Sunday 8 March 2009

By Gum, It's Grim Up North

I watched the opening episode of the much hyped three-part series based on David Peace's Red Riding quartet. It is set in the mining area of West Yorkshire and opens in 1974. Andrew Garfield plays an emerging, young reporter (Eddie Danford) who is investigating the disappearances of three young girls over a period of five years. Eddie soon realises that he has entered a web of corruption involving the local police force, council and press. The main villain is a brash, racist, homophobic property developer John Dawson, played by professional Yorkshireman, Sean Bean. Dawson is supported in his dirty deeds by the local bill that seem to have already killed one reporter who got too close to Dawson - as well as given Eddie some savage beatings.

I am afraid that Red Riding didn’t do a lot other than depress me. Yes, it is supposed to depict grim reality but the violence seems over-elaborate and over the top. Gritty reality pieces (Kes, Billy Elliott) need to be believable and this just isn’t. The North is stereotypically depicted as soul-crushingly drab. The sun never shines (although if the series was shot last summer this might have been unavoidable). We get a few shots of bleak-looking moorland on the horizon but the beauty of the Pennines is not portrayed. Bean's character is all too predictable.

So what point is the series trying to make? There is corruption in all walks of life. And? It is unfair and nasty and good people get abused. And?

It is just too bleak for me. Even ‘grim reality’ films can have moments of humour or brief interludes when the better side of human nature shines through. And before anyone tells me I should get my middle-class arse down to a mining area and see what it is really like, I do. I live close to the former North Staffordshire coalfields and regularly walk around the old mining villages. And the views are inspiring!


Jim Jepps said...

I quite e3njoyed it - but then I like grim. You're right that the violence didn't quite work... but as to the bleakness I suspect this will need to be seen as a piece with the others in the series.

There may well be lighter notes to come as they are setting the scene for the future episodes. As we know all police corruption has been solved now so there must be a happy ending!

Anonymous said...

Due to 4OD not working on Windows 7 (which itself won't work after July - I really don't want to go back to Vista/XP which are much less efficiently organised) I can't watch this.

I come from an old mining area in Yorkshire myself (I actually just saw an old miners strike leaflet which had a meeting at my hometown's town hall advertised on it), and many of the old pit villages from the area are still (and probably will get much more so) areas of incredibly high unemployment, social depravation and general misery (although like you said set against the background of some very beautiful scenery).

Phil said...

Nice piece, Brother S. Looks like I won't get the chance to watch it now :(

As you picked up in your reflections on Ashes to Ashes as well, there are some interesting ideological things going on with these yesteryear cop dramas - which Jim draws out above. But there's also a smug sense of cultural self-satisfaction going on too. We may laugh or grimace at Philip Glenister and Sean Bean's neanderthal asides because we're oh-so enlightened, but what about racism and sexism today? Just look at the knuckle-dragging comments occasioning Labour List's announcement that it was giving itself over to women bloggers for International Women's Day. There's plenty that needs to be done - retrospectives like this are entertaining but do nothing to help the struggle against oppression today.

Jim Jepps said...

I think you're right Phil.

On one level you could say "oh a drama about police and political corruption where they are in the pockets of the rich" but it's clearly an alien landscape - it isn't *here* where things like that do not happen.

I don't know - at least TV is acknowledging the possibility. Maybe it could not have been made if it was set today showing corruption and violence in the Met.

Ms Chief said...

I hated it - too brown, olive and mustard, too violent, too nasty.

I turned the first one off and then didn't watch the rest of them