Red Riding: 1974

(2009) dir. Julian Jarrold
viewed: 02/10/10

Red Riding: 1974is the first of a trilogy of films made for the British Channel 4 and now being released theatrically (and on On Demand) here in the United States.  It’s a series of adaptations from a four book series by English crime writer David Peace, covering a nine year stretch of time 1974-1983 and basing its narratives around some real-life serial crimes from that period, including the Yorkshire Ripper case and a series of child murders that preceded it.  While the story is constructed around real events, the whole of the narrative is a fiction, not entirely unlike the work of James Ellroy in his LA Quartet.

The three films are directed by different filmmakers, in this case Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots (2005) and Becoming Jane(2007)), but are adapted all by the same writer, Tony Grisoni.  And they are woven together with some recurring characters.

Recently, there was a new film festival here in San Francisco, the “Mostly British” Film Festival, which featured these films, which I hadn’t heard of at the time, but then in the most recent issue of The New Yorker an interesting review ran of the films and I was tempted to watch them on On Demand (they are not yet playing theatrically in SF outside of their showings at the festival).

Red Riding: 1974 follows a young reporter who comes to the Yorkhshire Postand becomes intrigued by what he realizes is a set of serial child murders, which he has a hard time getting his editor or the local police to show interest in.  The whole of the series of stories is set in North Yorkshire, mostly around Leeds, and the picture painted by Peace/Grisoni is one of clannish corruption to the depth of the core in the police, the gentry, and even into the free press.  He is even beaten severely and dumped for his troubles with the warning that “This is the North” and this is how things are.

The reporter hooks up with the widowed mother of one of the children killed by the serial murderer, and finds himself embroiled in further corruption stories through the research of a colleague who winds up killed and the intimidation of the local magnate who looks to build an American-style mall on land that he owns, driving away the gypsies who had squatted on it.

For this film, though, the ornate aspect of the child murders, the swan wings stitched into the backs of the murdered child, the insane wife, and the way the whole thing boils down, seems a bit more contrived than revelatory.  I mean, it’s hard to do the serial killer thing without giving them some unique character aspect of their murders (it’s all been done before), but then it’s impossible to believe that if something that far out had happened that it could possibly have been kept quiet, no matter who the murderer turned out to be.

But I’m holding off some of my opinion about Red Riding: 1974 until I’ve had a chance to see the other two, in case it perhaps makes all more sense by the time the finale rolls around.  It’s good.  It’s earnest.  But perhaps somewhat forgettable.

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