RED RIDING: 1974 directed by Julian Jarrold
RED RIDING: 1980 directed by James Marsh
RED RIDING: 1983 directed by Anand Tucker
The truth is an elusive quarry in "Red Riding," an English trilogy of police thrillers set in West Yorkshire between 1974 and 1983. But if this grimly mesmerizing saga—adapted from a series of novels by David Peace, and originally broadcast on British television—has any moment of truth, it arrives in the opening-credits sequence of the second installment, Red Riding: 1980. As stock footage and photographs evoke the real-life nightmare of the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 young women over a five-year period, Bill Molloy, the fictional police commander heading the investigation, makes a televised plea to the killer. "I don't regard you as evil," he confesses, staring into the camera as if in a trance. "To me you're like a bad angel on a mistaken journey. And while I would never condone your methods, I can sympathize with your feelings."
A gnarled oak of a man (played by veteran character actor Warren Clarke), Molloy has clearly been on the case too long, and his statement of sympathy provokes such an uproar that his superiors decide to replace him. But his words hang over the entire trilogy, which portrays the West Yorkshire force as a cesspool of corruption and misogyny. men are the enemy reads a placard in one of the news photos that's intercut with Molloy's broadcast. it could be the man next door, reads another. Indeed, what makes these movies so unnerving is that their evil seems to reach well past the killers and even the West Yorkshire police, into the soul of every man. You'd be hard pressed to find a female character in any of the movies who doesn't suffer at the hands of men; a vicious hatred of women slithers through the trilogy like a serpent, and even the most well-meaning of men are too flawed to defend them.
That's certainly the case with Eddie Dunford, the cocky young crime reporter at the center of Red Riding: 1974. A local lad who's distinguished himself in the London press, Eddie (Andrew Garfield of Boy A) returns in glory to the staid Yorkshire Post just in time to cover the murder of a ten-year-old girl who's found tortured, raped, and strangled to death with "4LUV' carved into her flesh and a pair of severed swan wings stitched to her back. Suspecting that the crime is linked to the unsolved disappearances of two other girls in 1969 and 1972—a theory indulged by neither his phlegmatic boss nor the openly hostile Molloy—Eddie begins investigating the earlier cases and winds up on the doorstep of Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall of Vicky Cristina Barcelona), the widowed mother of the girl who vanished two years earlier.
Eddie clearly sees himself as a hero, yet he works his way into Paula's flat with a lie about how he's researching a color piece about grieving parents, and his glib questions drive her into a quiet fury. "You come into my house like you're discussing the weather, or some war in another fucking country," she tells him. "You know, this thing happened to me." After she throws Eddie out, he approaches her in a pub to apologize, and they wind up in bed together. Their affair compromises his investigation and threatens her safety, since Paula has another lover as well—a shadowy figure who's moved in on her since her husband died and whose motives are even more suspect than Eddie's. "You just want to rescue me!" Paula tells Eddie. "Well, you're not the first." Eddie does sincerely want to rescue her, but ultimately she becomes a pawn between the two men, who seem as selfish and controlling in their way as the one who keeps murdering little girls.
Red Riding: 1980 follows more or less the same formula as the first installment: an illicit sexual relationship complicates an investigation of, and provides a disturbing commentary on, a series of grisly crimes against women. This time the central character is Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a "squeaky clean" commander from the Manchester force who's brought in to take over the Ripper investigation after Molloy shoots himself in the foot on TV. Hunter is allowed to pick his own team, and he wants only the best—though one of the best, in his opinion, is Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake), a Manchester detective with whom he once had an adulterous affair. Hunter's motives are pure, but the higher-ups insist on at least one Yorkshire man who's familiar with the previous investigation, and that turns out to be Bob Craven (Sean Harris), a repellent character who antagonizes Marshall with the crudest possible sexual terminology as they review the victims' autopsy reports.