Movie Review: The Red Riding Trilogy (2010)


Andrew Garfield in Red Riding: 1974
Photo: IFC Films

Tedious is the first word that comes to mind after taking in the five hour Red Riding Trilogy made up of three separate films directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker. The films set out to tell the story of a ten year period in which the “Yorkshire Ripper” terrorized northern England during the 1970s and ’80s. Produced by Channel 4, the trilogy first aired on BBC in the UK back in March of 2009 and is now making its rounds as a roadshow screening offering three films for the price of one, courtesy of IFC. Unfortunately, while sitting through Jarrold’s first installment, titled 1974, you aren’t going to get a similar satisfaction from what’s left to come.

Beginning with 1974, Jarrold’s film offers the best story of the trilogy and the best performance from his installment’s lead Andrew Garfield who reminds me a lot of a young Malcolm McDowell.

Garfield plays a green journalist with an eye to get his mitts on a big story. Mocked by Eddie Marsan playing his tenured peer and referring to him as “Scoop,” Garfield begins investigating the recent disappearance of a young girl, attempting to find a connection to similar disappearances from the not-so-distant past.

It’s here we get our first taste of the corruption and misdeeds surrounding the circumstances that make up these three films. Sean Bean adds plenty of menace playing real estate magnate John Dawson and Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) continues to show she has some serious talent playing the mother of a long-ago kidnapped daughter as Garfield comes around digging up past horrors. Garfield’s performance, in conjunction with a story that shows promise, had me hotly anticipating Marsh’s 1980, but it’s here the trilogy hits a major stumbling block.

Marsh, director of the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, is handed a talking-head story of boredom. 1980 ends up serving little-to-no-reason to exist in this series (or on film for that matter) other than to say “it’s a trilogy.” The “Yorkshire Ripper” is still killing, and Manchester detective Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is called in to lead the investigation. Unfortunately, the story gets marred with Hunter’s wholly uninteresting and clichéd personal life rather than the chaos brewing due to his involvement in the case. 1980 is one wrong step after another to the point the ending was the film’s only saving grace and only moment I felt any sense of retribution for dedicating 97-minutes of my time to watch it.

Finally, 1983 directed by Anand Tucker, who just recently delivered the truly awful rom-com Leap Year, finishes out the trilogy by completing the story started in 1974. To be fair, 1983 isn’t all that bad, but it’s in the attempt to watch all three films in a row that makes it much worse than it truly is.

1983 centers on Maurice Jobson, a one-time detective on the “Ripper” case played by David Morrissey. Maurice played a role in the “Ripper” investigation in the 1974 story, but is now given reason to revisit the case as his conscience and new facts wreak havoc on his moral code. The film can’t keep up with the intrigue of 1974, but is certainly an improvement on the ever-so unimportant 1980.

While many critics are trying to say seeing these three films back-to-back-to-back is the “only” way to see them… that’s B.S. In all honesty, check out 1974, go get some lunch with some friends and head back to the theater an hour-or-so later and check out 1983. You won’t have missed anything and will likely have enjoyed a great day at the cinema and out on the town. But no matter what, I would say 1974 is worth a watch, and while my end grade of the overall trilogy doesn’t say much for the three films as a whole, that initial installment is definitely a winner.