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In talking about the recent TV adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding Novels, The Red Riding Trilogy, identifying a shared aesthetic is problematic. While the screenwriter (Tony Grisoni) and source material are the same across these three Channel 4 films, the directors are not; each bringing with them their own unique approach to Peace’s contemporary Gothic vision. However, Julian Jarrold’s (1974), James Marsh’s (1980), and Anand Tucker’s (1983) presentations of the West Riding are marked by a similar sense of abstraction that inverts the paradigmatic imagery of the North.

One of my central interests is the way in which vast external spaces often function in realism as spheres of figurative interpretation, in Red Riding this expansiveness is curtailed to re-deploy the iconography as narrow and foreboding, emblematising the trilogy’s thematic concerns of insidious evil and corruption within its own visual schema. 

The village of Fitzwilliam pops up in all three films. I grew up in the next door in Ackworth, and the ‘Fitzy’ of Red Riding is certainly not the one that I know. Even if the producers and directors had chosen to film in the real location, one senses its unbridled ‘otherness’ would still be conspicuous. The only establishing shots are fleeting, and often come in the form of point-of-view perspectives; giving an all-together more condensed view. Narrow rows of houses, drab allotments, and cooling towers barely visible in the distance dominate the diegesis. There is no masterful, all-inclusive vision of the space; instead its elements are presented in fragments – never allowing a sense of locality or familiarity to emerge, while maintaining an ever-increasing atmosphere of horror and inhumanity.

Similarly, the premises of the West Yorkshire Police carry a distinct air of alienation. No long shots, or gentle foregrounding here. Instead, sharp and almost invasive close-ups of brutalist modern architecture consume the frame, the jagged edges and labyrinthine overlaps signifying the tangled passages of cold evil that characterise Peace’s take on the constabulary.

Thus, one of the many interesting elements of Red Riding as a screen text is the manner in which the terrain of the North, so long a central part of realist iconography, is radically subverted to accommodate unfamiliar generic pastures. As the odious Molloy (Warren Clarke) says: “To the North, where we do what we want.”

By David Forrest

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  1. By Some Blue Eyed Revisionism « Burnt Retina on 02 Mar 2010 at 3:41 pm

    […] good words on Red Riding you could do a lot worse than check out D Forrest's take on 'The North as Abstract' over at Words on What I've […]

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