Posted by: seanxsmith | April 28, 2009

Fear and loathing in West Yorkshire

David Peace’s Red Riding novels are adapted for TV

* * *

WHEN the final volume of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet was published in 2002, the one thing that shell-shocked readers knew for sure was that his compelling saga of lost children, corrupt coppers and accidental heroes would never make it to the screen.

Peace’s thrilling, visceral, often unhinged prose seemed resolutely unfilmable, his grimly compulsive tales too complicated, too perverse, too downright ugly for the increasingly risk-averse and anodyne worlds of TV and film.

Telling a story of dirty deals and bloody murder in Yorkshire over the best part of a decade, the books almost seem to imply that evil triumphs whether good men do anything or not.

Tony Grisoni was commissioned by Andrew Eaton and Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution Films to adapt 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 into a series of feature-length films for Channel 4. Far from being daunted by the variety of inner voices, the complex, fractured narrative and the stomach-churning sense of terrible things happening just outside your peripheral vision somehow conjured up by Peace, Grisoni fell for the books in a big way.

“That quartet is so full of experimentation,” he says over the phone from East London. “The narrative jumps all over the place, at some points the voice-over almost goes into a stream of consciousness – all of that just makes it a real challenge.”

He was, he adds, given “a huge amount of freedom” on the project:

“No one was on my case saying, that’s a bit weird, a bit extreme,” says Grisoni, who also wrote the screenplays for Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Winterbottom’s In This World. “I had a free hand. It’s fantastic to wade into literature like that.”

Paddy Considine was tipped off about Red Riding by Shane Meadows, who was keen to direct 1980. Reading an early script and then Peace’s “darkly poetic” books, Considine was immediately drawn to the character of senior cop Peter Hunter and actively lobbied for the role, even after Meadows moved onto other projects.

paddy“I just think they’re amazing crime novels,” says Considine from his home in Nottinghamshire. “They get under your skin. It was a bit like when I first read The Exorcist. It lived with me. They’re too good to not adapt them into movies.”

“A big part of the darkness of these novels is not necessarily to do with what’s literally happening – although that’s pretty dark,” says Grisoni. “Often it’s about the fact that you don’t know the whole truth. It leaves you unsettled, that you can’t know everything. It’s horribly close to real life, isn’t it?”

In fact, many of the events which take place in the Red Riding Quartet are drawn directly from reality.

In the 1970s, Leeds was a very different place to the chic shopping destination it is today, with soot and grime warping the remnants of the city’s Victorian past into a dark, austere, unforgiving landscape.

“Nobody likes us and we don’t care!” sang the Yorkshire whites at Elland Road, which prided itself on being one of the least welcoming grounds in the league.

Peace himself has said that at the time, Yorkshire as a whole was “a hostile environment .. especially for women”.

Around this time, someone famously daubed the slogan “All women are bitches” on a wall opposite Leeds university. “Well, it’s a dog’s life” was written underneath in reply.

Growing up near Wakefield at the same time that Peter Sutcliffe was stalking the north of England, murdering 13 women and attacking many more during a five-year killing spree, Peace was “obsessed” with solving the case, even, at one point, fearing that his father might be the killer.

In 1976, three young women implicated Stefan Kiszko in the murder of Rochdale schoolgirl Lesley Molseed “for a laugh”. Pressurised into a confession by some of the same West Yorkshire detectives who singularly failed to apprehend Sutcliffe, Kiszko was imprisoned for 17 years before being cleared by a judicial review. He died after less than a year of freedom while Lesley’s killer remained at large until 2006.

In 1986, Greater Manchester Police assistant chief constable John Stalker was suspended from duty and removed from an inquiry he was leading into the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s alleged shoot-to-kill policy after groundless rumours and gossip about his private life.

Terrible things happen in ordinary places like Hyde, Hattersley, Bacup, Bootle and Dewsbury. Knowing that there are families who “suffered horribly” because of the crimes referenced by Peace, Grisoni followed the author’s lead and approached this “fiction torn from fact” with enormous caution.

“David is writing something where he wants to make it clear the effect that violence has, but at the same time he’s aware of entertainment. And it’s a very uneasy relationship between those two things. It’s a tough call,” admits Grisoni. “But because it’s tough, it’s worth having a go at.”

“These films are inspired by fact but they are pieces of fiction – and with fiction you can go as far as you wish to go,” argues Considine. “Life is more grisly than fiction. And there are plenty of darker films with worse motives. The films we did have got depth to them, real characters, motivations and consequences.”

Sadly, Red Riding’s budget wouldn’t stretch to adapting the entire quartet.

Grisoni felt truncating the four books would’ve been “a horrible mistake, because it would have become a cops and robbers series. It’s more than that. Those stories are not just about the narrative. They’re about atmosphere, they’re about character. They’re not just about plot”.

In the end, Grisoni decided to omit 1977 altogether and three directors were brought into the project, taking one book each.

Julian Jarold, who has just made the film version of Brideshead Revisited, tackled 1974, James Marsh, who was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary about highwire artist Philippe Petit, took on 1980, while Oscar-nominated Hilary And Jackie’s Anand Tucker directed 1983.

The trio assembled a similarly high-achieving cast for the trilogy.

Sean Bean is a boorish property tycoon investigated by a cocky young reporter played by Bafta award-winning Boy A actor Andrew Garfield. Rebecca Hall, fresh from Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, is the damaged mother of a missing girl, looking for a way out.

Peter Mullan is a priest who seems to appear just when he’s needed most, while David Morrissey, Warren Clarke, Jim Carter and Sean Harris are police officers of varying degrees of corruption and misanthropy – this lot make Life On Mars’s Gene Hunt look like Dixon of Dock Green.

Paddy Considine plays the Manchester assistant chief constable investigating the failure of his colleagues on the other side of the Pennines to stop a maniac murdering at will. He’s helped by Manchester detectives Maxine Peake and Tony Pitts.

Meanwhile, Mark Addy is a solicitor who reluctantly listens to falsely imprisoned innocent Daniel Mays (of Channel 4 comedy Plus One).

Each scene brings more familiar faces – Gerard Kearns as a lad who discovers a body, John Henshaw as the editor of the Yorkshire Post, Lesley Sharp as Hunter’s brittle wife.

Individually, they’re impressive enough but as an ensemble it’s a pretty remarkable cast – and they deliver uniformly nuanced and powerful performances.

“It’s crazy,” agrees Andrew Garfield, who plays ambitious journalist Eddie Dunford. “But that’s David Peace for you. These books are so loved, and Tony Grisoni wrote such incredible adaptations, I just think that good writing attracts good souls.”

It’s a tribute to the craft of Peace, Grisoni and the individual directors that the films, like the original novels, work both individually and as whole. Jarold, Marsh and Tucker skilfully translate the eerily claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere of Peace’s books into a strange kind of Yorkshire noir, though each film has a distinct style of its own.

Their success bodes well for the film of Peace’s book about Brian Clough’s 44-day tenure at Elland Road, The Damned United, which is released later this month.

Red Riding feels like TV used to in the Seventies, when people like Dennis Potter, Alan Clarke and Ken Loach were given the time and space to tell their stories properly.

“This is the best job I’ve done in ages,” decides Considine.

“It haunted me for a while after,” reveals Andrew Garfield. “There were days where I couldn’t sleep. I was waking up in cold sweats because of the stuff I’d been through during the physically violent scenes.”

“It’s not often you get a gig like this, it’s a rare opportunity,” says Tony Grisoni. “But I haven’t left the Red Riding. It hangs onto you. You can’t walk out of the end of those novels, they’re too strong and they’re too close to the reality around you. They will linger with me for a long, long while.”

“There was no big cheer when I left Hunter behind,” says Paddy Considine through his baby daughter’s gurgles. “It was more of a sadness. I’d had a really challenging time on this film, it was interesting, and the work was great. So I was actually quite sad to leave it all behind, to be perfectly honest with you.”

[First published by the Big Issue in the North in March 2009]

PHOTO: Courtesy of Channel 4







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