Where we do what we want

Monday, March 23, 2009 by

The final part of Red Riding, finally justified the hype, I reckon.

With David Morrissey turning in a brilliant performance that was refreshingly different from that usual brilliant performance he does (as essayed from Holding On right through to Doctor Who), and a final episode that tangled backwards across the series, buffing up the previous two parts to make them look even better, here was the best British TV drama series, since – well – I’m not entirely sure. Certainly if we were to include one-offs I would have to go back to Longford which was an amazing bit of television – but in terms of actual drama series – dramas told over a multiple, but finite number of episodes, stretching over a few weeks, I really struggle to think of anything comparable this decade. Indeed the aforementioned Holding On is perhaps the last great TV drama series I can recall watching. Surely the last ten years has given us more than Red Riding?


19 Responses to “Where we do what we want”

  1. Electric Dragon on March 23rd, 2009 11:39 pm

    State of Play?

  2. Jack Kibble-White on March 24th, 2009 10:17 am

    Now I rather liked State of Play but felt it was let down by an uncommonly weak final twist – one character said to the other the equivalent of “It was terrible that she was murdered with a knife”, to which the other character replied “Knife? I never told you the weapon that was used to commit the crime, so the only way you could have known would be if you were the murderer”/

  3. Rob Williams on March 24th, 2009 4:46 pm

    Life on Mars? It pushed the boundaries as far as what modern drama should be, but also lead to Bonekickers… Everything it shouldn’t be….

  4. Jack Kibble-White on March 24th, 2009 8:39 pm

    Well Life on Mars had a great premise and was really good when dealing with those aspects, but that aside I felt the actual police investigations (which made the bulk of the series) were a bit workaday. Great last episode though.

  5. Ian Jones on March 24th, 2009 9:21 pm

    Paul Abbott has admitted that he didn’t think up the ending to State Of Play until he was quite a way into the script. Not sure how far through he’d got, but he certainly didn’t start out knowing that was how it was going to conclude.

  6. Steve Brennan on March 25th, 2009 2:54 pm

    Actually I thought the final episode was muddled and stretched believability far beyond breaking point. Apart from the flashbacks (inserted so randomly we had to guess from the style of the cars which year it was), I thought the most grevious example of bad storytelling was the moment where Mark Addy’s character found the dungeon in the shed (itself a ludicrously over-designed ‘torture room’, complete with curtains), was knocked out by the vicar, and was then simply left to roam freely and discover the young girl. There was also the constant pretentious pseudo-nursery rhyming from the BJ character and his horribly mannered voice (“poleeeece mennnn…mennn you knoooow..”), and the fact that in the end, all it really boiled down to was that Sean Bean and Peter Mullan were child-killers and the police turned a blind eye for money. I think the performances (particularly Morrissey) deserved better writing and better narrative cohesion. Style very much over content in this episode, I feel.

    Episode 2 was by far the best – Considine & Harris were superb and it would have worked well enough as a standalone drama. Episodes 1 and 3 just did not live up to the hype.

    Ok, its not the last 10 years, but Cracker is how to do this kind of thing. Jimmy McGovern once said in an interview that good TV writing has emotional complexity and narrative simplicity. Red Riding mostly had it the other way around.

  7. Steve Brennan on March 25th, 2009 4:10 pm

    Another thing – was no one else bothered by how unsubtle John Dawson was?

    “What have we got here then?” “Dead girl sir, and the fiend has stitched swan’s wings onto her back. Do you think it might have something to do with the local corrupt bigwig who had his house designed in the shape of a swan and has swan pictures all over his house?”

  8. BristleKRS on March 25th, 2009 4:46 pm

    Count my vote as another ‘didn’t quite work for me’. I felt it covered similar ground to the Jake Arnott adaptations (and more effectively for the most part), but failed to unify its material as successfully as Our Friends In The North.

    In terms of good quality drama series over the last ten years or so, how about the first series each of The Lakes and The Street? Plus I’d tip the nod to OFITN and Warriors. As for one-offs, Boy A, The Mark Of Cain, Secret Life.

    Some also-rans: Bloody Sunday (and Sunday for that matter), Hillsborough, Stockwell, Dockers, the Crime & Punishment 2-parter, Blue/Orange, Never Never…

  9. Nick H on March 26th, 2009 7:43 am

    Paul Abbot is many things, but he cannot write an ending for toffee…

  10. Graham Kibble-White on March 26th, 2009 2:48 pm

    My vote for a recent good quality drama – Party Animals.

  11. Nick H on March 26th, 2009 6:23 pm

    The Long Firm is one of the best British drama serials of recent years. And last year’s He Kills Coppers wasn’t too shabby either. For ITV at least…

  12. Gordon Ridout on March 26th, 2009 7:58 pm

    I presumed that we can’t count OFITN, the first series of The Lakes or Hillsborough as they didn’t air in the last ten years (and one isn’t a serial). If the rules are that it has to be since Holding On, I would ask for Underworld (Channel 4) to be considered, even though the critics didn’t rate it at the time. Eureka Street is also well worth consideration, as is The Second Coming. Also, if we could stretch the time-frame to a few months before Holding On, I would wholeheartedly nominate Born To Run. However, as only one of these has ever been released on VHS or DVD, I do realise that my critical judgement hardly correlates with the view of the majority.

    Oh, and it’s an adapation – or some of it is – but I’d also give an honourable mention to the Bleasdale version of Oliver Twist.

  13. Stuart F on March 27th, 2009 12:25 am

    Red Riding is the best thing Channel 4 has done in ages. But I don’t understand why it was shot in such a wide aspect ratio. The cinematography was astonishingly beautiful but it only took up about half of my TV screen. Also, it would be nice if Channel Four could do a drama that didn’t involve paedophilia, child murder, or prostitution. Boy A was really good, and Longford, but everything is just tainted with that bit of sensationalism (and the fact that by watching it you’re endorsing another series of Big Brother). Bring back 80s Brookside in all its horrible mundaneness.

  14. Jack Kibble-White on March 27th, 2009 3:31 pm

    Aaargh Steve is making me like Red Riding less. Valid points I think, particularly the one about Mark Addy’s character running around the dungeon. I will take issue with you on saying that all “it really boiled down to was that Sean Bean and Peter Mullan were child-killers and the police turned a blind eye for money.” Well yes and no. For a start, wasn’t Mark Addy’s character’s dad (phew) a copper AND a member of the ring? Anyway, even if it does boil down in the way you suggest, I am not sure that’s a problem.

    In making my original post, I was actually referring to the lack of good drama series in the Noughties rather than post- Holding On. Boy A was indeed excellent but was a one-off, rather than an episodic drama (which is what I was getting at).

    I haven’t seen some of the dramas mentioned in this thread, but did catch Eureka Street (and indeed there is a review of it here: It was pretty good, but didn’t it all go a bit rubbish towards the end when Chuckie became famous? Also it txed in 1999.

    Did anyone watch the Peter Flannery / John Simm drama on C4 a few months ago? Was that any good?

  15. Ian Jones on March 27th, 2009 3:38 pm

    In the last 10 years there’s also been In A Land Of Plenty, which I still think is one of the best British dramas I’ve ever seen:

  16. Nick H on March 27th, 2009 6:39 pm

    The Noughties: Popular drama OK, Serial drama not so OK…

  17. Chris Diamond on March 31st, 2009 4:03 pm

    I don’t think the criticism of Dawson’s character is really fair. The point, surely, isn’t that the police didn’t look at the swan fixation of Dawson and fail to connect it to him, but rather that they knew perfectly well that it was Dawson and initially did nothing to stop him. They then had Eddie do their dirty work for them as they needed Dawson out of the way.

    During flashbacks we’re shown that Morrisey and Clarke saw the girl had swan’s wings stitched on to her back at the site of her discovery and commenting “look what he’s done” but also at the meeting above the wedding when it was decided – with Jim Carter in attendance – that Dawson had been “putting personal pleasure before business” and had to be dealt with.

    The crux of the plot, as I understood it, was police corruption and it succeeded brilliantly in that respect. The murders, paedophilia were tributary to that.
    As it goes, I felt episode 2 was the weaker of the trilogy, with episode 1 the best. And I haven’t been compelled to watch anything as much since Our Friends In the North.

  18. Steve Brennan on April 4th, 2009 7:26 pm

    The point is surely that no one, no matter how securely they may have believed the police were in their pocket, would be as blatant as that. Why didn’t he just carve “John Dawson woz ere” into her back? And the whole stitching of swan’s wings onto the bodies was itself ludicrous – the kind of noirishly lurid ‘serial killer signature’ that never actually occurs in reality.

    And did it really succeed brilliantly as a treatment of police corruption? It was hardly subtle. They all stand around in a room sipping champagne boasting about how rich they’re going to become and how the north is (pretty laughably) “where we do what we want”. For me, outside of Morrissey (and his arc was entirely predictable) there was no character development, no rhyme or reason to it all – just David Peace’s view that the West Yorks police was comprised entirely of money grabbing, murdering, ugly chain smoking bastards. All very atmospheric and entertainingly bleak, but ultimately shallow and unimaginative. I’d have been more interested in seeing the force slowly becoming corrupt and eaten away from the inside, rather than being instantly introduced to ready-made regional villains.

    I enjoyed the series (and I live in Yorkshire so it gave it an extra zing for me) but only as a stylish diversion for a couple of hours. It was no masterpiece and I doubt very much if in years to come it will be remembered as a great drama in the way that Our Friends in the North or Cracker is.

  19. Chris Diamond on April 7th, 2009 1:57 pm

    Well, yes, it was ludicrous to stitch wings on to her back, as Warren Clarke’s character pointed out. Then he organised for Dunford to kill Dawson, which rather emphasised that point.
    As a treatment of police corruption it was by no means perfect – since it’s often not anything like as organised as that – but it was effective, in my view, if only because it was shown at all. And it created an excellent atmosphere of stifling menace, where even the honest coppers, like Considine, have nowhere to run let alone rent boys and damaged wives.

    I’d agree about the lack of development but I’d say that was more to do with the timescale. The comparable scenarios of corruption in Our Friends In the North – Soho and vice cops – was dealt with more satisfactorily because it was able to take the time to take in the sweeping away of the old guard by the new police management in the late 80s. If it had been stuck with a ten year lifespan like Red Riding, it wouldn’t have managed to demonstrate that as well.

    I agree it was far from perfect but I’d still say it was by far the best drama that’s been on telly for several years.