Red Riding is a trilogy of films adapted by Tony Grisoni from David Peace‘s cult novels set in Yorkshire during the 1970s and 80s.
The three films are all two hours long and are airing as part of C4’s winter 2009 schedule.
It boasts an impressive cast including: Mark Addy, Sean Bean, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Eddie Marsan and David Morrissey.
Produced by Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton’s production company, Revolution Films, each film has been directed by a separate director: Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited), James Marsh (Man on Wire) and Anand Tucker (And When Did You Last See Your Father?).
The first is entitled 1974 and explores the paranoia, mistrust and institutionalised police corruption in Yorkshire.
When a young journalist named Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) becomes obsessed with a police investigation into a series of child abductions, he uncovers a complex maze of lies and deceit.
One of the characters he comes across is a local businessman named John Dawson (played by Sean Bean) who, in this clip, advises Eddie to form a mutually beneficial relationship with him.
The second episode, directed by Marsh, set in and called 1980, sees the Yorkshire Ripper terrorise the area for six long years, and with the local police failing to make any progress, the Home Office sends in Manchester officer Peter Hunter (Considine) to review the investigation.
Having previously made enemies in the Yorkshire force while investigating a shooting incident in 1974, Hunter finds himself increasingly isolated when his version of events challenges their official line on the “Ripper”.
In the final instalment, directed by Tucker and set in and called 1983, another young girl has disappeared and Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson (Morrissey) recognises some alarming similarities to the abductions in 1974, forcing him to come to terms with the fact that he may have helped convict the wrong man.
When local solicitor John Piggott (Addy) is persuaded to fight this miscarriage of justice he finds himself slowly uncovering a catalogue of cover ups.
I was recently invited down to Channel 4 for a round table interview with screenwriter Tony Grisoni which included my webmaster Matt, Niall Browne from Screen Rant and Phil Edwards from Live For Films.
We looked at a 20 minute montage of sequences from the trilogy and spoke with Tony about adapting the books for the screen.
They start tonight (March 5th) on Channel 4 and could possibly have a cinema release around the world in the future (a la Sunday Bloody Sunday).
The questions in bold were asked by the bloggers, which included myself.
How do the 3 films tie together?
[They are] 3 full length films and they work so that 1983 revisits 1974 and you see things from a slightly different perspective and then the middle one, 1980 is against the background of the Yorkshire Ripper but the characters roll all the way through the 3 of them.
The original idea of the novels, it’s basically fiction around a true event?
The novels where a quartet, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, and what David Peace talks about, he says it’s fiction torn out of the facts.
There are 4 books and 3 films. Was that your decision?
No, it started out that we’d make all four and I wrote all four, but filmmaking is capital intensive and we didn’t have enough money to do all four and we then had a choice.
We could have made all four but made them shorter and I’m so glad it didn’t go that way. These tales are not just about cops and robbers. Making them shorter would have forced us into a vagueness of narrative and you wouldn’t have had chance to have these incredible atmospheric moments that David Peace wrote in the books that we tried to mirror in the films.
It seemed to make more sense to make three. It was then a question of how do you do it? Do you take a couple to pieces and feed them into the others, but in the end I decided to just drop 1977 out cleanly.
This was for a number of reasons. One is that the others seemed to work really well as a trilogy and the other thing is it leaves 1977 untouched and I hope we can possibly go back and make that at some point.
Another thing I noticed from watching it was the films seem to be police vs journalists, then police vs police and then police vs people. Is that something you planned or was it in the original books?
This is an adaptation. I trusted those books and I trusted David’s writing and so I treated those as the truth. What was there I took and then had to turn it into a screenplay.
What happens in 1974 is that what you’ve got is very complex. You’re with a young journalist and it’s not quite journalists against cops. It’s a particular journalist. A young guy. He’s a typical film noir hero.
He’s libidinous, he’s lazy, he’s selfish, self obsessed young man. What happens with him, he starts off by just being out for himself, but then he’s got this thing in that he has to know what happened.
He wants to find the truth and so he goes further and further down that path and eventually he gets to a point where he needs to know the truth more than anything, more than his own safety or anything. He kind of changes as it goes along.
The second one is very much the police against their own. Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is on a Home Office investigation that he has to keep to keep to himself and he has to investigate corrupt police and as it said in that clip how deep does the rot go?
The third one is a two hander. You’ve got two main characters. You’ve got Morris Jobson, a policeman, who has gone along with corruption all the way through and has finally reached a point where he is going to do what he should have done a long time ago, like nine years before so it’s quite redemptive in many ways.
Then you’ve got John Piggot. I really like his character, he is wonderfully disgusting. He’s a damaged man. A lousy solicitor, but again, he wants to know what really happened. Although he doesn’t feel quite up to being a champion that is what he becomes.
The thing about David’s fiction and these films we made is that they are quite complex pieces. There isn’t good and bad. It is more like what it is like out there.
It’s all these different levels of good and bad. They are not comic book heroes. They are fractured people. They are a bit like you and me.
How do you think it will go down in the North?
Where are you drawing the line? (Laughter) I think West Yorkshire will enjoy it. As you can hear I’m not a Yorkshire man. Just to misquote David Peace again, he was Yorkshire born and bred although he wrote these in Tokyo.
He’s got a very complex relationship with that area but he believes, and I agree with him that particular crimes happen in particular places to particular people.
It’s for a reason and in the 70s and 80s Yorkshire was a hostile place. The UK was a pretty hostile place and he would say that that area in that period was hostile particularly to women.
That’s a Yorkshire man talking but I agree with him. I say that about Yorkshire but I could do that for London or anywhere else.
Do you think Life on Mars fans will get into it?
Well it is the period, but there are a few more teeth in this one! I think one of the interesting things when I see lots of cuts of these is that I forget about the period. I follow the drama and I’m following the characters.
One of the exciting things for me is that you’ve got three full length films, three different directors, three different styles, so what are you following? You are following the characters and it is a real joy I’ve found to see how the characters change.
There is a young man called BJ who starts off as a silly little rent boy and who ends up a son of Yorkshire and a hero. That’s a beautiful path for him. So you follow these people and the way we structured the films was the way the novels were structured.
Your main character bows out but the more minor characters that you’ve got to know a little bit then come to the fore in the next one and so it is like baton passing.
I think that is why you are going to watch to find out what happens to these people and why things happen to them. I hope that is so interesting and so involving that you won’t look at how big the lapels are.
Did the directors have much to do with each other or did they look after their own thing?
The whole thing was very much a team effort right from the beginning in that everyone spoke to everyone else. You were always aware of two more of these films going on at the same time.
Having said that the idea was always that they should have the freedom to make the film they wanted to make. You have them on very different formats.
You have 1974 which is on 16mm. 1980 is shot on 35mm and 1983 shot digitally, but beautiful digital. They all have very different tones. They all feel different films and again what goes through though are those characters.
That’s what is leading you through and it is an interesting experience. Again, I think the more involved you become in the characters everything else falls back.
What was the hardest thing when you got the novels about changing them into a workable screenplay?
What to leave out. The novels are so full and they are such full on experiments. David uses all kinds of different styles of writing.
You’ll feel like you are reading American detective fiction where all the action is pushed through on dialogue without any stage direction and then he’ll go to stream of consciousness where there is no punctuation for blocks of text.
It is very full on. I was spoilt. These novels were gifts. The other thing was, that was quite amazing, I was getting total freedom. I wasn’t having someone saying “Oh can you do all the outlines and treatments” and all that kind of stuff which when you do, makes you kind of bored and it’s like homework then. I just ploughed in.
Fortunately, because I got a main character leading the first one, a main character leading the second one and then two characters, what’s great is that you tell the story from their perspective so you only know what they know.
You cannot know anything outside and that gave me a really solid framework. That was like the sheet anchor that helped me stay on course. Then I just waded in and started writing a very long first draft of it that I then pared down. The main difficulty was that.
The other thing was the books are written where they ask more questions than are ever answered. Part of the darkness of the books is that some narrative strands kind of disappear off into the darkness and you can never know everything.
We employed a woman whose job it was to take those novels to pieces and she gave me cross referenced charts. We had to uncover all those strands so we knew what we were dealing with.
The screenplays had to be a little more tied down than the novels but I didn’t want to do it too much otherwise you destroy the feeling of them. That was pretty tricky.
There were lots of emails between me and David Peace in the lead up to me writing it and then he came over. We had a six hour meeting and I just grilled him, “Why did they do that? Why did that character go there?”
Of course this was all in David’s past so he had to start digging again, but he was really generous and always very helpful. If he knew the answers he’d tell me.
If he didn’t he’d try and find out and if it didn’t quite add up then we’d have conversations about what might be the story.
How happy where you with the cast as there are some big names in there?
How could I not be happy with that cast? I was just knocked out by them.
Did you picture any of them when you were writing the screenplay?
No. When I am writing they are just characters in my head, but when the casting starts to come together it adds another level to it. I don’t want to mention any particular names as they are all so good.
At what point where the directors brought in? Was that before you’d finished the scripts?
They came in after we had locked off the scripts. They weren’t completely locked off because that would have been kind of daft. I started in early 2006.
By the beginning of 2007 we had three scripts. We went through about 2 or 3 drafts. Then the directors came in.
Having said that I met James Marsh at the Edinburgh Festival and we started talking. He became attached to these projects way before anyone was officially approached. He knew the material and because we were in touch he stuck his flag in 1980.
Most people will know David Peace from The Damned United becoming an unlikely bestseller. Was this all green lit before that success?
Oh yeah. I wouldn’t say greenlit but I was working on it before Damned United.
How long where you on the project?
3 years. It started in early 2006 Andrew Eaton from Revolution Films made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The thing is I knew Andrew because I’d worked with Michael Winterbottom on In This World.
That film about those 2 Afghanistan boys being smuggled and working on that film was one of the best filming experiences I’ve had.
The whole thing about Revolution Films is that if they make that call you know it is going to be a challenge. The chances are you are going to be asked to do something you don’t think you can really do or you are scared of doing. Go to Afghanistan. Adapt 4 novels into films inside a year and a half.
Are these 3 films going to be released in cinemas around the World?
There are plans. Things are being looked into. I’d be really interested to see how the States take them. I think they could really do well in the States.
They’ve got a feel to them. They owe a lot to film noir and American detective movies of the 40s and 50s.
It reminded me a lot of Zodiac. The density of it.
Yeah. I agree. It will be very interesting to see how it does.
What are you going to be doing next?
I’ve just finished worked on an extraordinary film that is a First Film directed by Sam Mortimer in Nottingham that concerns a little girl who is in care. That was quite an experience.
We wrapped that film just before Christmas. Also last year I directed a film I wrote. It was a 20 minute short which is set in the Kurdish community in North London where I live and so right now I’m writing the feature version of that called Kingsland.
I’m helping Terry Gilliam put Don Quixote back in the saddle.
What are they going to do with the film that never was (as seen in Lost in La Mancha)?
There was only 5 days shooting.
Is it really looking like a go this time?
Absolutely. 100% (Laughs)
Thanks to Murray Cox and the Channel 4 press office for their help in arranging this.
Red Riding starts tonight at 9pm and can also be seen on 40D.
> Official site for Red Riding at Channel 4
> Tony Grisoni at the IMDb
> Find out more about David Peace at Wikipedia