VERY GENERAL SPOILER ALERT
I just saw the TV movie dramatisation of this, entitled “Red Riding 1974” and I wanted to make a couple of notes here for myself really, to try and figure out a) why I hated it and b) why everyone else loved it. This is a not unfamiliar feeling for me of course but usually it’ll be some major Hollywood blockbuster (Avatar!) or some chintzy adaptation of Charlotte Bronte that everyone is swooning about while I remain sneering haughtily at the array of lemmings before me. (It’s not a pleasant characteristic I know.) Red Riding, though, is just up my street – gritty crime story set in working-class England in the 1970s, what’s not to like? Well… once you peer through the grimy window and focus your eyes, you’re in any old plot-by-numbers thriller all the way back to Chandler and Hammett, the guys who invented the cliches. And by now I'm demanding that thriller/crime story writers should have a whole NEW set of cliches. but David peace hasn't discovered them yet. So In this story you get
- the hero is a jack-the-lad who gets to shag the women
- there is a person who is trying to spill the beans to the hero but who’s drugged/imprisoned in a mental instutution/both before she can
- there is a femme fatale who looks innocent but it turns out she’s all mixed up with the bad guys – surprise!!
- all the cops are corrupt
- the hero takes many bad beatings but just like a toy in a budgerigar’s cage keeps woozily popping right back up, nothing can hospitalise this guy
- the bad guys keep killing anyone who knows too much just before the hero gets to them
- the bad guys don’t mind killing the peripheral people, but for some strange reason they balk at killing the hero – now why would that be? Because it would be inconvenient for the author? Could be!
That’s on one level but there’s another thing which is much worse. A book/movie like this is the expression of a particular quasi-political argument which I don’t buy, which is our old friend the Conspiracy Theory. The whole plot can be summed up thus: they’re all in on it! This book is dressed up in the grungy clothing of verisimilitude – naturalistic setting and dialogue, expertly rendered period detail, references to real events – but it peddles a giant falsehood, which is in this case that top policemen would collude with a rich local businessman who happens to get off on slaughtering children (!); and the web of deceit involves local newspaper editors and various cop minions. I don’t buy the psychology of the rich worldly guy who likes killing children and I don’t buy the conspiracy – but many many people do, just as many people don’t think Arabs flew the planes on 9/11. How serious are we to take this? Well, when it’s Bond fighting Goldfinger we know it’s a funny fantasy. But when the author is using child murder and police corruption for his story we may feel a little disappointed to discover they’re just as much props to his noirish adolescent paranoia as the Batcave and green kryptonite were in the comics I used to collect.
That said, the movie is beautifully shot and acted. All dressed up and nowhere to go.