Elevate Difference

The Red Riding Trilogy

Movies about rape, murder, and child abuse should not be photographed this beautifully. Channel Four Film’s Red Riding Trilogy, shown as a miniseries in the UK but as three movies in the U.S., is one larger story connected by characters, place and the unrepentant horror of Yorkshire, in the northern England. In the north, as the characters say, they do what they want.

The three films are set in three years, 1974, 1980, and 1983, respectively. The first, 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold, focuses on Andrew Garfield’s Eddie Dunford, the new crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post, and his investigation into the disappearance of three young girls, the most recent found with wings sewn into her back. The second, 1980, directed by James Marsh, focuses on Paddy Considine’s Peter Hunter, a Manchester detective brought to Yorkshire to review the police’s handling of the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer. The third, 1983, directed by Anand Tucker, has two focuses: the first is on David Morrisey’s Maurice Jacbson, a corrupt detective having second thoughts, and the second is Mark Addy’s Eddie Pigford, a local boy turned lawyer who returns home to close his mother’s affairs and gets tangled up in the crimes, and becomes an unlikely hero. Characters appear and reappear in each story, changing in significance depending on who is seeing them.

The overarching mystery of the films is intriguing, if not original. Much of the joy from watching them comes from witnessing the characters move the pieces into place. As I watched 1983, I gasped out loud at certain parts. Waiting between the movies was legitimately frustrating, as I wanted to know what would happen almost more than I could stand, even though I knew it couldn’t be good. However, 1980 felt a bit disconnected from the other two. The timeline, fractured by the style of the movie, made some parts of all three hard to follow, but 1980 was all over the place. Ultimately, the story carried beyond the confusion.

The direction is amazing. All three parts are incredibly vivid, with powerful, dreamlike scenes haunting me well after the credits. All three employ dreamlike touches, with slow motion, flashbacks, time skips, and nontraditional camera angles. The movies looked like 1970s horror movies, and this gave the whole proceedings an eerie undertone. 1974, in particular, is gorgeous, and that beauty is used in such wonderfully unsettling ways. 1980 is a bit more straightforward, to mirror Peter’s traditional views. 1983, though, loses a bit of its power by having two main characters, diluting the style choices to very different men.

The entire cast is incredible. The standout is Andrew Garfield, who carries 1974 with ease, giving Eddie the believability of a cocky young investigative reporter and runs the gamut of emotions, making his ending both shocking and inevitable. Paddy Considine carries the conflicted nature of 1980’s Peter Hunter like a second skin-does actor carry sorrow better? Mark Addy is a pleasant addition to 1983, but isn’t around enough to make a big impact. David Morrisey’s Maurice Jobson has the strength to hold his character’s honor while doing terrible things, and still make you pity him. There were few female characters, but Rebecca Hall, as the mother of one of the lost girls in 1974, makes a strong impression. Secondary characters, including Sean Bean, Sean Harris, Richard Sheehan, and Daniel Mays, are wonderful. No one fits a false note.

If you like thrillers, horror movies, or mysteries, you aren’t going to do any better than the Red Riding Trilogy.

Written by: Taylor Rhodes, June 6th 2010