review by Mark Pezzula
Directed by James Marsh
Starring Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, Sean Harris
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (from here on out to be referred to as Red Riding '80) is a self-contained story that is tenuously, at first, connected to Red Riding 1974, which I reviewed here.
Picking up six years after the first film, Red Riding '80 features the very awesome Paddy Considine (who still kills me in Hot Fuzz's "mustache gag" - check it out here (he's the one with the mustace)) as Peter Hunter, a Manchester Police Officer recruited by the Yorkshire Police Department to take over the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. A total of twelve women have been murdered by the Ripper, and as the press has a field day with the bungling of the case by the YPD, the public is locking their doors and demanding curfew. Hunter has a squeaky-clean record, and appears to be the ideal candidate to head an investigation that needs to be solved for both the good of the public and the reputation of the authorities in charge.
Tying Red Riding '80 to the previous film is the fact that Hunter led an investigation into a mass murder at a Yorkshire bar called The Karachi Club in 1974, which we do see in the first Red Riding installment. When Hunter accepts the job he comes under the employ of characters we meet in '74 - Maurice Jobson (David Morrison) and Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke). Like Red Riding 1974, '80 deals with corruption from the lowest level Police Detective to the highest constable. While there is a different type of victim involved (grown women in '80 as opposed to children in '74), Red Riding '80 still presents a personal story inside a backdrop of evil and fear.
Where 1974 was mostly presented in a film-noir style, though, Red Riding '80 plays mostly as a police procedural. We don't see any of the murders, we simply follow Hunter and his team - Helen (Maxine Peake), John (Tony Pitts), and Bob (Sean Harris) - as they attempt to solve the case of the Ripper. Don't mistake the film for a feature length version of Law and Order, though. As with '74, there's plenty of character development and honest to goodness great writing going on.
As with the first film, Red Riding '80 is deeply layered, with real, tangible characters. Peter Hunter is a man who believes in his policework, but has been broken by a miscarriage his wife had while he was investigating The Karachi Club murders from '74. On the surface he's all business professional, but as the film wears on screenwriter Tony Grisoni slowly reveals facets of Hunter's personality that conflict with his introduction as Manchester Super Cop, and perhaps even dip every so slightly into the darkside. Considine excels in the role. When the wheels of the investigation come undone and Hunter realizes the vast network of conspiracy unraveling around him, there's serious pain in the man's eyes, and the actor sells the character's soul-shattering disappointment with a few lines and a down-turned mouth.
The supporting cast is, predictably (the good predictably), uniformly great. Maxine Peake gets the most meat in her role and, although she's not gorgeous in the typical sense of the word, is quite radiating as the broken-hearted but still professional Helen. And Sean Harris makes an impression with a character who was only glimpsed in '74 committing acts of violence. His Bob Craven is a ratty, corrupt disgusting character, and Harris is likeably unlikeable (looking like DJ Qualls run through a septic tank) in the role.
In my review of Red Riding 1974 I praised the authentic feeling of the production, and felt Julian Jerrod really captured an atmosphere that lent a lot of credibility to the story at hand. James Marsh, while keeping a better pace with Red Riding '80, shoots the film in 35mm, and doesn't fill the film with the attention to period detail like Jerrod did. While this doesn't damage the film irreparably, it does, unfortunately, make the film feel less immediate and engrossing. '74 worked in spades because of its enveloping atmosphere. '80 suffers (but not fatally so) from a lack of it.
Despite its few, if distracting, flaws, Red Riding '80 is still a worthy follow up to its predecessor. It expands a story that so very much asked to be blown open, and it reveals secrets about the first film that makes one want to go back and watch it with more scrutiny than on first viewing. Red Riding '80 is a finely crafted film, and a fine bridge to what, I hope, will be a memorable ending to the Red Riding Trilogy with Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983.