The first of a three-part British miniseries detailing a rash of serial killings between 1974-1983, “Red Riding 1974” is a disturbing thriller with echoes of “Chinatown” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” It features a young journalist who uncovers a web of corruption and deceit while investigating the disappearance of a missing girl. The closer he gets to the truth, the more beatings he receives. The impact of his investigation will not encourage viewers to become investigative journalists.
In 1974 Yorkshire, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield, before Spider-Man) begins his investigation into the disappearance of 10-year-old Clare Kemplay as a crime correspondent for the Yorkshire Post. Eddie’s bleak opening voice over regarding the media attention surrounding the case sets the tone for the rest of the film: “If it bleeds it leads.” While attending his father’s funeral his relatives give him a lead when they say they remember hearing of similar cases in the past. Eddie does some digging around and finds that yes, there is a pattern, and there could be a serial killer out there.
Clare is eventually found tortured, raped and strangled at a construction site. Even more disturbing, wings were stitched to her back. Shaken by the police photos, Eddie is undeterred and becomes obsessed with the case. He seeks out the mother of one of the disappeared girls, Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall) to ask her if the police could have done more with their investigation. Evidently he is on the right track since shortly after he is brutally assaulted by two police officers in a parking lot.
It is just the tip of the iceberg. His colleague Barry (Anthony Flanagan) tips him off about a crooked development deal that resulted in the burning of a gypsy camp. Eddie dismisses Barry as a conspiracy theorist, yet the land in question belongs to John Dawson (Sean Bean), a corrupt businessman who also owns the land where Clare was found.
Dawson is a kind of villain often seen in movies lately. He dresses well, lives in a mansion and rubs shoulders with politicians and the police. Yet he is also a foul-mouthed arrogant bastard capable of sudden violence. His evil plan involves the building of, what else, but a shopping mall, which was a novel concept back in the 70s. In order to make Eddie’s life hell Dawson only needs to snap his fingers, which he often does. This is one of Bean’s best villains.
Garfield is especially effective as man who begins as a naïve and cocky journalist, but ends up a man on the edge of losing everything. He is placed through the ringer both emotionally and physically. It is as though his investigation is taking him down a path to perdition, but he cannot help but follow the facts.
Director Julian Jarrold made an old-fashioned thriller that features an old-fashioned news reporting. Before getting to his editor’s office, Eddie walks through a room full of writers busy working at their typewriters and smoking cigarettes. When the murder case and the corruption case become entangled, he covers his bedroom wall with newspaper clippings, police report and a map of the area that link all of the facts. And of course, when Eddie receives a tip it is in an ominous back alley.
The film ends on a dour note with some loose ends, but as it is only part 1, the story is more than enticing enough to make you want to get to the next chapter.
(The entire “Red Riding” trilogy is available on Blu-Ray and DVD and is streaming on Netflix.)