Being a bloke whose formative years were before Gazza cried at the 1990 World Cup Finals, tears are something that are a foreign land to me (except when my dad died). So when I found a tear trickling down my cheek at the end of the final part of this trilogy, based on four David Peace novels, I knew I’d been watching an extraordinary set of films.
The portrayal of West Yorkshire, where I live, during the 1970s and 1980s, when I – thankfully – wasn’t here, is as bleak a picture as you could hope (?) to see. The pervasive police corruption (I notice today it’s been announced that complaints against the police in Britain have gone up 10%) that drains society of the rule of law is starkly presented. Peace’s novels are a mixture of fact, obviously the Yorkshire Ripper and I remember the case of the man, with learning difficulties, who was ‘fitted up’ for crimes he didn’t commit, and the fiction of artistic license. Maybe it wasn’t quite as bad in Yorkshire, or indeed Britain (though the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four were being incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit at this time), as the films show but there’s no doubt that it was that bad for some.
The noir narrative is difficult to follow, it’s condensed to such an extent – through the use of ellipses – that audiences have to work hard to keep up; as it should be in challenging drama. The large array of characters, brilliantly played by an cast of top actors, adds to the requirement to concentrate. Unusually, each of the three films, 1974, 1980 and 1983, are shot in different formats but despite this, and three directors, the trio are unified by the bleakness of the vision.
Spoilers. The focus of the investigations are into the disappearance and murders of young girls which the police, for reasons of corruption, fail to resolve, other than arresting and torturing confessions out of the innocent. Clearly such narrative problems are highly emotive, there are few things that can encourage anger quicker than the sexual abuse, and murder, of children. However, these always remain in the background, we never see the abductions and hardly see the suffering families because the focus is on the investigations: of a journalist in the first; of the police into police conduct in the second; and the police in the third. So the missing children are abstract and felt only in the way a missing child in reality is noted: we can feel bad and angry about it but, unless we know the people involved, it’s a necessarily detached emotion. By focusing upon the evil, and that’s not too strong a word for the world portrayed here, we are mired in the hell of the time and place. So the ending of the trilogy when, against all expectation, a girl is found alive the emotional release is immense: there can be good in the world too. This is heightened by quite brilliant direction (Anand Tucker), performances (Mark Addy, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan and Robert Sheehan and Peter Mullan) and the parallel editing that links two climactic scenes (Trevor Waite editor and Tony Grisoni script). As the camera rises with Addy’s character, clutching the girl, amongst a swirl of swan feathers… well, it was too much for me!