Movies · Reviews

Foreign Objects: Red Riding 1980 (UK)

By  · Published on February 11th, 2010

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport and get your shots, because this week we’re heading to…

the UK!

Note: Red Riding is a trilogy of films from the UK about a series of serial killings that terrorized Northern England from the late sixties on into the eighties. The movies are based on a quartet of books by David Peace and use the murders as a narrative thread that winds its way through the lives of people touched by the crimes including most notably the police and the press. Like Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and David Fincher’s Zodiac, Red Riding is just as (if not more) interested in the dark machinations of the men surrounding the case as it is the mystery itself. Of particular note is the trilogy’s format… all three films are scripted by Tony Grisoni but are helmed by different directors and feature (mostly) different casts. The result is three separate movies (1974, 1980, and 1983), each with a unique look and feel, that work together to tell a tale of corruption, murder, and the many other evils that men do. My review of the first film, 1974, is here.

Six years have passed since the events of the first film culminated in the shooting bloodbath at the night-club, and the dirty dealings of the West Yorkshire police department have only gotten worse. To compound matters the local populace is in a state of panic as a madman stalks the streets killing women in cruel and sadistic ways. The killer has been dubbed ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’ and unlike the loosely connected child murders in 1974 these killings are most definitely the work of one highly disturbed individual. After five years of empty leads and heaps of well-deserved criticism, the police decide to bring in an outside detective to take over the investigation with a fresh set of eyes.

Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) joins the case as lead detective from Manchester and brings along two of his own trusted fellow officers, John Nolan (Tony Pitts) and Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake). Along with their experience Marshall also brings some baggage in the form of an affair she and Hunter had that nearly cost him his marriage. The trio settles in to the investigation just after the discovery of a thirteenth body and quickly immerse themselves in the five-year history of the killings. As they dig deeper Hunter discovers a resistance among certain members of the West Yorkshire police, including Detective Bob Craven (Sean Harris) who was a mere bobby in 1974, that may relate to the night-club shooting from the previous film. Hunter was also the lead investigator into that incident but was forced to leave abruptly for personal reasons thereby guaranteeing the case would be closed without further inquiry. Politics, guilt, and long-buried secrets collide as one more good man tries to stand up against evil.

1980 follows a similar path from 1974 in its presentation of a lone innocent standing up to a deep and seemingly unbeatable world of corruption. Where it differs a bit is in the focus and depth of attention it gives to the two sides. 1974’s protagonist Eddie Dunsford fought a battle not only with bad men but also with his emotional self. His father issues, his desire to be more than he was, and his foolhardy need for risky companionship were as much responsible for his journey as anything the police or hired thugs tossed in his way. Hunter has issues, to be sure, including a rocky marriage and a workplace temptation, but his eye is clearly on the ball throughout the proceedings. He does everything right and he makes progress, but sometimes the brightest light is the easiest to extinguish.

Once again the film excels in the acting department. Considine’s Hunter is a focused man filled with intent and purpose, and he shows just enough emotion and desire to make the character real. His wants and needs are two separate things and when they grow too close Considine doesn’t feel the need to wince or over emote. Instead we witness the brief but inevitable battle cross his face as he moves forward. 1980 is really his movie, but several other actors stand out in their smaller roles. Harris plays the slimy Craven with perfectly despicable glee, and while he’s far from likable he’s still an impressive button-pusher. Peter Mullan also returns briefly as a man working with society’s lower class citizens who may hold the key to solving the case.

Director James Marsh is best known as the man behind 2009’s Man on Wire, and he successfully brings that same creative eye to this much darker narrative. Gone are the dreams and intentionally dream-like visuals from the prior film. Instead Marsh drops us into a nightmarish but believable world and forces us to see the things we only wish were dreams. His film is filled with less overt violence than the previous one, but it allows room for terrible aftermath and at least one shockingly abrupt act. He also manages to pack just as much meaning and power in calm scenes free of danger including one beautifully shot piece where Hunter finds himself surrounded by children playing with toy guns. There’s no true threat, but our pulse quickens along with his as the masked shooters appear out of the dark and take aim.

Unlike 1974, this film doesn’t stand as well on its own (but that doesn’t make it a lesser movie). It has a self-contained story, but it relies on groundwork laid down previously. The core of the corruption and evil birthed in 1974 is in full form here and a formidable foe for any hero to face and survive. There’s no getting around it… the Red Riding films (at least the first two) are bleak and at times depressing movies. The world they inhabit is our world devoid of hope (both true and false) and traditional happy endings. Bad things happen to good people, but they also happen to bad people and everyone in between. Life is rough, but while death is often rougher it’s at least a guaranteed escape from all that came before. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there better be some goddamn sunshine and smiles in 1983 or the BBC will feel my considerable wrath…

The Upside: Stellar performance by Considine; beautifully shot; dark and twisted narrative.

The Downside: Possibly too bleak for some viewers; some dialects/accents are unintelligible; middle section of trilogy provides few answers.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.