Britain’s Dark Trilogy
The series of Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson’s novels aren’t the only dark, made-for-TV trilogy of crime films from the northern rim of Europe where the sun retreats behind clouds for much of the year. Drawn from the novels of British expatriate author David Pearce, the “Red Riding” trilogy consists of the interlocked films 1974, 1980 and 1983. But in “Red Riding,” there is no Lisbeth Salander, no indestructible hero or even a consistent protagonist upholding a moral order, in however unconventional a fashion. In “Red Riding” the evil cabal’s motives only become entirely clear in final episode; there are many victims and a few men who try, often to little effect, to get to the bottom of the dark well of secrets. “Red Riding” is out on DVD.â€¨â€¨
Along with the allusion to the disturbing fairytale, the trilogy’s name refers to an administrative unit in England, a “riding,” with the same archaic, horse-drawn connotation behind America’s circuit courts. The riding of the three films is in Yorkshire, a bleak northern county whose real life serial killer, the Yorkshire Ripper, provided the trigger for Pearce’s novels. In his Yorkshire, the police are the criminals, running pornography and prostitution rings and investing the profit in real estate developments. They are in uneasy league with business interests and opposed by people whose hearts are also as black as the county’s coal seams.â€¨
Although a different filmmaker directed each of the three films, the aesthetic of “Red Riding” is consistent. It’s 21st century film noir, using a dark color palette under an overcast sky and twilight interiors that have never felt a bright ray of sunshine. As usual in premium British productions, even the smallest role is fully inhabited--a universe unto itself. The story is admittedly difficult to follow, and not just because of the thick pudding of Yorkshire accents. Film critic David Thomson might have been the first to observe that “Red Riding” holds a broken mirror to a broken world, reflecting a society where nothing ever seems fully resolved and the whole puzzle can never be clicked into place.