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Home » Culture and Criticism

30/31: Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974

Submitted by on December 30, 2011 – 11:54 AM10 Comments

I get to a point in a film-watching sprint where I begin to wonder if I can recognize a good film any longer. I'll hit a C-minus/D-plus patch, which is usually only two or three movies but feels much longer, and I'll ask myself whether the project has finally, inevitably strangled my capacity for movie-going joy. Would I watch Goodfellas for the first time and grumble, "YOU'RE a shinebox"? Can I still love Noises Off, or should they all just legit shut up about the fucking sardines already?

Fact: hope is not dead. I mean, as far as Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974 is concerned, it's not just dead, it may never have drawn breath at all. But as far as good stories go, I didn't take a single note for 90 minutes, and spent the last half hour pitched forward on the couch, elbows on knees. I don't think a narrative has grabbed me around the waist like that since I started The Wire. Maybe Epitafios. ("I meant to watch that!" Dude. New Year's marathon, seriously. It's really good, and Julio Chavez is un zorro.)

I haven't watched the other two chapters yet, so I hesitate to summarize the plot, but the plot almost isn't the point anyway. Just in case: it's sort of about an investigation into children disappearing in Yorkshire starting in the late '60s, in a case modeled on the Yorkshire Ripper. Really, though, it's about how that investigation is twisted and dishonored by the police, and the police in turn by the local businessman who really runs things (Sean Bean, sporting the pork-roast-in-a-turtleneck kit and bully smile of '70s Pete Rose). A young reporter who didn't cut it in London, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), is back home, trying to stay in the game and get to the bottom of the abductions, but the bottom is so much lower and darker than he imagines that he'll never reach it. Fog and smoke shorten the sight distance to feet, sometimes inches. Sometimes you don't really know what's been communicated, thanks to the accents that don't always penetrate an American ear, but then you'd kind of rather not know anyway. Every hallway is narrow, or covered with that horrid reflective geometric wallpaper from Lileks's Interior Desecrations, and the claustrophobia is mercilessly effective; the only solution to anything for the characters is to run away, and you'll want to get up and go find a sunny field someplace yourself, and stand in the middle of it.

The atmosphere is bleak, but enthralling instead of depressing (…so far; as I said, I've got the other two "years" left). Director Julian Jarrold builds a whole world that I bought into right away, and the actors move around in it like it's a documentary. Garfield is believably (i.e., sometimes frustratingly) determined, and he can really wear a pair of bell-bottoms. (He can really not wear them too, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.) (I mean his ass. It is great.) Bean is fantastic and revolting. Rebecca Hall as Paula Garland is spot-on, so much better than that thankless role in The Town; when Dunford takes off for a bit, promising he'll come back in a couple of hours, her compulsive nodding, knowing he will, knowing he can't, is perfect.

I hope I can do a better job of talking specifics once I've seen the entire trilogy, but like I said, my sense is that Red Riding intends a greater whole, a miasma of fear and rot that sinks into the viewer's clothing. And so far, it's working.

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  • Seankgallagher says:

    Collectively, these three movies were my favorite movies of 2010, and I'm not generally a fan of serial killer movies (the way they fetishize science, and how they're usually more interested in saying, "Look, a monster!" than trying to figure out, you know, how and why they came to be). As with the novels they're based on (there was a novel set in 1977 that wasn't filmed due to budget constraints), the case being investigated goes hand in hand with not just, as you say, fear and rot but also corruption at almost every level. It's like I felt after reading James Ellroy's "L.A. Confidential" for the first time (Ellroy is apparently a fan of David Peace, the author of these books, and Peace's style owes a lot to him). Also, one other performance that deserves mention is David Morrissey as the police lieutenant (without giving anything away, he's also important in the other two films). I know him mostly from British TV like "State of Play" and the recent BBC version of "Sense and Sensibility", where he played Colonel Brandon (not quite as good as Alan Rickman in the film version, but that's a tall order anyway, and he was good), and as in those, he's able to communicate a lot just by suggestion. I hope you like the other two movies as much.

  • Bo says:

    This is in my Netflix queue. Your impressions have moved it to the top.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Christ, wait until you see the other two. You'll want to, as Auden says, turn off the moon and dismantle the sun.

    (I highly recommend turning on the subtitles. The plot gets so complicated that without them we would have been hopelessly lost.)

  • Paul F says:

    I remember really liking this miniseries when it first aired back in 2009. Now I want to watch it again. I think it was the first thing I'd seen Garfield, Hall or Robert Sheehan in.

  • Sarahnova says:


    I can't tell you how happy I am that he's now getting international recognition. Check him out in "Boy A" – it's inspired by the Jamie Bulger murder case, about how, and whether, children who have killed can ever come back into society again.

  • Sarahnova says:

    Oh, Andrew Garfield's ass? Also in Boy A. I'm just sayin'.

  • Sandman says:

    Is Andrew Garfield getting up into the high passes of Fassbender Chastain territory, or am I just now noticing?

    I'm with Seankgallagher: Morrissey's one of the good things about the most recent BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. (It read to me as an adaptation of Emma Thompson's screenplay of Sense and Sensibility, but that's a rant for another day.

  • attica says:

    I'd seen the third year about a year ago, when I'd just recorded it on the strength of my affection for the actors listed (i.e. Morrisey) on the cable guide. I had no idea it was part of a trilogy when I watched it, and it suffered as a result. Now that I've seen all three, well, finally all those pieces that seemed so random in the first view now have a place. I didn't really enjoy the plotting of the final 'year' as I thought it relied on some weak-assed devices (other folks may like that kind of thing), but I still enjoyed the creep factor, the environment created by the directors, and the 'holy crap we'll never get the corruption out' sense of dread/despair.

    And isn't the guy who played Bob Craven (also Cesare's hired assassin on The Borgias) one of the most off-putting fellows ever on screen?

  • MinglesMommy says:

    Never stop loving "Noises Off." That's all I can say.

  • JBP says:

    I went and read the novel. I'm a huge fan of northern european crime fiction, and have been looking for something to follow all the "skandihoovian" stuff I've read (Mankell, Ekman, Larsson, Sjöwall & Wahlöö, Nesbo, etc.).

    I didn't like it. That isn't to say it was not amazingly well written, because it was. And, like Sars watching on the edge of her seat, I could not put the book down for the last 1/3 of it. It was similar to a lot of what I have read, in that the scope of the corruption is really what the book is about. Yes, some little girls went missing, and came to very unpleasant ends. The narrator/protagonist is not at all likable and … well, it was a good book. I just didn't _like_ it.

    Will I go get the other 3? Maybe. But I'll have to get back into my 'comfort zone' –maybe I'll reread some Stephen King watch one of Lars von Trier's stuff or something.

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