Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a Closed Circuit Television operator monitoring one of the most deprived areas in the UK, around the northeast of Glasgow, Scotland. She leads a bleak existence with no friends and an estranged family. One night she sees someone she recognises on camera and begins an escalating obsession with them.
She watches Clyde (Tony Curran) compulsively and starts stalking him, manufacturing meetings and working her way into his life. The danger and mystery escalate as she gets closer and closer to the man who has so overtaken her mind.
The claustrophobia of this film is striking. The all-seeing CCTV monitors contrasts with the restrictive way most of the film is shot. Jackie is almost always shown in close ups or in profile. The spaces she inhabits are dark and small and we rarely get to see the wider context of the places she’s in.
This makes us scour the screen for more information. We’re searching for clues as to why she’s so obsessed with this man, but information is carefully metred out. We don’t get anything handed to us on a plate, and the film takes the bold stance of keeping us in the dark for almost the entire runtime.
Maybe this is one of the things the Cannes jury liked so much about it, that as the tension ratchets up and as Jackie’s actions shift from creepy to reprehensible, we are still trying to find clues and motives to piece it all together.
Given the prevalence of CCTV in the UK, this film could have been set almost anywhere. But the filmmakers chose the brutalist and notorious Red Road flats in Glasgow.
The eight blocks of flats were constructed in the 1960s to house 4,500 people, displaced as the inner city tenement slums were knocked down for regeneration after World War II. They had high population density, high deprivation and were almost impossible to police. By the 1990s they were condemned. But despite the problems, many people loved living there.
This community feeling is played out with Clyde and his friends Stevie (Martin Compston) and April (Natalie Press). They are dysfunctional and chaotic but they look out for each other in deep ways.
Red Road challenges our preconceptions and makes us reflect on our assumptions and biases. We are led to assume the worst about Clyde, given his unspecified criminal past, and the place where he lives. But as his life is slowly revealed we see he has a steady job, and is haunted by his previous actions.
Stevie and April appear to be violent and unstable, but as we get to know them we see they’re incredibly loving and tender. Jackie herself, who was first shown as caring and compassionate, turns to inexcusable actions.
Destruction of the flats began in 2012, and it was originally suggested the final five buildings would be demolished as part of the opening ceremony for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. Deemed to be insensitive, heartless and voyeuristic, thankfully these plans were scrapped. The last five buildings were instead razed in 2015 in a botched demolition.
Far from fetishising poverty and rejoicing in the downfall of the area as Commonwealth Games planners might have done, Arnold shows us the good along with the bad. Poverty here is not overblown, but shown as gritty and real. As real as the bonds between inhabitants.
Red Road raises questions about the way communities are policed by remote observation, and what that does to our sense of privacy. Surveillance often broke the line and turned into spying. And when a serious crime did occur, Jackie was looking the other way. For Clyde, being watched without his knowledge led to a clear violation.
It’s easy to see why the Cannes Jury chose this film as their winner in 2006. It has a bold commitment to the slow delivery of information, a claustrophobic and gritty aesthetic, and a commentary about constant surveillance. It keeps us working hard as viewers, and challenges our assumptions around deprived communities.
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.