Red Riding:1974

A little review I wrote back in April. I’ve never finished watching the complete trilogy which gained a lot of attention in festival circuits due to certain critics’ reviews, such as Guardian critic David Thomson declaring: “Red Riding is better than The Godfather.”

A serial killer is run amok in a town and the only one who can stop him is none other than a rookie journalist. It shouldn’t be surprising if this kind of scenario sounds any familiar. Countless films with similar plots have already been made recently, most notably David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), but director Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited) imbues a distinct and haunting visual quality into his film Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, separating it from a crowd of detective noir films. 1974 is the first set in a noir trilogy, the other two being 1980 (James Marsh) and 1983 (Anand Tucker), all based on David Peace’s series of novels, Red Riding Quartet, and set in the town of Yorkshire in northwest of England.

It’s quite surprising to learn that 1974, perhaps one of the most visually absorbing films of this year, and the rest of the trilogy were television episodes broadcast on UK’s Channel 4. On the big screen, the suffocating and grim atmosphere of Yorkshire is presented in a relentless manner. Consider the scene in which Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) observes a burnt down site in which, we later find out, a girl is found raped and murdered with angel wings stitched to her back. As he gets himself out a thick fog and tries to make sense of the situation, flakes of debris—having an almost snow-like quality—float around him and wretched people, oblivious to his presence, meander. If Dunford ever foresaw the sort of inextricable mire he was getting himself into, it’s during this scene of utter desolation. Bewildered expression apparent in his face, he tells his colleague, Barry Gannon (Anthony Flanagan), that the devastated site was like Vietnam.

That sense of utter hopelessness and futility is fully embodied by the character Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), a mother whose daughter went missing, most likely dead, and whose husband has committed suicide not long after. Constantly smoking and drinking, she has lost her will to live, and her relationship with Dunford is the only reason for her to carry on doggedly with her life. Actors Garfield and Hall are remarkable in their performances when they share their screen time together. Garfield’s boyish and earnest attitude (“I was out of line,” Dunford apologizes after his thoughtless attempt to interview Garland) and Hall’s nonchalance, masking the inner desperation that emerges only when the subject of her daughter and her husband arises, counter each other strikingly. Each of them is morbidly attracted to each other, the boy empathizing with the woman and the woman pitying the boy for his sincerity in a place of corruption and greed. They caress each other as they slowly uncover the truth behind the Yorkshire murders.

1974’s greatest strength lies in its strong sense of setting and atmosphere. David Fincher’s Zodiac also benefited from this trait, but both diverge in that Fincher’s visual scope is wide (the shot of Golden Gate Bridge illustrates this) whereas Jarrold’s is deliberately narrow and confined, using the claustrophobic, parochial town of Yorkshire to his advantage. With a strong  supporting cast of Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake), 1974 is a memorable entry in the trilogy and certainly deserves to be seen on the big screen.

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