Review: Red Riding – 1974… indescribably good!

Sean Bean in Red Riding

Well it’s difficult to know how to best describe this episode of Red Riding – which was the first if Channel 4’s three, two-hour long adaptations from the novels of David Peace – in words other than brilliant, perfect and awe-inspiring.

It is truly rare that a drama of this quality comes along, and when those of us who are paid to be TV critics cannot criticise even a minor pedantic detail – or at least, this one can’t anyway – it’s a rare day… Red Riding: 1974, was simply faultless.

Mind you, with a cast that boasted Andrew Garfield – in his first role on Channel 4 since his Bafta-winning performance in ‘Boy A’ – and other cast members of an equally celebrated and deservedly A list stature, it would’ve taken some seriously poor direction and/or writing to make it anything less than amazing, and praise be, neither applied…

1974 was directed by Julian Jarrold – who also directed the magnificently lavish Brideshead Revisited – and of course, author David Peace is a latter day Dickens in my opinion; he doesn’t fill out his work with fuzzy reminiscences or rose-tinted dogma about his personal recollections of Yorkshire in the seventies and eighties, and while I can’t speak from personal experience as to the veracity of the theme of terror and corruption within the police force at the time, one might conclude that Peace is to be believed since we now know that Stefan Kiszko was ‘framed’ for the murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975.

There were without doubt unsubtle and unashamedly blatant comparisons between Kiszko and last night’s poor suspect Myshkin; like Kiszko, Myshkin was the son of East European immigrants and was what we would today term as having – well, who knows given the PC nature of everything – but I’m going to go with “special needs” or “educationally subnormal”

This was all perhaps best summed up in a line from last night’s episode when one of the characteristically arrogant and corrupt police officers stated, “This is the North. We do what we want.”

The senior investigating officer in the Kiszko case by the way was DCI Dick Holland, who went on to lead the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper murders, which feature in next week’s episode of Red Riding, 1980.

So onto the other actors… and what an impressive list – all of whom incidentally worked for far less pay than they would normally receive, simply for the joy of participating in what they could clearly recognise as being a work of exceptional quality.

1974 featured – in addition to Garfield – Mark Addy, Sean Bean, Warren Clarke and the fantastic Rebecca Hall, among many other fine thespians!

Now onto the plot; it’s 1974, Yorkshire – a time of fear, distrust and institutionalised police corruption. Rookie Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie Dunford, played by Andrew Garfield and whose nickname is ‘Scoop’, is resolutely determined to follow – and if possible, solve – the cases of a series of child abductions.

andrew garfield as eddie dunford

The episode opened when we learned that, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be attending his father’s funeral, Eddie and his colleague, Barry Gannon, are called to a press conference where an emotional Mrs Kemplay makes a moving plea for help in finding her missing daughter, Claire.

Intrigued by news that two other girls went missing in similar circumstances over the last decade, and spurred on by Barry, Eddie decides to investigate the links between the three cases, persuading his editor, Bill Hadley, to let him follow the lead.

Eddie interviews DCS Bill Molloy about the Kemplay case and explains his theories but is given short shrift by the hardened detective. Not one to be put off, Eddie drives to Rochdale to see if he can meet the parents of the girl who’s been missing the longest – Susan Ridyard – who disappeared in 1969.

However, whilst in Rochdale, he hears that Clare Kemplay’s body has been discovered and realises that he’s missed out on a big scoop…

Back at The Post, Hadley isn’t best pleased at Eddie’s mistake and has handed the story to crime reporter of the year, Jack Whitehead, to follow up on the discovery of Clare’s body.

Undeterred, and against the wishes of his editor, Eddie goes to meet 16 year old Leonard Cole who found the body on a construction site owned by local property magnate, John Dawson.

Leonard – who lives with his mother, Mary, and a local vicar, Martin Laws – is clearly disturbed by what he’s seen and when Eddie later persuades his rival Whitehead to let him see the post mortem report, he’s sickened to learn of the brutality of the murder and more so by the sight of the swans’ wings stitched onto Claire’s back.

Meanwhile, Barry’s hot on a lead regarding Dawson and local corruption instigated by his business dealings. Hadley, keen to keep Barry reigned in, asks Eddie to keep an eye on him as he interviews Dawson’s fragile wife.

Instead of doing his boss’s bidding, Eddie decides to head to Castleford instead, to meet Paula Garland – played beautifully by Rebecca Hall – the mother of Jeanette who’s been missing since 1972. It didn’t go well and Eddie left dejected but still determined.

However, following the disastrous meeting with Paula, Eddie’s menaced and knocked about by two local coppers,Craven and Douglas. Convinced this beating is in response to his earlier encounter with Paula, he goes back to Castleford to find her in her local pub and apologise for any misunderstanding. It’s soon obvious that the two are very much attracted to each other and, taking Paula’s lead, Eddie follows her back to her house for the night.

The next morning, Eddie’s woken by a telephone call to say that Barry’s been found dead. This is made all the more worrying as Barry had been warned over his safety by Dawson’s frightened wife.

Before his death, Barry had instructed his secret informant, BJ, to pass on all his research findings regarding Dawson to Eddie if anything should happen to him so, acting on all the information Eddie’s been given, he visits Mrs Dawson to try to find out more of what she knows, but she soon becomes hysterical and PCs Craven and Douglas burst into the room and brutally beat Eddie up again.

By now, the locals, including the coppers, government, press… everyone in fact, wants the killer caught, and the police certainly aren’t overly bothered if who they catch is guilty or not; they just want someone, so – as happened with the real events surrounding Kiszko – local ‘oddball’ Michael Myshkin, played by Daniel Mays, is pulled in for ‘questioning’ by the police – and for ‘questiong’ read, ‘torturing’ – until they get a confession out of him.

Also by now, it’s clear that Eddie has made an enemy of John Dawson, which is not a good plan, especially as this is a man who freely admits how much he hates black people, gay people, Asians and women. Granted, Eddie’s none of those things, but he’s got under Dawson’s skin nonetheless. Dawson has an aggressive stranglehold over virtually everyone in the community, and those who crossed him did not repeat the faux pas twice.

Here’s a clip from Dawson and Eddie’s encounter in which Dawson clearly isn’t a man Eddie should continue to cross… this clip contains strong language.

The continuing backdrop of a depressingly impoverished brown and grey landscape, where bigotry, poverty and misogyny are commonplace – as are foul mouthed, violent and corrupt police officers – kept the pace unnervingly tense and starkly realistic right to the last few seconds, which I’m about to reveal so don’t read on if you intend to watch on 4OD!

I could happily spend another few hours about the plot but there was just too much detail to describe it fully without this turning into a mini-novel in itself!

dunford red riding

So, as the end drew nigh, we discovered that the girl’s death – as had become fairly obvious by then but was somehow still shocking – was at the sadistic hands of Dawson.

He described his penchant for murdering young girls as “a private weakness” and as big a driving force in his life as his love of acquiring money, though not one that was a frequently routine.

But the absolute pièce de résistance and magnum opus of shocking endings came when our hero Eddie Dunford shot Dawson and then killed himself by driving headlong into a convoy of police cars…

I sat literally breathless for several seconds and felt as though I knew Eddie personally and therefore felt a true sense of loss.

Truly, this was the best drama so far this year and I cannot wait to see what next week’s offering, 1980, brings! Here’s the synopsis for next week’s episode:

December 1980 Leeds – and the Ripper’s reign of terror has lasted 6 years. Peter Hunter, 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 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…

You can see Channel 4’s awesome website for Red Riding here…

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Now as an aside, and referring back to what I mentioned earlier regarding the actors working for far less than they would ordinarily command for similar work, an interview with two of the main players about their low salaries for this production – Sean Bean and Mark Addy – in the Daily mail reads:

“It was the quality of the scripts which drew me” says Sean Bean. “There are a lot of mediocre scripts around, and this was a breath of fresh air. People like me wanted to be part of it because it’s an exceptional piece of work.”

Mark Addy – best known as the chubby stripper, Dave, in The Full Monty – agrees. “It wasn’t a project any of us did for the money – we did it for the scripts.

“If you wanted a rest while you were waiting to film you lay down on any patch of floor you could find and tried to nod off.

“The wages were really basic. But I think that helped the filming because it cut out a lot of the bullsh**. There was none of the stuff you sometimes get on a big-budget drama about who has the biggest trailer or who was being paid the most. Across the board, we all got the same.

“There can be a lot of falseness and pretentiousness in this business. I know, because I spent several years working in Hollywood on the TV sitcom Still Standing. This was the absolute opposite of that – and all the better for it.”

Isn’t that refreshing? That even ‘huge’ names like Sean Bean can and do still work simply for the love of their art and it came across in spades in the performances of all the cast!

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.