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Originally published Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Red Riding': A gripping crime trilogy set in the windswept British north

A review of the "Red Riding" trilogy, three movies first filmed for British television that spawn a genre all their own: "Yorkshire noir."

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

The 'Red Riding' trilogy, with Mark Addy, Sean Bean, Warren Clarke, Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Eddie Marsan, Tony Mooney, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, Maxine Peake. Directed by Julian Jarrold ("1974"), James Marsh ("1980") and Anand Tucker ("1983"), from screenplays written by Tony Grisoni, based on the novels by David Peace. 305 minutes (105, 96, and 104 minutes respectively). Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence and sexuality). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday; see Page 15.

"Yorkshire noir" is a fairly unpopulated genre, but after watching five gripping hours of the "Red Riding" trilogy, I hope there's more where this came from. A century and a half after "Wuthering Heights," this windswept region still shows up on screen with a terrifying remoteness; where houses look out over barren hillsides and there's a sense that, if you wander a few steps too far, no one will hear you scream. "This is the North," says a policeman in the film, as if stating his personal credo. "We do what we want."

This ambitious, unique project, originally made for British television, is well worth the time investment to see the three-film marathon on a big screen. (Northwest Film Forum is playing all three films through Thursday; see www.nwfilmforum.org for showtimes.) It's based on a series of crime novels by David Peace, all set in 1970s/80s Yorkshire and inspired by real events. "1974" revolves around a young journalist (Andrew Garfield) trying to understand what's gone awry in the investigation of a string of child abductions. "1980" brings a Manchester constable (Paddy Considine) north to investigate the case of the Yorkshire Ripper. "1983" circles back to the first movie, as another child goes missing and a local attorney (Mark Addy) becomes caught up in the case. (A fourth novel, "1977," was not filmed.)

Though each film was adapted, and wisely so, by Tony Grisoni ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"), each has a different director. "1974," directed by Julian Jarrold, is grainy and faded-looking, as if permeated by cigarette smoke, yet it occasionally takes flight into fanciful, strangely lovely winged images. James Marsh's "1980" is more grounded in realism, using documentary footage at its start about the real Yorkshire Ripper. Anand Tucker's "1983," particularly in its swirling final scenes, seems to tighten its grip on a watcher like a vise.

Though the horrific crimes at the story's center are rarely shown, they are described in detail, and the fear felt by the community is like a chill wind. ("It never stops," says a neighbor sadly. "Not round here.") But "Red Riding" is ultimately, in classic noir fashion, about a tangle of corruption that runs deep, among lawbreakers and law enforcement alike. You can almost smell the stink of contagion in the police force, where men accustomed to being unquestioned rise and fall.

The films' thicket of northern British accents is at times hard to penetrate (a few sections, particularly among the cops, cry out for subtitles), but nonetheless you watch breathless, wanting a respite from the darkness and yet drawn to it. And it's filled with small performances that feel utterly true: Rebecca Hall as a victim's mother, looking like every drop of life has been drained from her; Robert Sheehan as a troubled young man with the face of a broken angel; Maxine Peake as a wistful detective whose sad little affair with her boss didn't turn out as she'd hoped; Addy, as a decent man ("I've got a pure heart," he says, self-mockingly) horrified by his descent into Yorkshire's blackness. At times it all feels like a bad dream — one from which you may not want to wake up, just yet.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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