Red Riding (2009)
“This is the North. Where we do what we want.”
It’s a while since I’ve read David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet, but they’re the type of books that stay with you. The claustrophobic atmosphere of evil that hangs in the air throughout his vision of Yorkshire is hard to shake off. It’s a tangled web of secrets and lies, vice and corruption, in which everybody knows much more than they let on, and everything is connected. Brutal, violent, sickening. A heavy world to plunge yourself into, but more than worth it.
So I was pretty excited to hear about the television adaptation by channel 4 when it came on last year. Due to an unplanned visit down from t’other north by my parents, we only caught 1974, and half of 1980. No 1977? Shame. Bob Fraser was one of the good ones, wasn’t he?
It’s only now on finally viewing the Red Riding Trilogy, that I feel a bit cheated. The respective directors of each piece have obviously done their best with Tony Grisoni’s adapted screenplay, but it all just feels too disjointed to make real sense. If I hadn’t read the books I could imagine I’d be more than a little confused. Hell, I have read the books and I’m still bloody confused by it.
1974 was a great bit of film making. Director Julian Jarold nailed the look and feel of the source material. The majority of the main players were there, and with the arrival of BJ, I thought they were setting up his character well. “Oh what a part you have to play in all of this yet, my son.“ Too bad they left him out almost entirely until the end of 1983, conveniently dropping him back in to tie up all the loose ends they forgot about, eh? The only fault I could find with 1974 was the reduction of a pivotal character – Jack Whitehead – to nothing more than a drunken waste of space. Whitehead is an integral part of the whole story, and is also connected to the Reverend Laws, who I’ll get back to…
The lack of 1977 leaves some gaping holes in the plotlines. The tension building during the height of The Yorkshire Ripper’s murders, Jack Whitehead’s guilt and anger over what happens to Eddie. We also miss out on another important character, George Oldman, head of the ripper hunt. By the time of the Ripper’s capture in the next episode, there’s nowhere near as much excitement as there could have been. Bob Fraser and Eric Hall are omitted completely so the true level of police involvement with regards to prostitution and pornography is left out, to be mentioned fleetingly in the 1980 episode.
I liked the style of 1980, the montage used for the opening credits, home film footage used to show Peter Hunter’s personal life, and the voyeuristic shots of scenes through windows, bars, gates – director James Marsh has said this was to heighten the feeling of the characters being spied on. It works. And I’m still sold on it until half way through, when I suddenly realise that there has been minimal mention of the Reverend Martin Laws. He’s a background figure. He was there at the shooting in 1974, and up he pops again, all benevolent and loving. This is not the Martin Laws of the books. An evil, malevolent bastard who twists the weak and the needy around his sick little finger. You lost me there, Red Riding, I was fine up till then.
By 1983, I thought, okay, ready for anything. What’ve you got? Plot holes all over the shop by the looks of it. The whole paedophilic ring of sin glossed over and whittled down to Dawson, Arthur Piggott and Martin Laws. No George Marsh, and I’m sure there were others who right now I forget. Not entirely important, as the big, glaring omission is the boyhood happenings of Michael Myshkin, BJ and John Piggott. No connection is made between these characters, all three of them witnessing pure and abject horror as children. Myshkin’s grandmother, as she says to the adult John “I remember your father out there, playing football with all you lads. It’ll never stop, and you know it.” was the one lost opportunity for exploring the deeper reaches of the story, and it’s left there hanging. If you’ve not read 1983, you don’t get the power of that statement. There is no explanation of how deep the rot goes. No sign of John’s revenge for a childhood stolen. Instead, they chose to tie it all up with an optimistic ribbon.
As I said at the start, it’s a while since I’ve read the books, and this is only what I can remember off the top of my head. It’ll be good to have a another read, and rediscover what else is missing. I have completely forgotten what happened to Jack Whitehead in the end, and the internet fails me.
I can understand that in order to make a coherent television adaptation they would have to leave out a lot of the darker, almost occult, “religious” aspects of Martin Laws and his trusty drill, but surely a longer running series to fit in important characters and plotlines would have been the better route. I understand that budget constraints may have been a concern, but couldn’t they have waited?
When all is said and done though, on it’s own, Red Riding makes for interesting television. The acting on display is terrific. A cast of familiar faces from the cream of British talent, and some not so familiar who I was glad to be introduced to, particularly Andrew Garfield and Sean Harris. Bloody good stuff.
Apparently Ridley Scott is in talks with Columbia Pictures to bring his own version to the big screen. The perfectionism aspect of Scott fills me with hope for this. My only question is, would it ever get finished?
Edit 4/11/10: I swear, one day soon, I will revisit this ground…