Murder in the North

Red Riding: 1974, 1980, 1983

adapted by Tony Grisoni and directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker
three television films based on David Peace's Red Riding Quartet
to be released in the US by IFC Films on February 5, 2010
Phil Fisk/IFC Films
Andrew Garfield and Sean Bean in Red Riding 1974

Red Riding is better than The Godfather (I’ll try to explain why), but it leaves you feeling so much worse; and the business plan of watching a film is never realized if it doesn’t make you feel it’s leaving you assured, ready to sleep…fulfilled. That’s what we expect from entertainment, isn’t it? Something that’ll give you a warm inner glow at the end of a day when you’ve been ruined, humiliated, out of work, and lied to over your obituary. No need to rub that in, is there? Turn on the telly. You’re less alone with the telly on, and less given to the thought that there are types of loss and anger and betrayal that might have you shouting in the streets. So Red Riding is a deeper pool than The Godfather, but it doesn’t encourage swimming.

How do you watch TV? Put it another way: Is what’s on the box ever capable of being “beautiful”? I’d like to strip those quotation marks away, but I worry that as soon as television looks anywhere near beautiful, we’re being told to respect something because it’s picturesque, or noble, or gracious, something elegant and Ken Burnsy (it’s such an educational medium)—oh, look at that, mother, isn’t that lovely? Wouldn’t you like to be there? I mean, it’s nearly beautiful, isn’t it? It might be a stretch of West Yorkshire moorland, the Manchester road over the Pennines—at sunset or twilight. Just a bit creepy, though. One shot like that, with the wind moaning, and I think of Little Red Riding Hood hurrying to see her gran, with the Ripper waiting in his dirty white van. You could make a song of that, with the rhythm and the rhyming.

We’ll come back to television, but I should say something about Yorkshire first. It is the largest county in Britain, over six thousand square miles, starting about a hundred miles north of London. It is broken into three administrative areas—the Ridings—North, East, and West. There’s no “Red” Riding, except in the imagination. Nor was there ever a house called “Wuthering Heights”—just try forgetting it. Brontë country is only a short drive from Leeds and Sheffield, the big, tough cities in southern Yorkshire. In the minds of most Brits, Yorkshire is famous for a dry crusty accent and the deadpan comedians who use it, for strong beer, purist cricket, the textile industry, and the coal mines. The “pretty” dales and the somber moors. And murder.

They say Guy Fawkes was from Yorkshire, the fellow who tried to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, and who is burned in effigy with fireworks every year. Ted Hughes was born in Yorkshire. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula there. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was from Yorkshire, also Alan Bennett, Henry Moore, David Hockney, J.B. Priestley,…

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