Yorkshire confidential

Posted by · 1:36 pm · March 14th, 2009

I didn’t get a chance to mention it during our recent hiatus, but last Wednesday I saw a film that stands, for me, head and shoulders above any other 2009 release so far — one I can easily imagine still coming into play for my own Best of 2009 honours come December. A heady artistic breakthrough from a filmmaker I had never previously rated, with an immaculate cast of rising talent, it’s truly significant, surprising cinema.

There’s a catch, however. It’s not showing at a theatre near you — or any other, for that matter. For the film I’m talking about is “Nineteen Seventy-Four,” the first part of Channel 4’s ambitious, much-hyped TV endeavour “Red Riding” — a trilogy of self-standing films chronicling the infamous Yorkshire Ripper murders of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Deftly adapted by Tony Grisoni (“In This World,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) from a quartet of novels by David Peace (a brilliant writer occasionally labelled, not without justification, as the UK’s answer to James Ellroy — he’s also behind the upcoming “Damned United”), the films examine both the social and official levels of corruption stirred by the crimes over an entire decade, but each has its own distinct thematic and cinematic character.

I was first alerted to the project when interviewing James Marsh last year — the Oscar-winning “Man on Wire” filmmaker helmed “Nineteen Eighty,” the second instalment of the trilogy. Marsh’s contribution is a sober, intelligent piece of  procedural drama, enlivened by a terrific lead turn from Paddy Considine, but it’s really “Nineteen Seventy-Four,” the more oblique, mood-driven piece, that has stuck with me these past two weeks.

Following Andrew (“Boy A”) Garfield’s swaggering rookie journalist as he investigates the link between three missing girls and rapidly finds himself in over his head, it’s an astonishingly textured, sensory film, awash in dusk-coloured light and a gorgeous Northern soul soundtrack, that recalls “Zodiac” in its measured narrative approach and even shades of “Twin Peaks” in the alluring strangeness cast over its very ordinary locale.

It’s a staggering step up for director Julian Jarrold, whose three previous features (“Kinky Boots,” “Becoming Jane” and last year’s horribly misguided “Brideshead Revisited” remake) betrayed none of the style and intensity present here.

Less unexpected, but no less rewarding, is the sterling across-the-board work from the cast: Garfield continues to emerge as one of the most compelling talents of his generation, while there’s rock-solid support from the likes of Sean Bean and the always wonderful Eddie Marsan.

But the real standout, I’m pleased to say, is Rebecca Hall: bottle-blonde and absolutely incendiary as the embittered mother of a missing child who begins a grim sexual liaison with Garfield. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” showed us what an alert, engaging performer she is, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the maturity and fierce sensuality she displays here. It’s her best work to date.

I know we don’t usually pay much mind to the small screen here at IC, but the fact is that “Nineteen Seventy-Four” is cinema, not television. There is talk of releasing the “Red Riding” trilogy theatrically Stateside, and I can only hope that’s true: Jarrold’s film deserves the widest audience (and screen) possible. In the meantime, I await next week’s concluding film (“Nineteen Eighty-Three,” from director Anand Tucker) with much anticipation.

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2 responses so far

  • 1 3-14-2009 at 3:42 pm

    Rob said...

    I’m so annoyed that I missed this. I live in Leeds and they were filming last year in Millenium Square for this – what looked like a Wedding Scene..

  • 2 3-14-2009 at 6:35 pm

    Chris said...

    Rob, just watch the catch up on Channel4.com:

    They’re absolutely amazing. I was stunned when I first saw the trailers in cinemas, and at the same time disappointed that the films wouldn’t be coming out on the big screen.