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?