Now a 305-minute triptych film, Red Riding originated in the novels of Ossett-bred David Peace, written in Tokyo and published 1999-2002. Looking back without nostalgia to the Yorkshire of his youth, the books summoned what Brit critic Simon Reynolds once called the "sheer crapness of England in the late '70s," when "the U.K. [looked] like an Eastern Bloc country."
Peace's four Red Riding books, set between 1974 and 1983, tell four compact, overlapping narratives of crime and punishment — rarely of the guilty. Each glimpse of conspiracy comes with fresh torment for the investigator until implosion seems inevitable. At the intersection of page-turning and interminable, Peace's doomster lyric-sheet prose has a repetitive, drubbing quality that aspires to incantation and reads like water torture. Oft described as "poetic," it's like what Trent Reznor might write with access to police photostats.
Julian Jarrold's 1974 concerns Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), who has moved home from the South for Dad's funeral and a job as a junior crime reporter. He starts to cover the disappearances of local girls and decries something rotten in Yorkshire as his investigations don't jibe with the case-closed conviction of a local halfwit (loosely inspired by the 1975 railroading of Stefan Kiszko).
Garfield's fresh face, not long intact, doesn't belong in these dismal climes, a wasteland of rain, synthetic fabric, industrial estates, underlit terraced houses with fake fireplaces, Brutalist public buildings, all shot in gravelly Super 16. "This is the North. We do what we like" is the series catchphrase of sorts. The "We" are, per Peace's imposition of fairy-tale elements, the Big, Bad Wolves: lumpish bullies like Sean Bean's developer or Warren Clarke's Chief Inspector Bill Malloy. Not so lucky are the little girls and pretty boys, like Robert Sheehan's BJ, a through line in the series as the male prostitute who knows too much. Another refrain: the establishing shot of the village of Fitzwilliam, the crap town of crap towns, announced by nuclear cooling towers and the last layer of West Yorkshire hell.
1980, the best freestanding film by a wide margin, takes place during the last at-large days of Pete Sutcliffe, who, as the Yorkshire Ripper, held North England in suspense for five years and thirteen murders. Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is a Manchester internal-affairs man sent across the moors to review the thus-far failed search for The Ripper. A suspected Catholic, clean and clean-cut among corrupt shags, Hunter's many-times-over outsider status allows director James Marsh (Man on Wire) several face-offs between conceited, contained Considine and the resentful Yorkies in the gloomy guts of the station.
The Ripper's isolated operations interested Peace somewhat less than his own creations: hypocrite villains, remnants of a child's fear of adult conspiracy, a consortium of businessmen, cops and clergy who implicate the entire system with their arbitrary assignment of guilt and their mutual cover-ups. Peace's second novel, 1977, which deals the most with Sutcliffe, was excised for lack of funds. And Grisoni's teleplays fold multiple characters together, marginalize some of the books' major characters, and further cloud an already murky narrative. The fact that the films hang together at the brink of incoherence is a credit to the assembled acting talent. Rebecca Hall and Maxine Peake deserve note, oases in this nasty masculine world.
But any spell cast is diffused by weak clean-up man Anand Tucker's whiffed 1983, returning to Fitzwilliam and 1974's crime(s) in smeary digital video. Another missing child triggers flashbacks, and David Morrissey's Maurice Jobson, a career copper mired in compromises, remembers his conscience while picking up Dunford and Hunter's loose threads of investigation. A bathetic conclusion previews what we can anticipate from Ridley Scott's announced American remake.