So, the first of the Red Riding Trilogy – 1974 – has aired. I haven’t seen a single newspaper yet, so I’m reviewing this cold. First of all, it’s entirely odd watching a two-hour film of a book you’ve read and loved. It’s distracting. You spot snatches of dialogue that have been lifted wholesale, you see characters you’ve imagined made flesh – and the case of this super-high-profile series, made familiar flesh, as barely a character comes onscreen without a known actor attached – and you feel strangely betrayed when a bit is missed out, even though you know that this is how it works.
Julian Jarrold, who previously directed Kinky Boots and Brideshead Revisited, did a superb job on the atmosphere of David Peace’s Yorkshire and the overarching brown-and-dogshit palette of the period (which I remember, and is captured in the carpets and ornaments of so many snapshots in the family album from my childhood). He found brutalist poetry in Peace’s descriptions: the rolling skies and the dank underpasses and the bare rooms. He also injected an element of beauty that is entirely missing from Peace: how deliberately angelic Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall) looked, against her windows. This never came across in the book: she was merely sad and desperate.
Hall, by the way, gave one of the best performances, along with Andrew Garfield as Eddie (even though I kept seeing Richard Ashcroft with a pencil), Warren Clarke as Molloy and the sublime Sean Bean as Dawson, who was very much in the background in the book, and more explicitly disgusting. 1974 was nasty, but you see worse on an episode of Trial and Retribution, and I commend the filmmakers for holding back and leaving much to the imagination. Even the sex acts seemed relatively erotic in the TV version; on the page they are nothing but self-loathing in physical form and “rapist sweat”.
I congratulate writer Tony Grisoni for finding a linear cops-and-corruption potboiler within Peace’s novel. The text is so tangled and repetitive and there are so many names, hoving in and out of view, it’s a far more intense ride than the film. But the film worked, for me. I was stupidly looking forward to seeing so much more than we got. It was pretty grisly in places – especially the later scenes which I won’t describe for fear of spoiling – but only a fraction as grisly as the book.
It’s a shame that Red Riding arrives at a time when we’re hearing about drama budgets being slashed and slates being wiped. This series already shows just how good we are at adult drama when the material is sound. I mean, just look at the endless parade of great TV actors this trilogy has attracted. By “TV actors”, of course I don’t mean that’s all they’re fit for, as I hold TV in high regard. I appreciate that taking the odd Hollywood movie is good for the bank balance of, say, Eddie Marsan or David Morrissey or Rebecca Hall – or even Garfield, who was in the useless, woolly Lions For Lambs, playing an American – but their presence on telly is so much more meaningful.
Look how supporting players from series like Shameless and Coronation Street end up populating high-profile TV drama in high-profile roles. This is a formidable machine, and it should be looked after and lubricated. I hate the fact that the mismanagement and greed of ITV is now leading to a cut in drama budgets (which of course affects technicians and directors and makeup and crew as much as it affects actors). You may not watch a programme like The Bill, but The Bill acts as a drama school for the major players of tomorrow. Fewer episodes a week means fewer actors and technicians coming through.
Sorry, carried away there. I’m off to finish reading 1980 before next week, so I can lament the loss of characters and plotlines and gory detail again.