else is structured. Red Riding: 1974 isn’t massively weakened by the fact that these two threads never come up again, although those two faces are missing from the recurring cast in the films that followed. However, Red Riding: 1980feels somewhat incomplete.

The Bill…

It begins in the last days of the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper by the local police force. Director James Marsh does a decent job capturing the pervading sense of fear and dread, but there isn’t really a sense of how long this particular shadow has been hanging over the community. Peter Sutcliffe had been killing for over half a decade when he was apprehended, and it seems strange that – given the series’ pervading sense of doom – that we casually drift into the investigation in the last days. Terror is still there, but it has been worn down by fatigue.

To be fair, Red Riding: 1980 seems to go out of its way to dwell on the year 1977. Even if you didn’t know that one of the books was missing, you’d get a sense that there was something very special about that year. Of course, the year has a very particular real-life relevance, concerning the Ripper. John Nolan asks, rhetorically, “Busy boy that Jubilee, weren’t he? Four in a row.” Helen Marshall concedes that, and points to another reason that the year is symbolically important, “1977 was a hell of a Jubilee.”The number occurs elsewhere. On loan from outside to investigate the case, Peter Hunter finds himself staying in Room 77 of a dingy hotel.

Quite a Craven fellow…

While there are connections to the other films in the series – most notably that Hunter worked on an internal affairs investigation into the events at the climax of Red Riding: 1974 – this film feels most closely connected to a novel that was never filmed. As a result, it feels rather out of place when compared to the two other films in the series. (Although, I’d argue, it also suggests that the movie stands a lot better on its own two feet than the other two that seem to exist to support one another.)

Peter Hunter is another reason that Red Riding: 1980doesn’t work quite as well as the two films either side of it. Paddy Considine is – as ever – fantastic in the role. He gives it his everything, and it’s hard not to like the guy. However, Hunter lacks the drive of Eddie Dunford and the tragedy of John Piggott or Maurice Jobson. While Dunford was a self-interested journalist poking at the community with a stick in search of a good story, Hunter seems far too earnest and far too decent to stand a chance against the corruption festering in Yorkshire.

Everybody’s on board…

Considine does a great job with the material, but there’s a sense that Hunter is a little too naive and a little too innocent in the ways of the world. This seems especially strange since we know that he has a history with these characters and their world. While his initial investigation was hampered by personal matters, he seems too earnest in trying to dig into the vipers’ nest of corruption and decay. Hunter does have a few character flaws, but they don’t really serve to give him too much nuance or depth.

While Dunford’s ambition could seem exploitive and Jobson was neck-deep in the filth, Hunter just seems like a normal person who has had a bit of a rough time of it. We never really see his weakness as a flaw, or as some chink in his armour. Instead, we actively pity the character his repeated misfortunes, just as we pity those caught up in (and potentially harmed by) his mistakes. Rather than dwelling on the idea that Hunter lacks judgement or restraint, the film instead suggests that he is too innocent in the ways of the world. Well, of Yorkshire.

For Pete’s sake!

That said, there is some stuff that’s a little fascinating about Hunter. Although I’m not quite sure what I make of it, the conscious effort to mirror Peter Hunter with Peter Sutcliffe is interesting. Tracking down the Ripper, I guess that Peter Hunter really is a “Peter hunter”, even if he doesn’t quite realise it. Hunter has remarkable insight into the case, suggesting a darker side that we never get to see fully develop.

Asked to account for the mysterious lull in the Ripper’s activity, Hunter explains that the Ripper has been kept away by personal concerns. “He’s the same. He’s got the same bollocks in his life as we’ve all got.” Given that Hunter’s last inquiry into the Yorkshire police force was interrupted by his personal life, it suggests that Hunter might be drawing from personal experience. Talking about the Ripper’s wife, Hunter remarks, “She doesn’t see him for what he really is. But neither do we.”Given that Hunter has been lying to his own wife, that seems a pointed comment.

Back against the wall…

The movie opens with a wonderful montage that intercuts fact and fiction. A short interview clip from the fictional Bill Molloy is included, addressing the anonymous murderer. Molloy is clearly a broken man, one of the indications that the investigation has been a long and trying one. “Every time the phone rings, I wonder if it’s you,” he states. “If I get up in the middle of the night, I can’t help thinking about you.  I feel that I really know you. But I don’t regard you as evil. Your voice is almost sad. To me, you’re like a bad angel on a mistaken journey.  And while I would never condone your methods… I can sympathise with your feelings.”

The notion that an officer – even an exhausted, broken officer – would say something like that on national television is perhaps the only part of Red Riding: 1980 that stretches credibility. However, it seems quite clear that Hunter (not Molloy) does mirror the Ripper to a certain extent. It’s a common device for cop movies to suggest that the cops and the criminals are two sides of the same coin, and I give credit to Red Riding: 1980for at least using the device in an interesting manner. Hunter never comes face-to-face with the Ripper. They never interact. So the notion that they are – on some level – sympatico is an interesting idea.

Yes, this might be the happiest scene in the whole trilogy…

There’s also the suggestion, one not quite developed, that Hunter is in some ways quite similar to the corruption that he faces. Describing a moment of personal weakness, he confesses, “It’s disloyal. It’s unprofessional. It was unforgivable.” As we see throughout the trilogy, “loyalty” and “professionalism” are seen as cardinal virtues by those involved in the sinister conspiracy. We get the sense that Hunter would gladly cover up his own past, even as he tries to dig up the dirt in the past of the local police department.

There is a sense that they’d sympathise. They’d rather pretend certain things had not happened either. Calling him out on it, Helen is less than sympathetic. “Well, that’s you’re problem, isn’t it?” she replies. “It still happened.”this would certainly be an interesting avenue to develop Hunter, but it feels like it never really takes off. He never seems quite as compromised as the movie seems to want him to be.

(York)shire incorruptibility…

One thing that director James Marsh does exceeding well is to mingle fact and fiction, creating the impression that Red Riding: 1980 exists in a world that is quite like our own, and yet subtly different. The opening montage includes real news footage and interviews from Yorkshire at the time of the brutal murders, but intercuts it with appeals from our fictional detectives. Maurice Jobson is a work of complete fiction, so it seems strange to see him sitting opposite Peter Sutcliffe. There’s even a fictional victim of the Ripper… who turns out to be a fictional victim of the Ripper, in one lovely post-modern twist.

Although to a much lesser extent than Red Riding: 1974, there’s a sense of impending doom in the world outside Yorkshire. Or, at least, in Great Britain. We get a sense that the country is greatly troubled by the events in Yorkshire. While the authorities there tend to treat it as their fiefdom, it seems that there comes a point where outside forces need to get involved. “We want you to head up a covert Home Office inquiry into the Ripper investigation,” Hunter is informed early on. And it isn’t just pen-pushers who are eagerly watching the events unfold. “Mr Hunter, this goes right to the top. The Home Secretary is taking a personal interest.”

Time for reflection…

The issue of Northern Ireland continues to filter into the background of the series, with news reports covering the hunger strikes at the Maze prison. Indeed, this explicitly becomes a point of otherness for Hunter, as he is goaded over dinner, “Not on hunger strike, are you?” As if to make the implied insult clear, he is then asked, “You’re Roman, aren’t you?” Not only is Hunter from outside Yorkshire, he’s a Catholic to boot. At least the protagonists from Red Riding: 1974 and Red Riding: 1983 could be said to be coming home. Hunter is very clearly, in every aspect of the word, an outsider.

Hunter is clearly resented as somebody who doesn’t belong in Yorkshire and who doesn’t understand how things work in this part of the world. “Are you going back to Manchester?” the press demands after a particularly disappointing press conference. When he arrives he’s fashioned with “terms of reference” for his investigation. The local chief states, “I don’t like open-ended inquiries.” Even his assistance on the Ripper investigation is less than welcome. “Like I said, we will catch our Ripper, Mr Hunter,” Bob Craven assures him. “Not you.”

Show and tell time…

Bob Craven is a fascinating creation, brought to life superbly by Sean Harris. Ultimately, he’d prove to be more of a henchman than a mastermind, and Red Riding: 1983 ultimately suggests that a lot of his sinister behaviour and shrewd observations were merely mimicked from more senior and sophisticated officials. Still, Harris has a wonderfully creepy way about him, and he relishes the opportunity to play a character who is slowly slipping.

There’s something quite effective about how disconnected Red Riding: 1980 is from the films around it, something very harrowing. Craven isn’t even that close to the heart of the corruption, despite his vile deeds and his veiled threats – if Craven is the kind of person on the outer circle, it suggests that what waits at the heart must be truly terrifying. There is, after all, a reason that the police refer to the basement of their headquarters as “the belly”, as if the whole thing were some sort of horrendous beast.

A not-so-Merry Christmas…

Aside from the fictionalised account of police corruption, Red Riding: 1980 also does an exceptional job capturing some of the casual indifference and misogyny that allowed the Yorkshire Ripper to evade detection for so long. Sutcliffe’s early victims were prostitutes and it has been suggested that the police did not respond as quickly to the murders as they should have. Here, Craven dismisses early victims, as if trying to justify the lack of interest from the authorities. “At the start, the only links we had was that they were all slags.”

When Hunter tries to convince Jobson about the importance of a pornography magazine to the investigation, he advises his colleague, “Maurice, that rag features one of the Ripper’s victims.” Jobson dismisses the evidence with a none-too-subtle suggestion that it isn’t worth looking into the murder of a prostitute and porn star. “An occupational hazard, isn’t it?” he asks. This idea – that there are people worth caring about and people who aren’t worth caring about – connects all three films, and it’s a fascinating thematic link with the real-life ripper case. After all, many of the girls in Red Riding: 1974are dismissed because of their backgrounds.

Talk about parking the investigation…

James Marsh does a good job with the script, even if he does occasionally allow Dickon Hinchliffe’s score to overwhelm at times. These three films are each shot in a very different style (using very different technology) by three very different directors. I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that I missed Julian Jarrold’s more naturalistic style, but Marsh’s approach has its own merits. It really creates the impression that we’re getting a very different view of the same corruption.

I actually quite liked Red Riding: 1980. It has good ideas, even if its  execution of them isn’t perfect. Marsh gives the whole thing a very cinematic quality. Paddy Considine makes a great leading man, and Sean Harris is a delightfully sinister foil. It’s a nice piece of English noir, and if its biggest weakness is that it doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, that’s hardly a fatal flaw.

Read our complete reviews of the Red Riding trilogy:

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