The first two adaptations of David Peace’s novels have been characterised by a stylistic dualism. Their foregrounds are both occupied by more of less convincing Crime tropes. Searches for murderers, attempts to ferret out corrupt cops, investigations of conspiracies and doomed love stories. However, the meat of these two films lay not in the foreground, but in the background. Red Riding : 1974 and 1980 were films whose visuals spoke of an encroaching and slowly expanding evil. An evil that slowly becomes systemic before taking on almost mythological proportions. Visually the films gave us an image of the North as a Garden of Eden fallen into the worst kind of sin. Red Riding : 1983 undoes a lot of that work by using words to fill in beautiful cracks and gaps left by powerful images. Its obsession with salvation seems naïve and very much like a cop out. However, the sheer banality of 1983’s evil has a power of its own.
On the 8th of March, the West Yorkshire Police Force received a letter purporting to be from the Yorkshire Ripper :
I am sorry I cannot give my name for obvious reasons. I am the Ripper. I’ve been dubbed a maniac by the Press but not by you, you call me clever and I am. You and your mates haven’t a clue that photo in the paper gave me fits and that bit about killing myself, no chance. I’ve got things to do. My purpose to rid the streets of them sluts. My one regret is that young lassie McDonald, did not know cause changed routine that night. Up to number 8 now you say 7 but remember Preston ’75, get about you know. You were right I travel a bit. You probably look for me in Sunderland, don’t bother, I am not daft, just posted letter there on one of my trips. Not a bad place compared with Chapeltown and Manningham and other places. Warn whores to keep off streets cause I feel it coming on again.
Sorry about young lassie.
Jack the Ripper
Might write again later I not sure last one really deserved it. Whores getting younger each time. Old slut next time I hope. Huddersfield never again, too small close call last one.
The letters and tapes that followed were a hoax that sent the struggling West Yorkshire investigation into a tailspin, convincing several senior police officers that the Ripper was from Sunderland. One particular way in which the letter hindered the investigation was by claiming responsibility for a murder in Preston in 1975. A murder, it turned out, the Yorkshire Ripper was not actually responsible for. James Marsh’s Red Riding : 1980, based on a novel by David Peace, considers what might have happened if certainly nefarious elements within the West Yorkshire Police Force had put Wearside Jack’s error to use for their own ends.
If Red Riding : 1974 is a film about the first bite at the apple of original sin then Red Riding : 1980 is the ensuing gag reflex.