Wuthering Heights (2011)

2016 #81
Andrea Arnold | 129 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.33:1 | UK / English | 15

Wuthering Heights

A world away from heritage adaptations of classic literature (or, indeed, that Kate Bush song), Andrea Arnold’s earthy, plausible take on Emily Brontë’s beloved novel (the first half of it, anyway) won’t be to all tastes — particularly anyone after an epic romance feel — but its sparse dialogue, Malickian attention to nature, and oppressive mood make for a benumbing work of cinematic art.

The claustrophobic 4:3 framing and mist-shrouded photography lock us into an isolated world, where rough people treat each other roughly and misery begets misery, from which neither we nor the characters can escape. It’s grim up north, indeed.

5 out of 5

Red Riding: 1983 (2009)

aka Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983

2009 #52
Anand Tucker | 100 mins | TV (HD) | 15

Red Riding: 1983The Red Riding Trilogy draws to a close with its finest instalment, a superior work in just about every respect.

From the off, 1983 returns to the story of the previous films, showing events from different perspectives. It’s dominated by a new story — the search for a child kidnapper in the titular year — but even this harks back to the past, the actual kidnapping closely resembling the one that kick-started 1974. Indeed, it’s 1974 that’s primarily drawn upon, confirming 1980 as little more than an aside in the scope of the trilogy.

1983 doesn’t just reiterate, however, but builds on previously-seen events and characters, both overtly — showing the police investigation into Clare Kemplay, which was the story of 1974 — and more subtly — Hunter’s apparent sidekick being present at secret meetings of the Evil Policemen in 1974. Despite clear links to the past, 1983 may also work well enough on its own. It’s undeniable that there’s more depth when viewed in light of the first two films, but most (perhaps all) of it would be comprehensible simply from what’s presented here.

Tucker’s film bests its predecessors in almost every assessable value. The story and characters have more genuine surprises and suspense than ever, while the performances are at the very least the equal of what’s gone before. Unlike the other two films, where the corrupt cops were little more than cartoon villains despite claims to the contrary, 1983 makes their brutality really felt; here, for the first time in the trilogy, their disregard for the law and their vicious methods made me feel sickened and angry, just as they should.

But best of all is the stunning sepia-tinged cinematography, which uses the popular RED cameras to amazing effect. The instances of beauty are too numerous to mention, from obvious moments such as the final scenes of white feathers drifting in slow motion through shards of sunlight as part of a heroic closing image (even if one finds it tonally incongruous, which some surely will, it looks gorgeous), to low-key scenes like Jobson lost in contemplation, the sepia-toned foreground standing out from the blues of the background. The omnipresence of lens flare, an idea that was so annoying when liberally sprinkled across Star Trek, seems to work perfectly here. Perhaps it’s due to consistency: every light source seems to cast streaks across the frame, not just the occasional flourish. The trilogy isn’t yet available on Blu-ray, but for some of the images in this film alone it really should be.

Sadly, 1983 still isn’t perfect. Many plot threads are tied off, or we can infer our own explanations for the missing bits, but significant others are left hanging, not least what happened to the numerous corrupt police officers. We don’t necessarily need to see them come to justice — though that might be nice, obviously — or even a summary of the rest of their life, but some nod of a conclusion to their stories would be appreciated. Elsewhere, BJ’s narration is slightly twee, which is a shame because his story is both compelling and one of very few that is actually told across all three films, even though he’s barely noticed at first, rather than just starring in one and cameoing in the others.

I enjoyed 1983 immensely, much more so than either of the preceding films, so it’s only minor flaws like these that hold it back from full marks.

4 out of 5

Red Riding: 1980 (2009)

aka Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980

2009 #51
James Marsh | 93 mins | TV (HD) | 15

This review contains major spoilers.

Red Riding: 1980The second instalment of the Red Riding Trilogy sets out its stall with a stunning opening montage, covering six years of the Yorkshire Ripper case in as many minutes through news footage and faux news footage. In one fell swoop this establishes its own storyline, fills in some of what’s happened since 1974, and sets itself apart from its predecessor: this one’s based on fact. Well, a bit.

Unfortunately, a factual grounding hasn’t helped the story one jot. Where the first idled, this meanders, flitting between the Yorkshire Ripper, the investigation into the Karachi Club shooting (which closed 1974), and the private life of lead character Peter Hunter. It’s the cover up surrounding the middle of these that’s the most interesting, but that’s also the bit with the least time devoted to it. Most is spent on Hunter’s investigation into the investigation of the Ripper case, though by the end it becomes apparent this exists to cover the ‘real’ story — which is, of course, the Karachi Club cover up. Consequently neither are covered with the appropriate depth: the Ripper investigation is never a serious thread, the team we follow uncovering nothing significant and the Ripper himself captured by chance, off-screen, by a previously-unseen regular constable; and the incidents at the Karachi Club, and their lasting impact, are just about clarified but given no serious weight before a last-minute explanation.

If that sounds complicated, it isn’t. As in 1974, it’s all too straightforward: the people you suspect did it actually did, as it turns out, and there’s no serious attempt to conceal that. In fairness, it just about manages one surprise, right at the end, and the moment after this — where Hunter’s murderer shows remorse with one brief, subtle facial expression — is by far the best bit of the film. Worse than the lack of suspense, 1980 seems to forget its own plot all too often. Hunter is employed by the Home Office, for example, and told to report directly to them and them alone. But then we never see those characters again, not even when he’s later dismissed by lower-ranked officers — why not return to the men he was, supposedly, actually employed by? Other plot points are pushed aside too soon, forgotten about or just abandoned.

Characters and locations resurface from the first film — an unsurprising continuity, but pleasingly almost all appear in a context that’s actually relevant to the plot, rather than a mere catch-up on a previously-known person. Some of them have great import now, their role in the trilogy apparently fulfilled, while others remain little more than cameos with no bearing on the story, suggesting an even bigger part still to play. This works quite well, creating a real world where characters come and go rather than one that is obsessively — and unrealistically — interconnected.

The same can be said of the cinematography. Marsh frequently finds a beautiful or unusual shot, enlivening proceedings considerably. The 35mm glossiness doesn’t evoke the feel of a grimy past quite so thoroughly as Jarrold’s hazy 16mm, but as this is now the ’80s perhaps that’s the point. Nonetheless, the setting conveyed is still a drab, dreary — and constantly damp — North.

Underscored by a plot that doesn’t really come together, and largely bears little relation to the other two films, 1980 is the weakest entry in the trilogy.

3 out of 5

Red Riding: 1974 (2009)

aka Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974

2009 #50
Julian Jarrold | 102 mins | TV (HD*) | 18

Red Riding: 1974The Red Riding Trilogy covers nine years of police corruption and child kidnap/murder in Yorkshire, amongst one or two other things, and begins here with a very film noir tale, courtesy of author David Peace and screenwriter Tony Grisoni, slathered in neo-noir stylings, courtesy of director Julian Jarrold.

Jarrold is most recently responsible for Kinky Boots, Becoming Jane and Brideshead Revisited, all of which stand in a sharp juxtaposition to the style and content of Red Riding. But turning from his lovely English-as-they-come costume dramas to something altogether nastier should come as no great surprise, for Jarrold is merely returning to his TV roots: in the mid ’90s he directed episodes of Cracker, Silent Witness and Touching Evil.

He certainly seems to know his territory, but perhaps he knows it too well — though this is also the fault of Grisoni and, perhaps, Peace — as the plot that he unfolds is not only familiar but told as if he’s all too aware we know what’s coming. The feeling one gets is of a British James Ellroy, albeit a low-rent, less complex version. (The same is true of 1980, though for me 1983 manages to escape such comparisons.) The story idles along, not exactly slow so much as in no hurry, full of near-clichéd plot points and an unrelentingly standard structure. These things aren’t necessarily a problem, but when you’ve got as big and bold a reality claim as the Red Riding Trilogy they feel out of place.

Another recent point of comparison would be David Fincher’s Zodiac — young newspaperman on the hunt for a serial killer in an inspired-by-fact ’70s setting — though this does 1974 no favours. It may be grittier than Fincher’s film, but it lacks the polish, the originality, and manages to feel slower, despite being a whole 50 minutes shorter. However much arty photography, disjointed storytelling, relatively dense accents and ‘gritty reality’ is plastered over the barebones of the tale, the familiarity of it — to both viewers and the makers, who don’t even seem to be trying — means there’s not an ounce of suspense or surprise to be had.

The cast is made up of established names, familiar faces and rising stars, many of them unfortunately stuck in familiar roles or otherwise left stranded by the unrewarding material. If they’re not quite stereotypes it’s because they’re too bland, lacking enough discernible character traits to reach such lofty heights. Occasionally this is because, with two films to come, some minor parts here have a major role later, but this can’t be said of them all. As the lead, Andrew Garfield’s journalist is as much of a stock character as the plot he finds himself in: a young reporter type, idealistic among journalists who no longer care (if they ever did), hunting to expose The Truth. Again, it could work, but is belied by the insistence — in both promotion and filmmaking style — that Red Riding is something more than Another Murder Mystery. Only Rebecca Hall, as a mother whose young daughter went missing years earlier, is granted the material to give an outstanding performance — which she does, easily justifying her recent BAFTA Rising Star nomination.

Besides Hall, the best thing about 1974 is its dull, desaturated photographing of grimy, desolate locations, where any colour that isn’t beige desperately wants to be. It suits the story and era perfectly, and the choice of 16mm seems to add a level of haziness that is equally appropriate. It’s perhaps indicative of everything this is aiming for that the most beautiful imagery is of an incinerated gypsy camp. Rendered almost black and white by the soot and desaturisation, ash floats through the air like snowflakes as Garfield stumbles through it, the whole picture a vision of Hell. It’s a kind of perverse beauty, true, but that’s also entirely in keeping with Red Riding.

1974 is a stock noir tale, dressed up with fancy filmmaking techniques and claims of realism to look like something more truthful, more real, more Important. And it makes me a little bit angry because of it. Maybe the violence is more realistically depicted than your average genre entry, maybe the police corruption is a little more plausible — then again, maybe it isn’t — but the real story here is so familiar they haven’t even bothered to hide the plot beats and twists properly, no doubt assuming a “gritty” veneer plastered over the top would do the job for them. It doesn’t. Maybe 1974’s grimy setting, brutal violence and unbeatable police corruption are all true to life, but the familiar and predictable plot leaves the realism feeling like no more than a pretence.

I was enjoying 1974 a lot more by the time the unexpectedly satisfying conclusion came around, but the sense that it had tried to pull the wool over my eyes throughout — and not in the good way a thriller should — just leaves a bitter taste.

3 out of 5

* Though I watched Red Riding: 1974 on 4HD, it’s my understanding that it was upscaled. ^