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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
by Donald Levit

The difficulty shows in organizing four novels into three independent, cross-referential films, for Tony Grisoni’s Red Riding Trilogy scripts leave loose ends in adapting David Pearce’s namesake Quartet. Deriving from the career of the serial-killer Yorkshire Ripper, the separate books and films each concentrates on the specific 1970s-‘80s year indicated in its title and showcases one character above others.

Shot virtually simultaneously and for UK television, with actors overlapping, the three commercial screen versions constitute an experiment of sorts. Not precisely an omnibus triptych with three different directors, they can be viewed separately but were screened back-to-back-to-back at the New York Film Festival and are initially to be released that way as a “special Road Show.”

The originals of our saccharinized fairy tales are most macabre, and the overall title here plays on that of the little girl, her grandma and the ravenous wolf, while riding alone refers to judicial jurisdictions in the Commonwealth or, most famously, three upper-case ones in Yorkshire. Unity of plot action among the approximately equal-length thirds revolves on the dragnet for the killer, or killers if a suggested copycat materializes, of women and, around a hiatus of years, young girls. Much of the thrust, however, is the inefficiency and monstrous venality of officialdom and estate developers who in the grim “North get what we bloody want.”

Copycatting as well from other sicko-murderer thrillers and even lifting a rat-in-the-face from George Orwell, the story brings in the genre’s signature odd details without meaning or integration, e.g., amputated swans’ wings (angels?), a clairvoyant in a mansion and white boots (Mandy Wymer, played by Saskia Reeves), a madwoman (Marjorie Dawson, by Cathryn Bradshaw) babbling about what squirms under carpets, a gay hustler-informant (BJ, by Robert Sheehan) with a shotgun, carved nipple scar and overexposed dream sequences.

In “The Trilogy” of contemporaneous films each shown on a different night and developing secondary characters from the other two, On the Run, An Amazing Couple and After Life, writer-director Lucas Belvaux much more successfully used differing vantage points to clarify what had gone before or was to come. The ironically introduced “In the year of our Lord” Red Riding components imitate this same device and also repeat actions with partly different participants -- handcuffs and cigarettes for interrogation -- but while some insight is given, the ensemble does not entirely explicate or unify the novels’ “such a wealth of characters.”

Directed by Julian Jarrold, the 1974 first part sticks with reporter Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), returned to Leeds from the south for his father’s funeral and staying on as a Yorkshire Post reporter. An emotional press conference about yet another missing schoolgirl beings him to confrontation with editor Bill Hadley (John Henshaw) and sour police commissioner Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke). Aided and also cautioned by a fellow newsman (Barry Gannon, by Anthony Flanagan), he gets himself beaten up by police heavies Bob Craven and Tommy Douglas (Sean Harris, Tony Mooney) when he noses about millionaire developer John Dawson (Sean Bean) and falls into bed and love with Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), widowed mother of a missing youngster and a sexual plaything of Dawson’s.


For the duration, part one’s subtitled Yorkshire accent is allowed to speak and puzzle for itself. The second episode is the weakest, James Marsh’s “In the year of our Lord 1980,” tailing inexpressive sad-faced Constable Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) as he returns from Manchester to Leeds for a second time -- the first was to investigate a 1974 club massacre -- in the midst of public outrage and unease over the unsolved Ripper business. Molloy is replaced by Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), while outsider Hunter brings in his own assistants, John Nolan (Tony Pitts) and Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake), with whom he has carried on an affaire which is now over and not over. Police officers and police officers’ widows are interviewed, a minister of some sort (Peter Mullan, as Martin Laws) comforts the bereaved and troubled, a related porn magazine is uncovered, murders mount, a gypsy squatters’ camp and Hunter’s own home burned, and retarded Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays) arrested and confesses to some of the crimes.

Anand Tucker's concluding 1983 brings Jobson into focus, a minor presence in 1974 and now revealed as a law officer privy to the corruption and conspiracy but bothered by that knowledge. Sharing his center stage is overweight, unkempt and unsuccessful lawyer John Piggott (Mark Addy), brought into the affair by neighbor mothers of Myshkin and of also-arrested Leonard Cole (Gerard Kearns).

Everything more or less rises and must converge at Fitzwilliam, where snowstorms of white feathers cushion the rescue of one girl child in an incongruous heavenly bright fairy story resolution of the preceding gore, sadism, sex and kinkiness.

(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.) 

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