Red Riding Trilogy Review

While the longform drama will always be the domain of prestigious American premium cable networks, the British do mini-series better than anyone else in the world. A measured, glacially paced adaptation of English author David Peace's hard-hitting Red Riding Quartet, this layered, relentlessly downbeat series encompasses a string of child murders, inclusive, and against the backdrop, of the real-life Yorkshire Ripper slayings that rocked the rural county of Yorkshire in the late seventies. Titled after the year in which they are set (1974, 1980, and 1983), each episode begins "In the Year of Our Lord...", a desperate plea that someone, anyone, is up there watching over us. Because, based on this bleak evidence, no one down here on Earth is.

While each individual installment was helmed by a different director working independently from the other two, the series retains a uniform tone; shuffling characters, looping back on itself, informing what has gone before and foreshadowing what is yet to come with such subtle intricacy that it is best devoured in a single sitting, if the viewer is indeed up to it. For while Red Riding is one of the single most enthralling tales you will ever experience, so grim is the subject matter, so sickening the violence, so abhorrent the injustices, and so despicable those who perpetrate them, that the cumulative weight of it all is nothing short of harrowing.

1974 focuses on cocky young reporter, Scoop (ladies and gentlemen, your new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield), recently returned from a stint "down South," who pieces together an inexplicable connection between several seemingly unrelated child abductions, a suspicious fire at a gypsy encampment, and a local construction magnate's (Sean Bean, superb as always) 100 million pound development deal. All of which puts him in the crosshairs of some very dangerous people.

Jump forward to 1980 and we find ourselves shadowing Inspector Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), brought in to oversee an internal inquiry into the stagnant Ripper Investigation, but whose line of questioning takes him dangerously close to the festering wounds, still open and bleeding from six years previously.

Forward again to 1983 and the child abductions start up again. John Piggott (Mark Addy) is a solicitor organizing appeal on behalf of the mentally challenged immigrant's son fitted up by police for the original killings. BJ (Robert Sheehan) is the wispy rent boy who knows too much. And the returning Maurice Jacobson (David Morrisey) is the conscience-ravaged copper, wracked by guilt over more than a decade's complicity in a cover-up littered with the bodies of the innocent and the unfortunate.

Deftly blending fact and fiction the series splices together made-up disappearances and killings with the real-life Peter Sutcliffe's reign of terror. The North's very own answer to Jack himself, Sutcliffe eluded police for more than five years, during which time his brutal murder and molestation of at least 13 known women, many of them prostitutes, shook the working class community to its very foundations and exposed the ineptitude and inadequacy of a largely corrupt regional police force, perfectly comfortable with abduction, torture, and murder themselves, if such things would serve to protect their interests.

Tied together throughout by an interlacing score from a trilogy of composers, dominated by haunting, melancholic strings, each episode traces a different aspect of the investigation, touching on themes of institutional self-preservation, corruption, and the moral bankruptcy of man. Red Riding is about the lies the Powers That Be tell us, the impunity with which they operate, and the tiny litanies we repeat to ourselves so that we can stand it.

Characterized by earthy tones and a banality of both character and lifestyle, the "North" of Red Riding speaks to the deep-seated class divisions that emerged in the post-war period and which still govern much of England's politics today. Where to drive 30 miles up the M1 is to enter what, for all intents and purposes, is a completely foreign land; proud, insulated, and deeply distrustful of outsiders. "To The North," the top coppers and their big business cohorts toast, "Where we do what we want!"

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Unfortunately we'll just have to forgive the US made TV spots, which saturate everything in a dramatic voice-over that just doesn't suit the material at all. Much better are the directors interview with Julian Jarrold for 1974, and the decently informative making-of mini-docs for 1980 and 1983. Deleted scenes are also included for each of the three episodes.


"Red Riding Trilogy" is on sale August 31, 2010 and is not rated. Crime-Thriller. Directed by Anand Tucker, James Marsh, Julian Jarrold. Written by Tony Grisoni (Screenplay), David Peace (Novels). Starring Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Jim Carter, Mark Addy, Paddy Considine, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Hall, Sean Bean, Sean Harris, Warren Clarke.

Neil Pedley • Associate Editor

Neil is a film school graduate from England now living in New York. In addition to JustPressPlay, Neil writes about for as well as being a columist and weekly podcast host at His free time is spent acting out scenes from Predator in the woods behind his house, playing all the different parts himself.


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