The profound burden of guilt steps out from the shadows in “Red Riding: 1983,” along with an overwhelming amount of exposition in this, the final act of the British television crime trilogy. It’s the wrap-up segment, in charge of taking the combined mystery of two films and paying it off in a tidy fashion, lest the audience feel they had given over five hours of their life to this endeavor and were left in an inexcusable dramatic void. “1983” is executed rather messily and demands a very concentrated viewer, but the rhythms of violation and corruption remain intact, supplying a fulfilling closer to this ambitious project.
Another little girl has gone missing in West Yorkshire, with the signs of abduction similar to those found nearly a decade prior, causing a ripple of panic in the local police force. Bearing silent witness to crimes committed around the community for over a decade, Detective Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) is finding his conscience can no longer bear the weight of shame, watching as the web of deception created by the West Yorkshire Constabulary slowly erodes into chaos. New to the scene is lawyer John Piggott (Mark Addy), who’s compelled to take the case of the mentally challenged man (Daniel Mays) imprisoned for child-murder crimes years back, looking to appeal his suspiciously obtained confession of guilt. With cover-ups spiraling out of control, Jobson reconsiders his position in the force, while Piggott plunges into a case unaware of the horrors he’s about to uncover.
Closers are always difficult to land, which is why I give director Anand Tucker major credit for tying together as many loose ends as possible in just under 100 minutes of screen time. The “Red Riding” saga is a colossal storm of characters and complications, but the previous installments, “1974” and “1980,” had the opportunity to linger while expanding and ornamenting the nightmare. “1983” isn’t permitted such luxury, pressured to wrap up a painstakingly widescreen tale with the correct amount of comeuppance, closure, and visual poetry.
While taking a background position for the first two films, the Jobson character is handed the spotlight as the West Yorkshire fissure, coming to terms with years of exhaustive impropriety and suppression of incriminating evidence. The character arc is a bit on the rushed side in “1983,” which includes a dalliance with a psychic that’s a mightily bizarre detour in a picture as distanced and cold-blooded as this. It’s still nice to see something emerge from Morrissey after two films of background grazing, delivering an accurately trembling performance that communicates the point of newborn responsibility magnificently. Also of worth is Addy as Piggott, doing what he can with a diluted characterization that makes broad leaps of fortitude in the interest of time.
The “Red Riding” pictures are primarily concerned with peril, and “1983” provides that special slither as a fresh disappearance unlocks ghastly chambers of sin, depicting torture and sexual depravity with a respectful edge, but it all remains terrifically unnerving. Admittedly, the blur of names, locations, and motivations becomes quite a daunting process to rein in, with a plot that requires some note-taking and a well-rounded appreciation for the history of English law enforcement. It’s a hefty challenge to stay centered with the swerving narrative, but the primary colors of shame, arrogance, and betrayal are always within reach, which helps to organize and value the time-shifting character square dance that makes up the majority of “1983.”
There’s a finality to “1983” that makes the conclusion worth the concentration, with the character of BJ (Robert Sheehan), a male prostitute who’s witnessed a decade of malfeasance on his knees on the streets of Yorkshire, threaded throughout the trilogy, emerging as the catalyst for true justice while everyone else has been violently removed from view. “1983” has much to say and not a whole lot of time to say it, but it brings the sweep of “Red Riding” to a smooth, full stop with a surplus of ambiguity and hostility that confidently carries the film to the final frame.