The list – 11 reasons the Red Riding Trilogy on Channel Four didn’t quite do it for me (2009)


I was so looking forward to the adaptations of David Peace’s ‘Red Riding Quartet’ – even when it was announced that the Quartet was going to shrink to a trilogy, losing his third book of the four, ‘1977’. The trailer looked amazing, and I had high hopes because of the high quality of the cast, and the attention to (period) detail on display.

Now, with the final episode (the adaptation of ‘1983’) having aired last night, I cannot feel anything other than a slight sense of disappointment as I firmly believe that the production was an opportunity missed. The books, darkly complex, intricately and inexorably linked to each other, were simply too difficult to bring to the screen in any way that truly does justice to David Peace. That is not to say that these productions, taken as a standalone series of films, were not without merit. There were some outstanding acting performances (especially Sean Bean as John Dawson, David Morrissey as Maurice Jobson and Sean Davis as Bob Craven. However, Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Eddie Dunford is a brilliant, powerful study of a young man getting in way out of his depth.).

The grim and depressing interiors, full of browns and greys, the cigarette smoke and dimly lit rooms, the rainy roads and claustrophobic cars are a celebration of cinematography and attention to period detail. There was a real sense of evil, of a web of intrigue and plots and of the innocent and good being at the mercy of those who viewed the North as being a place ‘where we do what we want’. Also, the fact that Channel 4 was willing to take the time and effort to produce these dramas for television has to be applauded. Tony Grisoni, who wrote the screenplay for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, has worked with the material and succeeded in creating 3 screenplays that smoulder and fester in turn, reeking of seething Yorkshire machismo, police brutality, police corruption, with a frontier-type mentality of the ‘North’ all laid bare. The direction, from Julian Jarold (1974), James Marsh (1980) and Anand Tucker (1983) gave the stories life, bringing terror, misery and a ‘Yorkshire Noir’ to proceedings that Peace had infused into his books. Compared to anything else on Television at the moment the films are a step up in quality. However, taken in the context of these films being an adaptation of the books of David Peace, and being a great admirer of the books, I have now watched all 3 of the films and feel underwhelmed – and here are my reasons why;

1)Jack Whitehead. A central figure in the early books. His life falling apart, affected by the missing girls and the victims of the Ripper, he also appears to be under the influence of the ‘Reverend Laws’, and haunted by what happens to Eddie Dunford in 1974. In the adaptations, he is barely around in 1974, and 1977 was skipped anyway……….a great shame.

2)George Marsh. Unforgivable really. Ties in with the ending of 1983 (see point 10) being such a massive let-down. No George Marsh? You cannot really understand how John Piggott, BJ and Michael Myshkin were affected unless you have George Marsh, Martin Laws and the soiled memory of Piggotts father hanging in the air. His evil is an important element of the whole series. Why composite him into Laws?

3)Maurice Jobson and Mystic Mandy – you get no real sense of why or how they have ended up together, and then she just sort of disappears, when her fate is undoubtedly a trigger for Jobsons subsequent actions towards the end of ‘1983’. On film, the pairing did not make sense, and the lack of clarity on what happens to her is frustrating. Also, you get no real feeling for the fact that Maurice Jobson is a policeman mired in all this brutality and corruption. He sort of wanders through a lot of the scenes, and then in ‘1983’ he starts to get a bit irked by the beatings handed out to ‘suspects’ in the bowels of the police station. Then he gets a bit upset by Michael Myshkin. You get no real sense of a realisation from Maurice as you never got the feeling he was fully in on all the bad stuff, like he wandered through it all in a daze. That is not to criticize David Morrissey’s portrayal, as it was another fantastic performance from an accomplished actor, but Maurice Jobson was not a naif, or an onlooker to the many plots of the West Yorkshire force. He was party to them and an active member. This was never really shown, and because of that, his realisation of all that is bad within the establishment has less potency.

4)Not filming 1977. Ties in with point 1 (lack of Jack Whitehead) and point 6 (see further on). Apparently economics dictated that this could not be filmed as Grisoni has already written the screenplay. Without it, the flow of themes is disjointed. You get no real feel for the menace and seduction of Rev. Laws. More importantly you get no real sense of the terror that the Ripper unleashed (especially as 1977 was the year he killed 4 women), and also one of the central points of the whole quartet – that there could be 2 killers on the loose (and one of them is using the Rippers modus operandi to clear up unfinished police business).

5)Reverend Laws. See point 4. A truly evil character, reduced to standing around in the shadows for most of the drama. Only toward the end of 1983 do we (partly) see him for what he is. Where was the trepanning? You glimpsed at it, but it had no significance without seeing it in context of ‘1977’.

6)The Yorkshire Ripper. By the time you get through to the end of ‘1980’ (the book), the events surrounding the capture and interrogation of Peter Sutcliffe are electric. After such a build of tension, horror and suspense throughout ‘1977’ (the book) and ‘1980’, this is one aspect of Peace’s Red Riding Quartet that has a clear resolution. In the adaptations, he is on the loose for a bit and then they catch him. No real tension, no sense of achievement in his apprehension. It left me a bit flat, though the portrayal of Sutcliffe by Joseph Mawle was understated and well judged.

7)BJ – just under utilised. His story is the most tragic, and although you get to see glimpses of that in the disturbing last few minutes of 1983, you don’t really understand what a complete wreck of a human he is, and how important he is to the overall themes of police corruption and the abuse of power, the abuse of children and the destruction of women.

8)What happened to Paula Garlands brother in 1974 – because without the disappearing Rugby League player, what was the connection to John Dawson (the Chairman of the Rugby League team) that Paula had then? There seemed to be no sense to the connection, and it diminishes the character of Paula.

9)While we are about it – George Oldman? What happened to him then? Surely integral to the hunt for the Ripper.

10)The ending of 1983. Was.Just.Wrong. It was not the ending in the book. There was too much of a ‘resolution’. Peaces book ended as darkly as it began. I will say it again, where was George Marsh? (see point 2). WHY WAS THERE NO GEORGE MARSH???

11) Michael Myshkin. The heartbreak of an innocent man and his ‘underground kingdom’, his inability to save Jeanette Garland. Given no time or space, it was hard to understand why he had been framed, and hard totally sympathise with this brutalised innocent. One of the many victims of the bullying and corrupted West Yorkshire Constabulary, his story deserved more space and time.

Some of the reasoning behind the quartet becoming a trilogy can be seen here. Also, an html version of the Channel 4 press pack for Red Riding is here. I would like to know what anyone out there thinks. Was it a missed opportunity or great television drama?

84 thoughts on “The list – 11 reasons the Red Riding Trilogy on Channel Four didn’t quite do it for me (2009)”

  1. JeffIt's a while since I read them (have just watched 1983), but I think describing George Marsh as the leader of the ring is inaccurate, or at least, not written into the books that way. And Marsh would struggle to blackmail Dawson, even if it were. More generally, Peace writes with a strong streak of the mystic, I think, so that ghosts or not ghosts might be too literal a question.Good blog post. Agree what they did w/Laws made no sense. Hope you've read GB84- it's his best book.

  2. Good info here. I assume that Craven is the murderer of Clare Strachan; Hill murdered Janice in revenge for the beating he took from Fraser. Craven's death was a suicide; Lennie Marsh is the return of the wolf,George being the first wolf. I don't get the references to Piggot's dad's suicide. Any takers out there?

  3. Only now writing after finishing the last book. I read the first two before seeing the films here in the states and the last two after. The books are seriously loaded with mystery and I have enjoyed reading all your theories, suppositions, interpretations, etc. The quartet is an amazingly dense and complicated work and I appreciate this fine forum.My question for any and all of you is this:I found everything to do with Piggott's father, brother and childhood to be one of the biggest mysteries of the series. Yet, you guys repeatedly refer to his dad being part of the child abuse ring, etc. which I never caught in the least. I assumed he was a corrupt, racist cop (someone painted swastikas on the Piggott home)and an abusive (but not pedophilic) father and husband who committed suicide and perhaps drove his wife and other son to it as well. But everyone but me seems pretty clear on a much different interpretation. Did I really miss something obvious or are you guys just speculating?

  4. Not sure if this comment thread is still going but I just finished reading the books.Like everyone here I'm left pondering an array of incredibly intriguing mysteries and I'm just going to list mine here to see if anyone has any thoughts:1) who gave Susan Ridyard's bones back to her parents? And why? Is it possible Maurice did this? It's not clear if he has found anything buried in John Dawson's construction sight (back before 1974), but if he had it would've been her body, I'd think. Or do I have the order in which the girls go missing mixed up? 2) How did Whitehead's finger prints get onto the tape in 1980? I'm assuming Laws was involved with this as it seems clear that he was the one who murdered PC Douglas's daughter. 3) I think we are to assume that Hazel Atkins died in the mine (as they find coal dust in her lungs), if so, who moved her body to the motel room? And why did they do so? Given the possibility that Dunford is still alive (something I hadn't grasped till reading this comment strain), I'm supposing that he might have brought the child there. But that doesn't seem right to me, really. Anyway, not sure if anyone is still reading this thread, but I'd love to discuss all this further.

  5. The reply to your first question is yes, Maurice delivered the bones. Lenny was working in the hospital where Whitehead was a patient. He may have transfered the tape. Your answer to the last question is as good as any. We can't know from the narrative.

  6. Can someone please tell me who killed Mandy Wymer and when. Was it the same person who killed Donald Foster? What was the connection of Jacks wife and husband Michael Williams. On second reading of the 4 books and still confused!!

  7. I can see that I will need to read the quartet for a 3rd time – can't move on, although I except some questions will never be answered.If Eddie was still alive, which could answer the references to the Viva, I would have expected him to reveal himself before. Curiosity would have drawn him to Jack at least. But then who else knew about the Redbeck aside of Jack, Bill Fraser, John Piggot and Eddie and why was Hazel moved there anyway?Another quiery, were the Marshes in Fitzwilliam or Maple Drive, Netherton. It seems to jump from one place to the other being the nucleus of the killings. The shed and allotments seem to be behind both properties or have I finally overloaded on this plot! Plus, when John Piggot is talking to a neighbour of the Marshes he talks of "the two little kids, the mother and the father. If Leonard was one child, who was the other?And why do Jack and BJ allow Laws to bang holes in their heads!!Many more questions where these came from, I've got to get a life!!

  8. Some things here are unknowable, but Eddie dare not show his face in Yorkshire if he survives. Jack and Bj are not free to contest Laws. But we appreciate your questions.

  9. Ooh – little dismissive that – this being my first time ever on a blog, usually too busy working. OK – Eddie wouldn't want to show his face in Yorkshire again for a while – agree with that but not sure what you mean by them being not free to contest Laws. No more questions however – back to the real world.

  10. Lenard Marsh was Law's heavy; he worked at the hospital where Jack was a patient. Jack's wife had been nailed inthe head too,if I remember.

  11. Just re reading the series (on 1980); first of many questions More sure to follow. In 1974 & 1980 there is a murderer who Noble caught that is referred to. What's the chance that this was another frame up? Why was the re-opening of the Clare Strachan investigation encouraged? To make sure it was definitively linked to the ripper/

  12. Just finished reading all four in quick succession. Impossible to answer all questions. That's just the way Peace obviously intended it.But on the Eddie Dunford question it seems pretty obvious that he's dead, or if not then definitely far, far away from Dante's Seventh Circle of Yorkshire.Like all the characters who try to find out how far the rot goes (Dunford, Fraser, Whitehead, Hunter, Piggot)he is punished for it. Broken men. Dead men. Ghosts.The Viva sat outside the Redbeck in 1983 is definitely meant to conjure up a vision of Eddie. He haunts all the books after 1974. Haunts Jack fucking Whitehead. Haunts Hunter, even though he doesn't know it, because he needs to know the truth beheind the Strafford shootings.But the Viva in 1983 belongs to Leonard Marsh. When the police drop off Piggot, after his torture, at the old Marsh house in Netherton there is a green Viva parked outside. Marsh's Viva. (I can't remember for sure if it's that scene, but there is definitely a Viva outside the house at some point in 1983).Asking if Eddie Dunford is alive is a completely redundant question. It's like asking what happened to the Russian in the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos. It doesn't matter. Not one bit.

  13. I'm glad to see this is still an active site, as I have so many questions! The one plaguing me currently is this: during Eddie's brutal interrogation at the end of "1974", he is accused of killing Mystic Mandy (as well as Paula Garland); how does this square with the timing of her (Mandy's) involvement with Jobson in "1983"?

  14. I watched a marathon of all three videos, today. Finding your blog was the bonus feature. Thanks for your 11 'reasons.' I too have to re watch the three videos to better follow the story line and characters.I enjoyed it tremendously. Your comments, and those of others, raise questions I have in my mind. Finally, I've committed myself to reading 1974, and see what happens. Glad I watched and found your blog.

  15. Great, great comments and discussion, folks. I, too, found this blog to be the only place to find detailed deconstruction of the novels and adaptations. I haven't read the books, and found the trilogy to be absolutely riveting, but not without a few snags here and there (at least on first viewing). So I'll head into the maelstrom with my first, most burning question…why did Laws bring BJ to Hunter in 1980? It seems that would be unwise considering the information BJ supplied only put more suspicion onto the Strachan murder. Following the logic of the story, I surmise the following…in 1974 Dunford suspects Dawson of being involved with the child abductions, and gets himself in way too deep. The West Yorkshire police cleans up the mess because Dawson is important to their creation and maintaining of various illegal activities in the North and NOT, I don't think, because they're covering up a pedo ring. Years later Strachan is murdered because she saw the "clean up" at the Karachi and her case is nudged into the Ripper murders to hide it. Now in 1980 we see that Jobson is clearly still trying to find the source of the child abductions/murders, so there are at least some cops who don't know that Dawson was actually involved. In fact, in flashbacks, we see West Yorkshire police actually discover the connection between Laws and Dawson (during Laws' interrogation) which is quickly covered up and dismissed, I assume, again, because Dawson is an asset and NOT because the police are trying to cover up the pedo ring. So if I've got all that right, why would Laws bring attention to the Strachan murder, when the only possible outcome of that action would be leading Hunter closer to the truth– that the Strachan murder was NOT a ripper case and, in fact, was a deliberate ploy by West Yorkshire to cover up their involvement with the whole Dunford/Dawson debacle of 1974, which is tied intimately to Laws. Confused.

  16. I never got the impression that Laws was too concerned with protecting West Yorkshire Police and their corrupt schemes; in fact, I would suggest he had it in for them big time after their treatment of him in the 1983 flashbacks.Remember, it was Dawson who was in cahoots with the corrupt police officers, not Laws. If Hunter had been able to bring these policemen to justice, it wouldn't have affected Laws' activities, and in fact, he would have had a revenge of sorts.

  17. Eddie's body will never be found but is out on the moors. It was Jobson's task to supervise. Mandy's dead and the man has many, many bad deeds to commit yet.You want ambiguity? Jobson: (to Hunter, 1980): Sorry about your house.Hall didn't kill Janice, because it had to (and did) look like a copycat version of the Strachan killing (which the tampered autopsy had tied to the Ripper killings).Badger Bill's the only one who ever says "Long time no see" (somewhere in 1983), so I have always taken it that he killed Strachan, possibly with Douglas' assistance (there's some details I can't offhand remeber about when Douglas gets back to work – which seems to explain why they have to wait so long after spotting her at Blackpool). But that would mean that Ryan isn't killed by the same non-Ripper, rather that the Ryan killing is made to look like a Ripper killing.Interestingly (to me) BJ correctly tells Clare to run, but for the wrong reasons: she actually needs to run because she saw Dunford alive, in police custody, even though they can't have any record of his 'arrest' and he's about to go missing out on the moors.I don't think there's as much ambiguity in these books as some of you seem to think. I believe you just have to rent a motel room and scribble all over a huge sheet of paper you hang over the walls: and treat everything as significant. For example, Craven is tired (1977? 1980?) because he's had to go all the way to Sunderland or thereabouts to post the fake Ripper tape.Anyway, it's nice to know that the spirit of "Room 27 Redbeck Motel" lives on (I'm afriad they took down all our discussion of these stories from the Wikipedia site a few years ago.)Doc Wilko

  18. Readers of this excellent blog might be interested in reading the very well-written and on-the-money reviews of the quartet to be found at palimpsest.org.uk/forum/archive/index.php/t-126.html

  19. Earlier posts have raised the possibility that Michael Myshkin might not have been entirely innocent, even that he might have been actively involved … I find this entirely implausible, notwithstanding his likely presence during photo-sessions and the like. But can it be mere coincidence that Peace chose to give him the name of Dostoevsky's holy innocent, Prince Myshkin, a fair-haired young man in his late twenties … not to suggest that Peace means Michael to be some saintly fool exactly, simply too good for this corrupted world, but there are some parallels, and both Myshkins do finish up in the sanatorium.

  20. Reading the books for a 2nd time does bring out the 'trainspotter' in me. I find myself focusing more on the links between the characters/plot lines that passed me by on first read, mostly I think because I was so knocked back by the power of the writing. Two things that I already see that I missed first time around: 1. The direct Goldthorpe link to Jennings, later revealed by Myshkin to Jobson; 2. Michael Williams (the 'exorcist murder') is one of the buiders interviewed in connection with Jeanette Garland's disappearance. More 'how did I miss that?' moments to come, I am sure.

  21. Hello everyone,Just finished this amazing quartet.I was wondering who killed Bob Douglas? I suppose it's Craven. But what about the Jack Whitehead fingerprints on the tape?Wondering how Helen Marshall knew Craven was at the Strafford at the end of 1980? and who killed Richard Dawson? Maybe BJ?Talking about BJ, who is he afraid of in 1983 (the man who smiles at him in Preston and who chases himwith his car)?Thanks for your answers.

  22. I just finished watching the trilogy a half hour ago. I watched the screen for 5 hours straight as the blue ray disk ran its course. Though I loved the trilogy, I did walk away with a sense of bewilderment as I was unable to make sense of a whole lot of events and relationships. That brought me to my search and the discovery of your blog. It has been a life saver. Without it, and not having read the quartet, it would have been impossible to fully [and I use the term fully very loosely!] understand the logic of events.I am still not sure why garland 9the mother) had to die? Was it not in the interest of the whole lot of them for Dunford and her to take off for the South and for Eddy to quit sticking his nose in their business?My other blind spot is : what was the role of Piggotts' father in all this? Just another pedophile in the bunch?Obviously as most of you have said, not having read the quartet (specially 1977) and hence not having met Mr. Marsh I have missed quite a lot of the crucial background.

  23. Hi, there,I hope someone's still reading this! I just finished watching the Red Riding Trilogy – whose death did Piggot happen upon when returning home from somewhere. It looks like it's Mrs. Myshkin's mom being comforted, but the last we saw of Myshkin, he was being comforted by Maurice. The death I'm referring to looked like someone's head was through a window. If someone could let me know, I'd realllly appreciate it; it's driving me nuts!! Thanks

  24. It seems that all the people that were tortured in the belly had some connection to the ring, no matter how deep the connection. Myshikin was mentally disabled, but was forced to take pictures. Jimmy Ashworth was Myshkin's "friend", and it seems that they either worked together in it. Neither of them probably killed a girl, but they had some involvement in it. The key is when they ask them what they did on Saturday night. The response by March, Ashworth is "nothing".Also, is it only me or is Jobson dead at the end? Didn't BJ walk outside with a shotgun? Plus isn't his meeting with Clare something that could only happen in heaven? Maybe he's hallucinating.

  25. One other thing…one of the mysteries of 1983 is why Jobson tortures Piggot. The key is the Voltaire quote. Piggot is guilty of what he did not do, and Jobson's torture was a punishment for his inaction, and motivation to take care of the Wolf.

  26. I recently watched the Red Riding Trilogy and I liked them. I hadn't read the books and was not at all familiar with the books or the story. Although I did enjoy the films I felt what I was watching was uneven and things were left unanswered while in other places it appeared a point was about to be made and then just vanished.I was still intrigued enough that I bought the books and an about at the end of 1977. What a read! Now I am seeing just how disjointed the films were. I agree that they can be entertaining on their own, but as a vehicle to relay the story in the books, they don't do a very good job.I'm trying to find a character list to use as a reference because there are so many characters that move in and out of the story, some of the peripheral characters are hard for me to keep track of and I don't want to miss anything.

  27. Hopefully people are still reading this as i've just finished the books and cant stop thinking about them.Firstly as many have said the films look and feel really genuine, they are also acted well. But the story is butchered. Apparently Ridley Scott has the rights to the film so hopefully he can make a better crack at it.The books. Its all a bit of a dark haze for me at the moment. Heres a few of my issues and my thoughts on them.1.Eddie Dunford. Its my view that he is dead and that the Viva is him 'haunting' the thoughts of those visiting the Redbeck. I dont understand why Leonard Marsh would be at the Redbeck?2.Why is Hazel found at the Redbeck? Which person from the paedophile ring was linked to Redbeck. Have i missed something?3.Like others i seem to have missed Piggott snrs link to the P ring.4.Not sure who posted it but liked the idea of the wolf 'coming back' being marsh jnr taking over the reigns. With Law being the dragon.Got to say the heat and intensity of '77 was my favourite chapter and agree if they were gonna chop one '80 would have made more sense.I will return with more thoughts.

  28. I do a lot of my reading whilst commuting so had an ipod soundtrack for these books.70s music like the bee gees really set the tone. Whilst the dreamy funeral march of Lana del reys 'video games' was amazing for '77 even a lot of the lyrics could make sense.

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