March 13th, 2009

Red Riding

Red Riding has nothing interesting to say about the human condition- the bad are snarling, charmless, irredeemable, the good are heroic and doomed-  but it's got one big idea- and it's a good'un. Sensational, even. And it's this: that the West Yorkshire police- at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper murders- when the eyes of the world were upon them- were not only hopelessly incompetent, not only corrupt from top to bottom, but inextricably implicated in the crimes they were supposed to be solving.

Low level coppers were running toms and publishing porn. Their bosses were happy to look the other way when a paedophile property developer (at whose house they partied) indulged his "taste" for murdering and mutilating little girls. And if anyone threatened to expose them they got wasted. One witness was disguised as a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper (which had the effect of totally fucking up the investigation), another was tortured to death with an electric drill. The senior policeman from Manchester- the rather famous John Stalker (here lightly disguised as Peter Hunter)- who got sent in to investigate - was shot dead, then framed as the perp in a murder/suicide.  Erm-  now hang on a minute- last time I checked, the real John Stalker was alive and well and flogging security blinds on TV.

And there's the problem, really. The West Yorkshire police may have been corrupt - I've little doubt they were- but they didn't murder John Stalker. In fact, I'll bet they hardly murdered anyone. The body count in Red Riding is ridiculous. People may die on this scale in the ganglands of L.A. or in Inspector Barnaby's blood soaked Midsummershire- but they didn't and don't on the streets of Leeds. Inevitable conclusion: Red Riding is a big, fat lie.

It wouldn't matter so much- if at all-  if it were nowt but a  fantasy of crime and revenge- but it sells itself as so much more- as quasi-documentary- as a ripping of plasters from weeping sores- as an exposure of ancestral evil- and it uses real murders, with real victims- as a way of reinforcing these bogus claims. I'm not the first or only viewer to find this immoral. Maybe it's OK to play fast and loose with historical fact when there's no-one around who remembers the truth (though I wonder) but the dead girls and women whose names are itemized, whose faces we are shown- one by one, as if dealt from a pack of cards- have living friends and relatives- and  Peter Sutcliffe- who killed them- is still rotting inside the prison system somewhere. If I were the mother or sister of a murder victim I would be distressed by this trivialisation of my family's tragedy. If I were a former member of the West Yorkshire force I'd be on the phone to my solicitor.

Red Riding is terrifically well done. Fashionably dark (dark is the new black) with powerful, migrainy visuals and a star name in every role.  David Calder- who I saw play King Lear at The Globe last year- appears in a single scene and delivers a couple of not very important lines. Sitting next to him- with as little to say- is the even more distinguished James Fox.   There are some remarkable performances-  from Sean Harris as a disgusting, sadistic, little weasel, from  Paddy Considine as Chief Inspector Decency, and from Warren Clarke as the evilest bastard of them all.  What a pity, then, that the script is so thin- and the ethics so questionable.