by Allan Fish
(UK 1993-1996 1,350m) DVD1/2
p Paul Abbott, Hilary Bevan Jones d Tim Fywell, Simon Cellan Jones, Michael Winterbottom, Julian Jarrold, Jean Stewart, Charles MacDougall, Richard Standeven, Roy Battersby w Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbott, Ted Whitehead created by Jimmy McGovern
Robbie Coltrane (Dr Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (DS Jane Penhaligon), Christopher Eccleston (DCI David Bilborough), Ricky Tomlinson (DCI Wise), Lorcan Cranitch (DS Jimmy Beck), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Tess Thomson (Katie Fitzgerald), Edward Peel, Clive Russell, Paul Copley, Adrian Dunbar, Kika Markham, Beryl Reid, Andrew Tiernan, Susan Lynch, Christopher Fulford, Jim Carter, Samantha Morton, James Fleet, Robert Carlyle, John Simm, Liam Cunningham, Benedict Wong, Beth Goddard, Tim Healy, Don Henderson, Nicholas Woodeson, Brid Brennan, Ruth Sheen, David Calder, Emma Cunniffe, Emily Joyce,
When reviewing Cracker over a decade on, the first thoughts that race through one’s mind are whether it will stand up after the intervening years. The one off 2006 reprisal didn’t help, while it’s been done to death ever since in everything from Waking the Dead to Silent Witness, none of them are fit to lick the ash off the end of Fitz’s ever-present cigarette. To this add the fact that other cult milestones of nineties TV don’t stand up as well as once they did – This Life, for example – and that McGovern’s recent output has been pitiful in comparison would lead to trepidation.
For those who didn’t experience the buzz of the series first time round, a series about an overweight, shambling, hard-drinking, womanising, gambling criminal psychologist genius in Manchestermight seem a hard sell. Yet in a small screen world where crime series were of the Inspector Morse and Ruth Rendell Mysteries mould, this was like someone had dropped a meteorite into your living room. Cracker rewrote the rulebook, then tore it up again, redrafted it and then burnt it before our very eyes. Here’s a series in which its cops had a limited life expectancy, with two of the principals dying in vastly different but unforgettable ways, had its main female protagonist raped by another of its lead characters, had a central figure with more flaws than the criminals he was investigating and a desire to represent crime and its detection as it really is. This didn’t just mean realism and violence, but the fact that virtually none of the nine central story arcs that spread across the three splendid seasons ended happily. Its plots involved religious sects, juvenile delinquency, serial rapists, bombs, child abuse, prostitution, and dared to have several of its sought after psychotics be female. On top of all this, we had the liberal sprinkling of that perennial McGovern ingredient; enough Catholic guilt to flood theMersey in Holy Water. Many of its characters were undesirable, but they were all – psychos, cops, shrinks – painfully human and deeply flawed.
Think then of how it influenced future British TV; indeed many of the cast would go on to work for McGovern again in Hearts and Minds, Hillsborough and The Lakes, while writer Abbott later carved his own small-screen niche. The entire cast is superb, with Simm, Cunningham, Morton, Dunbar and Tiernan all getting excellent early opportunities, Joyce, Brennan and especially Carlyle unforgettable nutjobs, Tomlinson showing his power before The Royle Family domesticated him and Crantich and Somerville so good as to be inseparable from their roles thereafter. Then there’s Eccleston, whose murder was one of the most shocking and indelible in the entire history of television, gasping a final statement on the pavement. Yet great though they all are, this is one man’s show. Quite simply, Coltrane is as gargantuan as his gait, his Fitz like a distant Scottish descendant of Laird Cregar, getting everything wrong in his private life and uncannily accurate professionally. When Penhaligon calls Fitz an emotional rapist, one feels one could charge McGovern with the same. Our emotions are not only raped but mutilated; what’s more, we wouldn’t have it any other way.