Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban….because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.
(George Orwell, The Freedom of The Press – proposed Preface to Animal Farm, 1946)
Six years on from the fatal shoot at the end of Red Riding (1974), we return to West Yorkshire for another installment of bitter, bold and brilliant drama. This time it is the turn of Peter Hunter, portrayed by the more than able Paddy Considine, to enter the violence and corruption of the West Yorkshire Police. Sent from Manchester to conduct an independent and secretive inquiry into the Ripper investigation, it becomes clear that he faces as much help as he faces red herrings. As the inquiry gets deeper and starts to tread frightfully murky waters, Hunter faces personal and professional obstacles as his inquiry ruffles up feathers. As the threats become stronger throughout, he must decide who he can trust.
I will say this first – originally, watching the first hour of 1980, it appeared not to pack as much a punch as the opening 1974. The uneasy blur between fact and fiction was there, as was the tension of the Ripper investigation in the background. Yet I found it a bit slow to get into gear, too concerned with office politics and not doing its best to build on the remarkable benchmark set, focusing on mood and overly-playing an acoustic guitar for ambience. Still good, mind, just not as good.
And then the phone call from a desperate, pensioned-off copper came…
I think I reached my initial ‘let down’ conclusion because I was expected it to be similar in style to 1974 (which was pretty silly of me, considering both shows have different directors). This immediately led me to form a similar kind of ‘us versus them, balls to you all’ bond with the main character, as I did with Eddie Dunford. On the face of it, Dunford and Hunter are quite similar. Flung into the West Yorkshire scope after prolonged absences (Dunford after an unsuccessful stint on Fleet Street, Hunter after an unsuccessful probe into the Karachi shooting). Both are resented for their refusal to take a hint and drop a case by their peers, and both are relentless and unfazed in trying to seek the truth.
Yet there is a big difference between them. The young upstart Dunford is played with a foreboding sense of distrust of his superiors and the police. By contrast, Hunter is a good cop surrounded by bad ones, yet he still trusts his superiors (to an extent…) despite their malice. A comparison of the balls-out ending of 1974 and the heartbreakingly mute ending of 1980 is a prime example of this.
This want for the wall to wall violence of 1974 was what initially had me uhhmmiing and aarrhhing. The violence, the confrontation, the way the wrongdoing on screen made your stomach churn…it was there, but the intensity was missing in 1980. Yet as the piece slowly built up, slowly gained momentum, it hoodwinks you and grabs you by the throat. Oh Red Riding, how I never should have doubted you, and how you are punishing me for my dismissiveness now without relent.
From then on, it just delivers wave after wave of brilliance. By the end, you’ll be letting out wimpers in the direction of the screen as you’re left battered by what has gone on. Considine is immense as the remorseful Hunter, keen to finish what he has started. He is ably supported by Maxine Peake as Detective Helen Marshall, a diligent worker and former love interest of Hunter. On the other side of the fence, Sean Harris as the on edge copper Bob Craven is again staggering, and should be in line for an award for his performances over the last two shows. David Morrissey as Maurice Jobson is also great, a man who seems constrained by the institution surrounding him, and whose actions are shaped as such.
If we disspell the notion of this being towards the end of the Ripper investigation (that said, a scene towards the end where Sutcliffe confesses the murders in intricate detail is quite astonishing), this seems much of a case study in how the actions of man are shaped by institutions and structures. Facts are unearthed, but the threat they pose to the establishment (in this case, the West Yorkshire Police) is enough to warrant these facts to be silenced, by any means. It makes for harrowing, yet undeniably necessary viewing.