Last night’s TV – Red Riding: 1980


As with the first part last week – 1974 – this second episode of the trilogy adapted from the novels of David Pearce was relentlessly tense, grim, gruesome and superbly acted with – again – more twists and turns than a ballerina on crack.

Maxine Peake as Detective Helen Marshall was wonderful, and proved yet again that she is one of Britain’s most versatile and talented actors.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap and review of last night’s episode…

Recap: December 1980 Leeds – and the Ripper’s reign of terror has lasted for six years. Peter Hunter – played by Paddy Considine – Assistant Chief Constable of the Manchester Police, is asked to head up a secret Home Office Enquiry into the West Yorkshire Police’s Ripper investigation.

In 1975 Hunter was sent to investigate the Karachi Club massacre in Yorkshire in which police officers were injured, but he was unable to complete the enquiry, so this is the second time he’s been asked to examine the activities of the West Yorkshire force.

Hunter chooses Manchester detectives John Nolan (Tony Pitts) and Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake) to work alongside him.

As soon as they arrive in Leeds, Hunter and Nolan go straight into the Press Conference in which Bill Molloy – “the Badger” – finds he’s being removed as chief investigating officer and replaced by Jobson.

Hunter and his team review each of the so-called Ripper murders. Ripper Squad Detective Superintendent Bob Craven – who was skin crawlingly, menacingly played by the superb Sean Harris – was one of the coppers injured at the Karachi club shoot-out but now recovered, he’s supposed to be Hunter’s liaison officer, but seems to be doing his best to be as obstructive as possible.

Hunter outlines his theory that the West Yorkshire Police have been blindsided by the Ripper tapes, and that the man they’re looking for has already been interviewed and dismissed. Hunter then receives a visit from Martin Laws, who takes him to meet a young man called BJ who suggests Hunter looks closely at the murder of Clare Strachan.

When Hunter’s team review Clare Strachan’s murder, Bob Craven says it’s irrefutably a Ripper killing based on forensic evidence. Helen points out that if it’s not a Ripper Killing, then a ‘copycat’ murderer is also at large.

Helen takes Hunter to meet Mrs Elizabeth Hall, widow of Eric Hall, a detective on the Yorkshire force who was murdered. Martin Laws is also there. Mrs Hall discloses that her late husband was involved in the publication of the porn magazine ‘Spunk’ and gives an issue to Hunter that contains photos of Clare Strachan.

Hunter decides that former PC Tommy Douglas might know more about Eric Hall’s business. Douglas was unable to return to work after the injuries he sustained in the Karachi and was therefore pensioned off. Hunter probes Douglas but gets nowhere.

Hunter also interviews Ripper squad detectives Alderman and Prentice, specifically about the Clare Strachan murder investigation, and Alderman blurts out that everyone knew it was a handy cover-up as it was Eric Hall who’d killed her.

Hunter receives a desperate call from Douglas saying he needs to talk. When Hunter arrives to discover Douglas and his young daughter horribly murdered he begins to realise the enormity of what he’s up against but is determined to see this investigation through to the bitter end. However, someone seems equally keen that
he won’t and after his house burns down in an arson attack on Christmas Day,

Hunter finds himself forcibly removed from the investigation via the ‘slur’ of professional misconduct and after Christmas, Hunter arrives back in Leeds for a disciplinary hearing but discovers the station in chaos and packed with journalists; they’ve just caught the Ripper. Hunter and Nolan watch the Ripper being interrogated by Jobson and watch him confess to all the murders except that of Clare Strachan.

Armed with this information, Hunter drives to Preston to meet BJ. BJ recalls the details of the night of the Karachi shoot-out; he was in the bar where Clare was the barmaid, and finally Hunter is given the evidence he needs to start to put right this
catalogue of errors…

Now, in case you didn’t see it, I won’t give away the ending in this recap but it is mentioned in the review which follows, so don’t read on if you intend to watch it on 4OD!

Review: Despite there being many similarities to last week’s episode, there were also many stark differences which I have to say, I wasn’t expecting. Yes, it was still “Grim up North” and the scenery was relentlessly drab and depressing – apart from some stunning scenery of the Yorkshire countryside – but I guess what made the rest of the differences was the fact that this episode was directed by the Oscar winning director James Marsh.

Where last week’s episode focused very strongly on the poverty and dreary lives of every day Yorkshire folk of the time, this episode – though still carrying on that theme – didn’t expend as much energy on that, preferring instead to concentrate on the dialogue and the plot, primarily with more reference to the character’s lives and personal dramas. And again, where last week’s storyline was ambiguous almost to the end, last night’s was more ‘obvious’ but nonetheless enjoyable for it.

The camera work was spectacular, from the coffin melting scene where we saw the wood bubble and leech liquids to a typical family Christmas that was skillfully depicted with a retrospective cine-film-like effect that added yet more realism – were it needed – to the episode. As to realism, as is the wont of Pearce, fact was cleverly interwoven with fiction and the breathless desperation for an end to Ripper’s reign of terror was palpable, thanks to the amazing acting from not only the key players but also the supporting cast.

The screen presence of Considine and Peake was perfection; in character, both had to maintain professional distance and work together on one of the toughest cases ever known in the UK, but the chemistry between the actors made their characters’ back-story of having been lovers easily believed and added to the ambience of barely disguised tension in the station where there was still corruption – as with 1974 – and treachery among the police officers. However, Considine’s’ character of Hunter was ‘one of the good guys’ but it cost him his life as he ended up murdered by a fellow officer John Nolan in order to ensure his permanent silence.

Apropos of John Nolan, it was great to see Tony Pitts back on screen in the role of seriously bad copper – and I mean as in corrupt, not badly portrayed; Pitts was frighteningly convincing – John Nolan. Tony used to play Archie in Emmerdale and was last seen on that show disappearing/vapourising during the infamous plane crash episode in 1993.

As to other characters, the Ripper, Peter, was excellently played by Joseph Mawle and it was great to see Lesley Sharpe too – playing Joan Hunter – who was a very welcome and again brilliant addition to the cast list but if I have any criticism of last night’s episode, it’s only that Lesley, I felt, wasn’t ‘used’ as effectively as she could’ve been. We know how superb an actor she is but her role simply didn’t give the scope that would allow that to be adequately demonstrated.

Warren Clarke was yet again exceptional as Bill Molloy who he plays with a realism so convincing, I’d go to Defcon Brown were I to ever find myself in close proximity to him on the set of Red Riding! When describing his character, Warren said, “DCS Molloy is a very miserable, bitter, disturbed human being.

“I think greed probably is what motivates my character, which is then overtaken by certain events that happened during the period depicted. This turns him into a very bitter human being and he ends up being consumed by it all.”

And for me, one of the most disturbing scenes – of which there were many – was when Jim Prentice – played by Chris Walker – was fired upon in a dreamlike sequence by kids with cap guns through a misty, murky haze of the type that’s typical of the ‘drabness’ of the setting.

All in all, just like last week, 1980 was an awesome show and I wish this series were not a trilogy but a long, long running series of multitudinous episodes!

In next week’s final episode, 1983, schoolgirl Hazel Atkins, a ten year old, has gone missing on her way home from school. The press draws comparisons with the disappearance of Clare Kemplay, found brutally murdered in 1974, a case which Jobson also worked on with his then boss Bill Molloy, “the Badger”

Meanwhile a young man is released from Prison – he’s called BJ. He gets a bus to
Preston – and hunts out a hidden shotgun from a lock-up garage…

Roll on next Thursday! In the meantime, here’s a clip of an overview of Red Riding which contains interviews with various cast members.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.