Based on the novels by David Peace, “The Red Riding Trilogy” is a series of three films that center on fictionalized accounts of the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper murders.
The films, “1974,” “1980,” and 1983″ were all adapted for the screen by Tony Grisoni (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) but were helmed by different directors. Jullian Jarold (“Becoming Jane”) directed the first installment; James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) took on the second, while the third was directed by Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie,” Shopgirl”). All three spoke with indieWIRE about the film, which is being released through IFC Films this Friday.
How did you get involved with “The Red Riding Trilogy”? What did you know of the series beforehand?
Jarrold: It was the quality of Tony Grisoni’s script that brought me to the project. He caught all the dark and disquieting qualities of the novel and had developed the characters and relationships so well. He also found a wit and poignancy amongst the darkness and conflict. Tony wasn’t afraid to reflect the reality of Yorkshire in the 70s and I was fascinated by the peculiar atmosphere of place; its “psychogeography”, where events unfold in such a dark and brutal fashion.
Tucker: I was sent the script by Andrew Eaton, and was quite literally stunned. Called him immediately on finishing and said I was in. I new very little about the books, other than their reputation.
Marsh: I became aware of the trilogy via Tony Grisoni, the screenwriter, and Andrew Eaton, the producer, both of whom I knew socially. This was quite early in the process. Tony slipped me the first draft of the first film “1974” and I thought it was simply the best British screenplay I’d read. It was so good, so strange and so violent that it made Channel 4 who were financing the film just a little nervous so it was about two years before we finally went into production. By that time I had read all of the novels and all of the screenplays and I just couldn’t shake off the tragedy that Tony had created in the second script of the trilogy “1980”. I was absolutely desperate to do it, even more so when I heard that actor Paddy Considine had been tracking the lead role. I lobbied hard for the job and offered to have a fight with anyone who wanted to take it off me.
Jarrold: Like most people, I was only dimly aware of David Peace’s Red Riding quartet, but when I read them, I was blown away by their power, drive and frenetic visceral quality. His characters and stories are inspired by real events; “fictions torn from facts that illuminate the truth” as he puts it. This fictionalised truth with its relentless pace and its depiction of the brutal nihilistic world of Yorkshire in the 70s makes a potent brew.
How did you go about creating the mise en scene for your installment of the series?
Marsh: My ideas for the film evolved with my discussions with the Director of Photography on the film, Igor Martinovic and production designer Tom Burton. I know that I wanted the film to use modern locations – specifically some of the brutalist architecture that was inflicted on British cities in the ’60’s and ’70’s. I wanted the film to look nothing like the cosy, heritage type movies that have often been shot in the North of England. Our reference points were film noir and the great American conspiracy thrillers of ’70’s – “The Parallax View” and “Klute” in particular. I also wanted to shoot on 35 mm and submit the byzantine plot to very clear, precise camerawork. We shot listed the film in great deal and worked out quite complicated frames in widescreen so that power relations between characters could be expressed by our compositions. As the film proceeds, the central character (there are no heroes in “Red Riding”) is increasingly diminished and crowded out by his antagonists. Our costume designer colour coded the suits and ties worn by the characters so you can immediately distrust a character who is wearing a green or brown tie…Of course, all this was just to set a stage for the actors who went at each other like rabid dogs. The atmosphere on set was highly charged with testosterone, you can almost smell it in the film.
Tucker: I was concerned with finding a look that felt alive, immediate, not like a period piece. I also wanted the film to have light in the midst of the terrible darkness – both the leads in 1983 are lost in the darkest place, but looking desperately for redemption, salvation, the smallest sliver of hope.
It was also a film about the mythical Landscape of ‘The North’, and so I went for a widescreen anamorphic look. I tried to think of it like a John Ford Western, like the Searchers.
What did the real life aspects of the era add to your individual stories? Did it make it easier to create a vivid world?
Tucker: For me the film was more the Yorkshire Of David Peace’s imagination – a terrible, beautiful fiction.
Jarrold: We shot “1974” on Super16 film which seemed appropriate for the period and setting. I wanted a grainy, filmic quality where we could place the characters in an environment which seems to dominate and imprison them. Director of Photography, Rob Hardy, with production designer Christine Casselli, helped me capture the exact atmosphere for this first film of “Yorkshire noir”.
Marsh: My film “1980” has the most overt connection to real events, at least for a British audience. The film’s story unfolds against the backdrop of the most notorious serial killer case in modern British history – a killer of women who was dubbed ‘the Yorkshire Ripper’ . He was finally caught in 1980. One of the most chilling aspects of the real life case was a taunting audio tape that the police assumed came from the actual killer. The tape was endlessly broadcast by the media whilst I was growing up and it haunted me. We got to use the this in the film – “1980” actually opens with audio of this tape and contemporary news reports detailing the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper. Clearly that helped to locate the fictional elements of the film very specifically in a forbidding time and place. A character based on the real life Ripper later appears in the film briefly – but I hope memorably. The actor who played the Ripper, Joseph Mawle, immersed himself in the real details of the case and we ended up improvising a whole confession scene where he just reeled off all the terrible things he had done. The film has some really violent episodes elsewhere but this ended up being the most harrowing scene in the film – and it’s all just words. It was the one scene that caused some discussion amongst the executives about its propriety and yet nothing is show other than a man talking.
How did you deal with creating continuity between each of the three films?
Marsh: Well, we didn’t really deal with it all. There was actually very little discussion amongst the directors during the production. We each worked with our own team and just got on with our own films. This was actively encouraged by the producer, Andrew Eaton. He wanted three distinct pieces of work and by engaging three very different directors with very different backgrounds, he was inviting individual interpretations. I think Andrew knows that directors by their very nature are single minded and opinionated and that it would go against our nature for us all to sit down and hold hands and talk it all out like reasonable human beings.
So, the continuity came from the source material – the films are based on the work of novelist David Peace and were all written by the same screenwriter. Tony Grisoni deserves enormous credit for his scripts – they were gifts to us all. The trilogy also gathers its integrity from the actors, many of whom appear in all 3 films but their characters grow and mutate across each film. Thiwas no easy feat on a technical level – the productions overlapped and some of the actors might be doing scenes for all 3 films on any given day, along with flashbacks to previous films. I am amazed at how well they coped with that.
Tucker: We didn’t. We agreed to all do our own thing. Th escripts were so strong, and all about memory and point of view, that it sort of made sense to have three very different takes on the same events.
Jarrold: “1974” is the first of the three films and the brief was that they would each be self-contained and work on their own terms. The aspiration was that the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. This probably encouraged a healthy bit of competition. Like the novels, each film offers a different perspective on characters and events over different periods. My view was that “1974” should tell the story of Eddie Dunford but leave open some questions that are confronted in the following films: 1980 and 1983. For all of us, this meant some negotiation over casting. Amazingly there were no violent disagreements (a tribute to the producers who worked tirelessly to oil the wheels of the complex decision making).
What did you learn by working on the “Red Riding Trilogy”?
Marsh: On a personal level, I got very inspired by working with a large British ensemble cast. Based on my limited experience, British actors have a different approach to American actors. They are all about the text, the script and if they are doing back story preparation, they don’t make a big deal out of it. What was interesting and instructive was that we actually improvised more that I have done on previous films – I guess because everyone was so familiar with the script and knew it inside out. There was a solid foundation for trying new things out. The atmosphere on the set was often quite jolly, despite (or maybe because) of the darkness of the material. So I learnt on this production that it’s much better if you actually enjoy the shoot and create an atmosphere where risks can be taken without it seeming like a matter of life and death. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had making a film – and I think that is true for many of the people involved.
Tucker: How wonderful the Red Camera is!
Were the actors very excited and motivated by the unusual process of shooting three films with three different directors (virtually) at the same time?
Jarrold: For the actors it was an interesting and stimulating journey – especially for those who span all three films. David Morrissey as Jobson is an ambiguous background figure in “1974” but his story comes to the fore and provides the resolution in “1983”.
Andrew Garfield is the lead in “1974” and as a cocky, arrogant, naïve character he has the difficult task of taking the viewer on a journey through this hostile world. It’s a testament to his ability and commitment that he achieves this truthfully both in his emotional scenes with Paula (Rebecca Hall), or in suffering the physicality of the torture scenes. Rebecca brilliantly portrays the conflicted nature and sexualised qualities of a woman in thrall to the power of John Dawson (Sean Bean). Sean effortlessly inhabits the character of Dawson whose black wit and sexual charm dominate the film. All three films were shooting at almost the same time and there was a great collegiate atmosphere amongst all the actors who really committed to the project however small their part.