Movies · Reviews

Foreign Objects: Red Riding 1983 (UK)

By  · Published on February 17th, 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.

The final installment of the Red Riding trilogy sets itself apart from the preceding films almost immediately. 1974 opens with a dead girl and a battered reporter and 1980 opens with news footage of murdered women and panicked citizens, but 1983? Part three opens with a wedding filled with cheerful faces and celebration… it’s a definite change of pace, but it’s not long before the trilogy’s dark tone seeps into the proceedings. That intro is one of many things that sets this film apart from the two previous, but unfortunately not all of the changes are for the better.

It’s been three years since the Yorkshire Ripper case came to an end, and as memories of those crimes begin to fade some older ones are resurfacing. A young girl has gone missing, and the details of her disappearance remind some of the three little girls who were found brutally murdered in the early seventies. A suspect is arrested and his treatment by the West Yorkshire Police leads two men to challenge their beliefs and step up for what’s right (something that usually doesn’t end well for these do-gooder Brits). Detective Jobson (David Morrisey) is having a crisis of conscience over his past involvement with the department and their violent and corrupt ways. Jobson was a minor player in the first two films but here he shares the screen as one of the two leads. The other is John Piggot (Mark Addy), a lawyer hired to mount an appeal for the simpleton convicted of the child murders back in 1974. Two men going against their normal judgment. Two men demanding the truth be revealed. Two men, who if the past is any indicator, probably won’t make it to the end credits…

As I mentioned above there are some distinct differences here from the first two films, but there are also some similarities. For one thing, the tone is consistent throughout the trilogy in its omnipresent sense of foreboding and futility. We’ve seen good men go down this path before, and we’ve been trained to expect the worst. The corrupt members of the police department may be a few men shy since last we met them, but they’re just as menacing as ever. Their mantra, “To the North, where we do what we want,” is repeated three times throughout the film and it’s one they definitely live by (and others die by).

1983 differs from its predecessors in two distinct ways, and neither of them are for the better. First, unlike the first two films with their singular lead protagonists, this one has two. The problem is that it dilutes the emotional attachment we have for them, and we’re left with two men enduring serious internal struggles that we just don’t care all that much about. We do care of course, especially as they race towards answering at least one of the big questions from the first film, but our sympathies aren’t as strong here as they were for Eddie Dunford in 1974 or Peter Hunter in 1980. Those characters were the centerpieces of their respective films, and we lived and breathed both their successes and their failures alongside them. This time around it’s the plot thread we’re racing along with instead of the characters.

The other big change here is in the exorbitant number of flashback sequences. They’re used to fill in narrative gaps and answer questions leftover from the previous films, and while they succeed for the most part they can also tend to be highly confusing. On more than one occasion it took several minutes before it even became clear that we were in a flashback scene. The information provided throughout is always interesting and relevant to at least two lingering questions, but there’s so many more threads left unanswered.

The acting here is not surprisingly top notch, but while Morrisey and Addy both deliver strong performances we don’t get enough time with them to feel truly impressed. Several actors from the earlier films continue (or return) with their characters as well including Sean Bean, Warren Clarke, and Peter Mullan. The director’s chair is filled with probably the most unlikely director of the trilogy, Anand Tucker, whose most recent credit is the ridiculously contrived romantic comedy Leap Year. He’d be smart to scratch that one from his resume and highlight this film instead. It suffers beside the earlier entries, but it’s still a far superior film to anything else he’s done.

1983 is not as good as the two films that preceded it when it comes to straight narrative and character, but as the final part of the trilogy it doesn’t necessarily need to be… as long as it serves to conclude and wrap up what those other films started. And in that regard it succeeds. Kind of. A central mystery is solved, and a few general questions are answered, but there’s still quite a bit left unresolved. More answers are needed (and more punishment should have been meted out damnit). But even with those shortcomings the film has the benefit of being last and being the one to provide the answers. The film’s final ten minutes is powerful stuff, beautifully shot, and more emotionally satisfying than anything else in the entire trilogy. It doesn’t quite make up for what’s missing from the rest of the film, but it provides a certain amount of satisfaction and much-needed closure.

The Upside: Certain amount of catharsis after the bleak and depressing first two films; doesn’t feel compelled to wrap up every loose end, just the most important one

The Downside: Constant flashbacks can be confusing; two leads and both lack emotional depth seen in previous films; some emotional story threads left unfilled

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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.