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Red Riding Trilogy: The Must-See-TV Movies of the Decade

When it comes to television, the Brits really DO do it better. That is, if you’re looking for shows that will plague your sleep, follow you down a dark alleyway and jump out of your wardrobe. The Red Riding trilogy is one such drama. An adaptation of English author David Peace’s critically acclaimed Red Riding Quartet, comprising the novels Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty-Three. The television adaptation has been broken down into three films, each an equally unflinching portrayal of Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s. Set against a background of police corruption, child abuse and serial murders (including the notorious Yorkshire ripper case) it’s not easy viewing. And nor should it be, given a large portion of the material is based on real-life crimes.

With one of the best British ensemble casts in years, everyone throws themselves head-first into playing the trilogy’s complex characters. From bent detective Bob Craven (Sean Harris) who details his favourite pastime as “chewing minge” to polo-necked, predatory, property magnate John Dawson (Sean Bean), you’re left with no good or bad characters; just people with elements of both. Up and coming British actress Rebecca Hall, last seen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon makes an amicable female lead in the first film as a damaged widow whose daughter is a murdered at the hands of a vicious serial killer. The standout performer is 25-year-old Andrew Garfield as passionate rookie journalist Eddie Dunford, one of the only voices of hope in this bleak, very English drama.

One of the most ambitious mainstream television dramas in recent years, Red Riding is unsettling, uncomfortable and ultimately unmissable – an intoxicating antidote to everything bland on TV. It’s something you have a physical reaction to whilst watching, with the chills penetrating the screen and creating goosebumps on your skin. Perhaps, like myself, you will find the dark characters and themes haunting your dreams for days to come. Either way, the Red Riding trilogy stays with you long after the ending credits have rolled.

The graphic use of violence represents more than just the crimes but also the endless, messy nature of violent crime and the fact that life rarely brings happy, trite endings for its victims. Each film is directed by a different international filmmaker with Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane), taking on the first, Oscar winner James Marsh (Man on a Wire) taking on the second, and Anand Tucker (And When Did You Last See Your Father?) directing the final chapter. Although each film introduces new lead characters and a new mystery, there are ongoing storylines and supporting characters which link each work with the next. The fractured storytelling means you have to pay attention, but it’s a relief to be treated like an intelligent audience member for once. This is one of the standout television epics of the decade, really.

The Red Riding trilogy is currently available on DVD as a 3-disc box set to rent or buy.

words: Maria Lewis


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