TV Review – CRACKER: TO BE A SOMEBODY (1994)

Image result for cracker to be a somebody castCRACKER: TO BE A SOMEBODY (TV) (UK, 1994) *****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 10, 17 & 24 October 1994; Running Time: 148m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Tim Fywell; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Edward Mansell; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: David Butterworth.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Robert Carlyle (Albie), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Beth Goddard (Clare Moody), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Tracy Gillman (Jill), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough), Wil Johnson (Skelton), Badi Uzzaman (Shahid Ali), Kim Vithana (Razia Ali), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Glyn Grain (Professor Nolan), John Henshaw (Quarry Foreman), Tess Thomson (Katie), Paul Copley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: A working class man, distraught at the recent death of his father, impulsively becomes a skinhead and murders a Pakistani shopkeeper over a perceived insult.
      Comment: First story of the second series of Cracker is perhaps the best example of the show. It’s an absorbing study of one man’s disintegration through anger and hatred and Carlyle delivers a superb performance in the central role. The link to the Hillsborough disaster is a theme close to writer McGovern’s heart and he uses both direct references and the symbolism of Albie’s paranoia to make a strong point around the injustices of its portrayal in the media. Coltrane is again superb as Fitz, a character that is tailor-made for his world-weary cynicism. The resonant script is also laced with dark humour and all the regular cast have gotten to grips with their characters. The result is a top-class psychological crime thriller.

Book Review – BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) by Ann Cleeves

BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) ***
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2010
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 374pp (357pp)
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7446-9
includes 11-page preview of DEAD WATER.

Blurb: With the autumn storms raging, Fair Isle feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder . . . A woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair. The islanders react with fear and anger. Detective Jimmy Perez has no support from the mainland and must investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. There’s no way off the island until the storms abate – and so the killer is also trapped, just waiting for the opportunity to strike again.

The fourth book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is another intriguing and meticulously plotted murder mystery. The setting is ideal for an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with a small cast of characters isolated at a bird observatory on the remote Fair Isle. Cleeves spends a lot of time rounding out her characters and their motives, which slows down the pace to a crawl at certain points. The writing is, however, well crafted giving a real sense of place. The final scenes produce a nightmare personal twist for Perez. and the denouement is a brave one for Cleeves as she leaves her lead character at a crossroads. Whilst the story would have benefited from some tighter editing, it remains a highly competent mystery thriller.

TV Review: CRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY (1993)

Image result for CRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLYCRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY (TV) (UK, 1993) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 1 & 8 November 1993; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Simon Cellan Jones; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Gub Neal; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: Roger Jackson; Film Editor: Chris Gill; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: Deborah Morley.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Christopher Fulford (Cassidy), Lee Hartney (Andy Lang), Frances Tomelty (Mrs. Lang), Tim Healy (Mr Lang), Amelia Bullmore (Catriona Bilborough), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Tess Thomson (Kate Fitzgerald), Geoffrey Hutchings (Pathologist), John Vine (Lindsay), Trevyn McDowell (Leslie), Edward Peel (Chief Super), Wesley Cook (Tim Lang), Linda Henry (Mrs Perry), John Graham-Davies (Francis Bates).
      Synopsis: A young boy, Timothy Lang, is found hanged in a nearby wood, drawing the ire of the city, and the main suspect appears to be Tim’s school teacher, Mr. Cassidy.
      Comment: Third and final story from the first season amounts to a psychological battle of will between accused, the law and Coltrane’s psychologist. This is another dark tale and the ambiguity surrounding the accused man’s guilt or innocence presents a conundrum for Fitz. McGovern deftly sets about the psychological conflict keeping the viewer guessing right to the story’s conclusion and likely beyond. Again, the performances are top-draw with a rich cast headed by Coltrane. Fitz’s flawed character gives Coltrane plenty to work with and his performance has depth and is laced with humour and cynicism.

TV Review – CRACKER: TO SAY I LOVE YOU (1993)

Image result for cracker to say i love youCRACKER: TO SAY I LOVE YOU (TV) (UK, 1993) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 11, 18 & 25 October 1993; Running Time: 153m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Andy Wilson; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Gub Neal; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: Roger Jackson; Film Editor: Oral Norrie Ottey; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: Deborah Morley; Costumes: Janty Yates; Make-up: Helen King; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Susan Lynch (Tina Brien), Andrew Tiernan (Sean Kerrigan), Beryl Reid (Fitz’s mother), David Haig (Graham), Susan Vidler (Sammy), Tim Barlow (Judith’s father).Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Ian Mercer (D.C. Giggs), Patti Love (Mrs Brien), Keith Ladd (Mr Brien), Tess Thomson (Katie Fitzgerald).
      Synopsis: Sean Kerrigan and Tina Brien, two of society’s rejects, are drawn together and will do anything to stay together forever, even murder. Fitz is drawn into the conflict when he begins to uncover the murder of Tina’s loan shark.
      Comment: Second story in the first season of Cracker is a dark and violent take on film noir and Bonnie & Clyde. It is another absorbing story with a superb Jimmy McGovern script and fantastic performances from the cast. Of specific note are Lynch and Tiernan as the unlikely criminal pairing. The set pieces are directed with a strong sense of authenticity by Wilson and Coltrane brings his flawed and intelligent character to life with a central performance that dominates whenever he is on screen and is laced with caustic humour. The production only slows in its final protracted act before it picks up again for its explosive finale.

TV Review – BERGERAC: PICKING IT UP (1981)

Bergerac series 1BERGERAC: PICKING IT UP (UK, 1981) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Seven Network; Release Date: 18 October 1981; Running Time: 57m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Martyn Friend; Writer: Robert Banks Stewart; Producer: Robert Banks Stewart; Associate Producer: Juliet Grimm; Director of Photography: Ian Hilton; Music Composer: George Fenton; Themes Music: George Fenton; Film Editor: Bernard Ashby, Chris Wimble; Production Designer: Antony Thorpe; Costumes: Pat Fisher; Make-up: Cheryl Wright; Sound: Bryan Showell.
      Cast: John Nettles (Jim Bergerac), Cécile Paoli (Francine), Terence Alexander (Hungerford), Sean Arnold (Crozier), Annette Badland (Charlotte), Mela White (Diamante Lil), Danny Schiller (Gulliver), Tony Melody (Chief), Raymond Adamson (Senator), Deborah Grant (Deborah), Lindsay Heath (Kim), David Savile (Gurney), Floella Benjamin (Juniper), Alan Thompson (Mr. Pollender), Elizabeth Choice (Mrs. Pollender), Judith Byfield (Mary Pollender), James Greene (Alcoholic), Roland Oliver (Flying Instructor), Lesley Murray (Hire-Car Receptionist), Michael Chesden (French Inspector), Stephen Bent (CID Man), Graeme Eton (Airport Sergeant), Michael Bott (Constable), Sally Harrison (Air Stewardess), Harry South (Nightclub Pianist), Brian Tully (Vicar), Lindsay Campbell (Chairman), Carole Walker (Theatre Sister), Sandra Miller (Nurse), Harold Messias (Asian), Frank Tregear (Businessman).
      Synopsis: Jersey detective Jim Bergerac returns from a recuperation leave to find his job in jeopardy and a colleague killed during an investigation into international gun sales to South Africa.
      Comment: The first episode of the long-running series (1981-91, nine seasons, 87 episodes) introduces us to Jim Bergerac – a police detective and recovering alcoholic. The key series elements are all set here including Bergerac’s caustic relationship with his ex-father-in-law, millionaire Charlie Hungerford, played in the early episodes in a more hard-nosed fashion by Alexander. The plot suffers a little from having to compete with the need to set up key series characters, but it maintains interest. Whilst Nettles may initially seem a little too clean-cut for the character, he would stamp his personality onto the role over the coming years. The Jersey locations are well used. Look out for Floella Benjamin as an American singer (dubbed here) who has got mixed up with the wrong crowd.

TV Review – CRACKER: MAD WOMAN IN THE ATTIC (1993)

Image result for cracker mad woman in the atticCRACKER: MAD WOMAN IN THE ATTIC (TV) (UK, 1993) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 27 September & 4 October 1993; Running Time: 103m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Michael Winterbottom; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Gub Neal; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: Julian Wastall; Film Editor: Trevor Waite; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: Deborah Morley; Set Decorator: ; Costumes: Janty Yates; Make-up: Helen King; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Adrian Dunbar (Kelly), Nicholas Woodeson (Hennessy), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Don Henderson (Hennessy Senior), Seamus O’Neill (D.C. Jones), Ian Mercer (D.C. Giggs), Paul Copley (Pathologist), Alan Partington (Mr Hobbs), Romy Baskerville (Irene Hobbs), Daryl Fishwick (Mrs Forbes), Kika Markham (Ann Appleby), John Grillo (Simon Appleby), Edward Peel (Chief Super), David Crellin (Quinlan), Andrew Brittain (Presenter), Diane Adderley (Mrs Royle).
      Synopsis: A young woman is brutally murdered on a train, the victim of a serial killer. The prime suspect is an amnesiac man, who cannot confess to the crime if he cannot remember committing it unless a troubled psychologist can crack him.
      Comment: The premiere episode of the Cracker TV series (1993-6) introduces us to Coltrane’s dynamite performance as the flawed psychologist, addicted to gambling and booze, and lays the template for a series that would reach new highs for crime TV in the UK. Fitz is such a compelling character he threatens to dwarf all around him. Fortunately, a very strong support cast is also on hand and Winterbottom’s inventive direction gets the best out of them. The story is intriguing as a ‘did he or didn’t he do it’ and that it succeeds in keeping you guessing for so long is down to McGovern’s strong script and a good supporting performance from Dunbar as the amnesiac suspect. Often a tough watch, this is never less than engrossing and is only let down by the rushed finale. Better was to follow, but this is still a great introduction.

Book Review – UP: MY LIFE’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF EVEREST by Ben Fogle (2018)

UP: MY LIFE’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF EVEREST (2018) ****
by Ben Fogle (& Marina Fogle)
First published by William Collins, 2018, 270pp
ISBN: 978-0-00-831922-9

Blurb: In April 2018, seasoned adventurer Ben Fogle and Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton, along with mountaineer Kenton Cool, took on their most exhausting challenge yet – climbing Everest for the British Red Cross to highlight the environmental challenges mountains face. It would be harrowing and exhilarating in equal measure as they walked the fine line between life and death 8,000 metres above sea level. For Ben, the seven-week expedition into the death zone was to become the adventure of a lifetime, as well as a humbling and enlightening journey. For his wife Marina, holding the family together at home, it was an agonising wait for news. Together, they dedicated the experience to their son, Willem Fogle, stillborn at eight months. Cradling little Willem to say goodbye, Ben and Marina made a promise to live brightly. To embrace every day. To always smile. To be positive and to inspire. And from the depths of their grief and dedication, Ben’s Everest dream was born. Up, from here the only way was Up. Part memoir, part thrilling adventure, Ben and Marina’s account of his ascent to the roof of the world is told with their signature humour and warmth, as well as with profound compassion.

Ben Fogle’s book is part-journal and part-philosophical statement. Fogle’s crave for adventure stems from a childhood of insecurity and it is his approach to life and his willingness to challenge himself that shines through. Everest is both a physical and metaphorical mountain to summit and it is interesting to contrast the drive and ambition that takes Fogle on his journey against the come-down after he has achieved his goal, the latter covered all too briefly. Fogle eloquently makes the point that life needs to be a series of goals and challenges and not just an individual one. His positive outlook is mirrored by the book’s title. Look up rather than down, keep cheallnging yourself to get better, chase your dreams. Fogle’s writing is complemented by that of Marina, his wife who gives the perspective of the spouse and family left behind to worry, whilst her husband chases his dreams in the most dangerous of locations. Marina’s spirit and selflessness shines even more brightly than that of her husband and enables us to contrast the routine of everyday life with the bold adventure of the expedition. Fogle’s travelling companions were experienced climber Kenton Cool and Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton. Victoria’s struggles with altitude sickness on the trip are well documented and ultimately caused her to abort her climb. Fogle went on to fulfil his dream and reach the top and he vividly documents the struggles of doing so, outlining the chaos on the mountain as dozens of climbers from various expeditions scramble for position. Whilst Fogle may tend to over-play his philosophy on life at the expense of the drama of the climb, often repeating  anbd sometimes labouring the same point, his book remains a fascinating insight into why adventurers test themselves to the limit.