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Tony Grist

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Red Riding [Mar. 13th, 2009|10:09 am]
Tony Grist
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.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2009-03-13 11:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, it does sound over the top to suggest that bosses would cover up the murdering of little girls by property developers...corruption tends to be small time.

There was a novel out last year in Ireland called Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power which took a real incident - a couple of Hooray Henry erstwhile rugger-bugger schoolboys beating up one of their number outside a nightclub and kicking him to death - and made up a novel about it with one of the murderers being the characters with a different name. I think that brought up a lot of mixed feelings as the case was not that long ago so a bit raw maybe, though it got very good reviews.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-03-13 01:57 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say it was always wrong to fictionalise real life crime. I think one must judge on a case by case basis. Red Riding fails for me because it so hugely ratchets up the scale of the corruption- and uses events with a lot of emotional pain still attached to them as background to an utterly preposterous thriller.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2009-03-13 02:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for watching that so I don't have to! Though Red Riding had a big and glowing write up in the Radio Times, I didn't fancy it somehow and you've just confirmed all my suspicions that it was grossly exaggerated and played fast and loose with the truth.

I also share your sentiments about using real tragedies for mere entertainment. I can't see the justification, not when so many people who were hurt by the events are still alive.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-03-13 05:38 pm (UTC)
As so often with big British shows of this kind, the writing is simply not good enough. The characterization is almost non-existent, the situations overwrought, the dialogue humourless and blustering. It's monotonous. Unlike- for example- its American cousin The Wire- which manages to find all manner of lights and shades in comparable subject matter.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2009-03-13 06:44 pm (UTC)
To add my two cents' worth: wasn't the true story sensational enough? Why did they have to embellish it like that?
Years ago, the Boston Strangler terrorized Boston, Massachusetts for a couple of years until Albert De Salvo confessed to the murders, after which there were no more stranglings - even though there was much doubt as to whether he was the perpetrator. He spent the rest of his life in the unit for the criminally insane, where ultimately - and ironically - he was murdered.
They made a movie about the Strangler starring Tony Curtis as DeSalvo. It was accurate, and no less spectacular simply because it told the truth.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-03-13 09:44 pm (UTC)
I agree. The true story would have been more interesting- also subtler and less straightforward.

I believe I saw that movie- only it was a very long time ago, and I don't remember much about it.
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