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Red Riding

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Red Riding
FormatCrime drama
Created byDavid Peace
Tony Grisoni
StarringMark Addy
Sean Bean
Jim Carter
Warren Clarke
Paddy Considine
Shaun Dooley
Gerard Kearns
Andrew Garfield
Rebecca Hall
Sean Harris
David Morrissey
Peter Mullan
Maxine Peake
Lesley Sharp
Robert Sheehan
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes3
Running time295 min.
DistributorIFC Films (US)[1]
Original channelChannel 4
Original run5 March 2009 – 19 March 2009
External links
Official website

Red Riding is a television adaptation of English author David Peace's Red Riding Quartet. Published between 1999 and 2002, the quartet comprises the novels Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999), Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001) and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002). Set against a backdrop of serial murders, including the Yorkshire Ripper case, they deal with multi-layered corruption and feature several recurring characters across the four books. Though real crimes are featured the scripts are fictionalised and dramatised versions of events rather than contemporary factual accounts.

The adaptation into three feature-length television episodes aired on Channel 4 beginning on 5 March 2009. They are produced by Revolution Films. The three films are due to be released theatrically in the US in February 2010.[2]


In the Year of Our Lord 1974

The first episode of the trilogy features Sean Bean and Andrew Garfield. It focuses on a series of the unsolved murders of young girls. It is set in the year of the title. The story follows Eddie Dunford (Garfield), a young reporter from the Yorkshire Post as he tries to find information on the missing (presumed dead) girls.

John Dawson (Bean), a local businessman, has bribed members of the West Yorkshire Constabulary and councillors so that he can purchase local land and gain permission for a mall he has planned—this is done by burning down a Roma or Irish Traveller camp previously existing in the area. One of the murdered girls is found on his land, having been tortured, raped, and strangled, with swan wings stitched to her back.

Young, cocky and naive, Dunford conducts his investigation up to a dangerous stage. Through his friend Barry Gannon (Anthony Flanagan), he meets an elusive male prostitute, BJ (Robert Sheehan) who has gathered significant information about local authority figures. Gannon's recent fear for his own personal security seems to be justified when he ends up dying in what appears to be a freak accident. Dunford later becomes a lover to the mother of one of the missing girls, Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall). It transpires that she has a secret, submissive sexual relationship with Dawson as well. Dunford ignores threats from police (orchestrated by Dawson) to keep away from visiting Paula and from trying to extract evidence from Dawson's institutionalized wife. However, he continues his investigation until he is ultimately arrested by the police, after storming into a private party at Dawson's house, and Paula is abducted and murdered.

After a severe beating and torture by two police officers, Tommy Douglas (Tony Mooney) and Bob Craven (Sean Harris), Dunford is given a gun and abandoned in a desolate area. He seeks out Dawson, finds him at the Karachi club and challenges him about the murders. Dawson makes a confession to having 'a private weakness', indicating that he was connected to the girls' murders. Dunford shoots him repeatedly then flees by car. He then deliberately drives into a head-on collision with two police cars that were pursuing him; a vision of Paula stands by his side right up to his death.

A bag full of documented evidence of police corruption, left by Dunford to a seemingly trustworthy officer before his death, is brought by the latter to Detective Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who destroys it.

This episode was shot on 16 mm film and broadcast with an anamorphic aspect ratio of 16x9. It was directed by Julian Jarrold.

In the Year of Our Lord 1980

The second episode of the trilogy which aired on 12 March 2009. The theme for this episode is the investigation of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. It starred Paddy Considine as Peter Hunter, a police officer brought in to assess the investigation of the Ripper murders. It featured David Morrissey as Maurice Jobson, Jim Carter as Harold Angus and Maxine Peake as Helen Marshall.

The story focuses on police corruption. After public outcry concerning the Ripper crimes, and under heavy pressure, the WYC brings in Hunter to the Ripper investigation, much to the chagrin of Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke). Hunter had previously worked on the Karachi Club massacre, a case he had to abandon due to his wife's miscarriage. The two cases are linked by Officer Bob Craven (Sean Harris). Hunter suggests that the Ripper investigation is being side-tracked by the Wearside Jack tapes and feels that the real Ripper has been interviewed and missed.

Peter Hunter suspects, when reviewing the Ripper cases that the killing of one victim, Clare Strachan, is a copy-cat murder. Hunter, Helen Marshall and John Nolan (Tony Pitts) receive information on the murder of Clare Strachan from BJ. It is revealed by the latter that masked policemen burst into the Karachi club minutes or hours after Dunford's revenge, killing all civilian survivors and finding Bob Craven and Tommy Douglas wounded by Eddie. Clare and BJ, two of the waiters at the club, witnessed the whole scene while hiding behind the bar, and were spotted by Angus and Craven as they fled the premises. BJ is, therefore, the only surviving witness of the Karachi double massacre, which forces him to flee town.

Hunter keeps following this line of inquiry towards a denouement of arson, blackmail, police corruption and, ultimately, his own brutal death at the hands one of those whom he trusted: John Nolan who, it is revealed, was one of the masked cops who partook in the second stage of the massacre. Both Craven and Douglas are murdered as well during this episode in order to tie loose ends.

This episode was shot on 35 mm film and broadcast with an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is directed by James Marsh.

In the Year of Our Lord 1983

This episode describes a redemption of sorts for three main characters. In doing so, it reveals or implies all of the significant hidden plot points in the previous two episodes; it is for this reason that flashbacks are much more prevalent here than in episode two. It also shows light on the ominous and seemingly ubiquitous figure of Reverend Martin Laws from Fitzwilliam (Peter Mullan), who had appeared all throughout the series.

Maurice Jobson's pangs of conscience are a major plot point in this episode. It is established that Jobson, who in the previous two episodes was mostly a silent supporting figure, was in fact deeply reluctant in his participation in most of the corruption and criminal activity within the West Yorkshire Constabulary and that he was the one who tipped off Dunford about the arson in the Gypsy camp, in which he took part against his will under pressure by Bill Molloy. It is also revealed that he knew about the innocence of the mentally challenged kid, Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays) who was accused of the Ripper murders, and that he realized at least as early as 1974 that the Constabulary was protecting high-profile figures, including Dawson, from a thorough investigation concerning their shady activities. In a parallel plot development, Jobson falls in love with a medium (Saskia Reeves) who seems to be in possession of valuable information concerning the latest crimes.

John Piggott (Mark Addy) is a public solicitor whose late father (nicknamed "the pig") was a notorious member of the Constabulary. His inquiries lead him to Leonard Cole (Gerard Kearns), the young man who found the swan-stitched victim in episode one and who is now being framed for the disappearance of a young girl named Hazel Atkins. Cole is finally tortured and murdered by the police, his death disguised as a suicide. Piggott's investigation finally leads him to a mine shack hidden in a pigeon shed near Laws' home, where he makes a discovery of horrific implications. It is revealed that a paedophiliac and child-murdering ring was run in West Yorkshire by Laws, who abducted lost children under the guise of securing their well-being on behalf of his parish. It is implied that only when children with known, stable families were abducted was the criminal structure partially compromised, hence resulting in the constables' assistance in Dawson's demise. Laws counted on the complicity and perhaps even direct collaboration of high-ranking officials in the WYC. It is also revealed, through Piggott's imagination and flashbacks by other characters, that the solicitors for this ring included significant figures of society, among them businessmen such as Dawson and policemen such as Piggott's father.

Finally, it is also revealed that BJ was the first child abducted by this criminal enterprise, and almost certainly the only one who survived. He ends up returning to Laws' home to enact revenge, but in the last moment finds himself unable to do so. Seconds before Laws trephines BJ with an electrical driller, Jobson appears with a shotgun and shoots him three times, killing him. He then opens the hidden entrance to the mine shack just in time for Piggott to emerge from it with a still-living Hazel Atkins in his arms. BJ flees southward by train and the episode ends.

The third episode of the trilogy which aired on 19 March 2009 on Channel 4. It was shot using the Red One digital camera. It was directed by Anand Tucker.


The major themes in the series appear to be impunity and the ugliness and perversity lurking beneath a quiet, provincial setting. It is somehow implied that both themes are correlated, in that only thanks to the region's socially secluded communities, deep-set parochialism and relative irrelevance to the rest of the country, were the criminal activities of so many people unpunished or even undenounced for so long. This is summed up in a phrase which is pronounced at least three times throughout the series with slight variations:

... the North, [where] we do what we want.

Remorse, redemption and the ability to overcome the past are also a predominant theme in the last episode.

Allegorical fable imagery is used throughout the series. Laws is implicitly compared on several occasions, without being explicitly named, to a wolf; Dawson is compared to a swan due to his obsession with the animal, and Piggott is called "the pig" several times. Jobson is also called "the owl" on more than one occasion, and several references to a rat are made although it is not made clear who this could be.

Awards and nominations

The films won The TV Dagger at the 2009 Crime Thriller Awards.[3]

Theatrical film adaptation

Columbia Pictures has acquired the rights to adapt the novels and films into a theatrical film.[4] The studio was negotiating with Ridley Scott in October 2009 to direct it.[5]


  1. ^ Kay, Jeremy (14 May 2009). "IFC Films acquires cult drama Red Riding". ScreenDaily.com (Emap Media).
  2. ^ See the Complete 'Red Riding' Trilogy in New York
  3. ^ Flood, Alison (22 October 2009). "British readers vote Harlan Coben their favourite crime writer". guardian.co.uk (Guardian News & Media). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/22/british-harlan-coben-crime. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Individual Trailers for all 3 'Red Riding' Films, Hi-Res Image Gallery!
  5. ^ Fleming, Michael (15 October 2009). "Columbia caught 'Red'-handed". Variety (Reed Business Information).

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