Three directors, one screenwriter, and a sprawling cast turn a quartet of novels by David Peace into a mesmerizing trilogy of films. It’s a rich and gripping saga of brutal murders, police corruption, and victims sacrificed to power and money set against the real-life backdrop of Yorkshire and the terror of the Yorkshire Ripper. Each film is created in a distinctly different style to evoke the period and is dense with characters and visual detail. Originally produced for British TV, they were subsequently released to theaters in the U.S. and Great Britain, where they received rave reviews.
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009), directed by Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), stars Andrew Garfield as a scruffy junior reporter on the trail of child killer story that leads him into a web of corruption, collusion and cover-ups and makes him particularly dangerous to the men who are really running Yorkshire. In the words of one officer, “This is the North and we do what we want.” It’s shot as a period piece (on 16mm film, giving it a gritty, raw quality) and evokes American crime dramas and investigative procedurals of the seventies, with little action but a brutal pace that drives the film with a momentum that outpaces the cocky kid.
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2009), directed by James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), stars Paddy Considine as an internal affair investigator sent by the Home Office to see why the West Yorkshire police have made so little headway on the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. The evidence points to police corruption and cover-up, which is not what his bosses want to hear, and if anything this film is even bleaker. This is a widescreen production with the brighter, harder look of 35mm film and a claustrophobic atmosphere that becomes more oppressive as he digs into the rot of the West Yorkshire police.
In Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2009), directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary & Jackie), the child killer is back, inadvertently protected by the corruption and cover-ups of the police. The institutional corruption is so ingrained it doesn’t even bother to disguise itself when a boozy attorney (Mark Addy) takes the case of the mentally challenged patsy coerced into confessing to the initial murders. Tucker shoots this one on high-definition digital video in a fragmented style, shooting around corners and peering over shoulders as if eavesdropping and jumping back and forth through time to remind us of how the sins of the past have spawned the horrors of the present.
Individually these films are gripping, uncompromising dramas that defy the comfort of a happy ending to put things right. Together, they make up a remarkable saga, a fictional journey through a culture of corruption and collusion, where the reach for power leaves the innocents unprotected from the wolves. The scale of abuse of power is if anything more unnerving and terrifying than the mysterious killers on the loose. It may be fiction, but this is no fairy tale.
Rebecca Hall, Sean Bean, Peter Mullan, and David Morrissey are among the supporting players who weave in and out of the epic drama.