Throughout the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, a secret war took place on the streets of England. For years, women of all ages and classes had fought for their right to vote, although they used politics and reason as their biggest weapon. When no clear results were seen, a specialist group formed a more radical idea - to take the political campaign out of the shadows and into the streets, with protests and fighting to gain what was theirs by right. But as the government fights back even harder, desperate times call for desperate measures.
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On a bleak East London estate, Aaron (Ahmed) is a low-life dealer hanging out with his thuggish best pal Ed (Skrein). When Ed's phone goes missing, they trace it to crack-addict Michelle (Mond), who they force to turn tricks to pay Ed back. Meanwhile, a young kid (Indianda) must prove himself if he wants to join a gang led by Marcel (Sagar). Later, Aaron has a chance encounter with terrified Katya (Press), who abandons her baby with him. Unable to find her, Aaron lets Ed arrange a black-market adoption.
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While working on a human geography project as part of her studies, Nikki (Press) travels to an isolated Scottish island and presents herself as a prospective tenant at isolated house owned by her birth mother Phyllis (McTeer), who doesn't recognise her. As she plots her revenge against the woman who abandoned her, she's surprised to discover that she has a brother, Calum (Morgan). But her continual questions about their husband-father are blanked, and life on the island becomes increasingly intriguing as she seeks answers about her past.
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When he's commissioned to paint a local militia group in 1642 Amsterdam, Rembrandt (Freeman) has premonitions of trouble, but goes ahead and creates a fiercely untraditional painting that reveals rather too many secrets about the musketeers depicted in it. While painting it, his sparky wife (Birthistle) gives birth to his son, but becomes seriously ill in the process, eventually causing him to turn to the family nurses (Holmes and May) for company. And when complete, the portrait, The Night Watch, has drastic repercussions on his career.
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For all the watching going on in Red Road, there is precious little safety -- in fact one of the tropes that writer/director Arnold (in an extremely impressive feature debut) insistently returns to is the resolute unsafety of these people's worlds, no matter how much technology surrounds them. Arnold's protagonist is Jackie (the fantastically affecting Kate Dickie) a bracingly cold and shut-off woman who works at the City Eye, controlling a bank of cameras with a joystick, occasionally zooming on something menacing or just plain out of the ordinary, watching. Her contact with the human race is limited practically to these TV screens, having shut herself off from her parents and seemingly keeping no friends; the only relationship with any regularity we see is a functional and depressing affair carried on with a married man occasionally in his van. Arnold sinks viewers deep into Jackie's self-induced loneliness, letting out only the faintest hints about what tragedy has pushed her into this suffocating state (Was there a husband? A daughter?), before Jackie sees a man's face on the camera one day which she remembers from her past.
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Mona (Natalie Press) is a plain and provincial redheadwith an artistic bent, sexually gullible and unsure of herself. She's beenmiserable since her caretaker older brother (the superb Paddy Considine)returned from prison, adamantly (read: desperately) clinging to newfoundborn-again Christianity.
Tamsin (Emily Blunt) is a brazen, sultry hothouse brunettebooted from a series of private schools ("Apparently I'm a bad influence")and seemingly haunted by the death of her anorexic sister while stayingthe summer at her neglectful daddy's manse in the hills above Mona's depressedYorkshire factory town.
When they meet, this pair with nothing in common discoversan addicting synergy between them that escalates into obsession that knowsfew boundaries, be they psychological or even sexual. "If you leaveme, I'll kill you," they swear to each other as if it were the mostloving promise in the world.
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