CRACKER: 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.
BERGERAC: 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.
CRACKER: 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.
SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (TV) (UK, 2019) ***½
Distributor: Silverprint Pictures / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Scotland; Release Date: 12 February – 19 March 2019; Running Time: 341m (6 episodes); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Gordon Anderson, Isabelle Sieb; Writer: David Kane, Paul Logue (based on characters created by Ann Cleeves); Executive Producer: Kate Bartlett, Gaynor Holmes, David Kane; Producer: Eric Coulter; Director of Photography: Cinders Forshaw; Music Composer: John Lunn; Film Editor: Colin Monie, Chris Buckland; Production Designer: Emer O’Sullivan; Art Director: Ghillie Smith; Visual Effects: Fraser Murdoch.
Cast: Douglas Henshall (DI Jimmy Perez), Alison O’Donnell (Alison McIntosh), Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson), Mark Bonnar (Duncan Hunter), Erin Armstrong (Cassie Perez), Julie Graham (Rhona Kelly), Rakie Ayola (Olivia Lennox), Catherine Walker (Alice Brooks), Derek Riddell (Chris Brooks), Robert Cavanah (Graeme Benson), Therese Bradley (Andrea Doyle), Anne Kidd (Cora McLean), Kate Dickie (DI Sam Boyd), Lorn Macdonald (Jamie Hayes), Owen Whitelaw (Prentice Hayes), Tracy Wiles (Carla Hayes), Isabelle Joss (Catrina), Robin Laing (Gavin Laird), Gail Watson (Mary Hunter), Ryan Fletcher (Calum Dunwoody), Meghan Tyler (Mags), John Kazek (Aaron McGuire), Frances Mayli McCann (Niki), Angus Miller (Donnie), Emma Mullen (Rosie), Olivia Barrowclough (Trish), Titana Muthui (Zezi Ugara), Ayanda Bhebe (Daniel Ugara), Lewis Howden (Billy McCabe).
Synopsis: Perez finds that the murder of the young Nigerian man is more than just the drugs trade but could be sex trafficking with the Shetlands a cog in a much larger wheel.
Comment: The fifth series of the brooding crime drama set in the bleak remote community of Shetland is another absorbing mystery. The plot unfolds at a slow pace with occasional bursts of energy and activity. This allows for investment in the characters and gives them room to breathe. As the mystery unfolds the pace quickens. The climax feels a little conventional, but the story overall is nevertheless satisfying. Henshall is excellent as the detective with a conscience and a strong supporting cast help to lift the material above the standard genre tropes.
Luther: Series 5 (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 4 x 60m) **½ pr. Derek Ritchie; d. Jamie Payne; w. Neil Cross; ph. John Pardue; ed. Jamie Trevill. Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Dermot Crowley, Enzo Cilenti, Hermione Norris, Patrick Malahide, Michael Smiley, Wunmi Mosaku, Lewis Young, Sonita Henry, Luke Westlake, Lex Daniel, Michael Obiora, Katie Brayben, Paul McGann, Roberta Taylor, Anthony Howell, Nicholas Asbury. When a series of seemingly indiscriminate killings become ever more audacious Luther and new recruit DS Catherine Halliday are confounded by a tangle of leads and misdirection that appears designed to protect an untouchable corruption. Relentlessly grim and often strangely compelling, but ultimately too implausible to be fulfilling. When almost every major character, including the detective hunting them, seems to have psychological issues resulting in disturbingly violent actions there is little empathy to be invested in the characters and we are left with a feeling of being a voyeur to the sick and gruesome acts of murder. The detective work is also clumsily written with us having to accept Luther’s brilliant deductions as inexplicable foresight, rather than clever analysis. This is no police procedural. In all the key chase and heavy drama scenes, the rest of the populace of London also seem to strangely disappear, giving the whole thing a feeling of being acted out on some different plane as if we are observing an alternative reality. This may have been deliberate to intensify the drama, but adds to the false sense of environment. That’s perhaps as well as any police force that operated in the way this one does would be dragged across the coals. There are moments to enjoy amidst the horror – notably some moments of black humour and the performances of Cilente and Malahide in contrasting roles; the former as a psychotic killer and the latter an old-school gangster. The re-appearance of Wilson’s character (another psychotic killer), whilst resolving issues that hung over from previous stories, is actually a distraction from the more interesting elements of this story. Elba’s Luther is at the centre of everything and, for the most part, keeps you just about on his side, despite his increasingly bizarre behaviour, until the two plot strands come to a head. Ultimately though this is sensationalism TV that draws the viewer to it like a seedy newspaper headline. As such its widespread appeal, which perhaps it does not deserve, is guaranteed.
Doctor Who: It Takes You Away (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Ed Hime; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Eleanor Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke, Sharon D Clarke. On the edge of a Norwegian fjord, in the present day, The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond? For the most part, this episode is intriguing and tense. The mystery is well plotted and has characters emotionally invested. Whilst conceptually this has been the most challenging episode of this series it has also been the most rewarding, showing that strong writing is what has been missing for most of this series. But the episode threatens to implode into silliness with the talking frog, which deflates much of the tension that has been built up to that point. Why did the writers and producers think this would make the episode more dramatic? It comes across as a gimmick which derails what could have been the best episode of the season by far. As it stands it is still one of the better representations of Chibnall’s vision in this disappointing run of stories. That the last three episodes, none of which have been written by Chibnall, have come closest to the series’ template show that there is still life in the concept with thoughtful writing. Let’s hope Chibnall can pull the rabbit from the hat in the last episode and the New Year special – otherwise, this will almost certainly go down as the worst series of the new run.
Doctor Who: Kerblam! (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Pete McTighe; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie, Leo Flanagan. A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam! Obvious links to the massive growth of companies like Amazon, this does not play to the expected corporate greed sub-plot in the traditional way – instead linking the threat to anti-corporate terrorism. As such this is a refreshingly straight-forward tale, which adds to the mix elements of robo-phobia (mirroring stories such as THE ROBOTS OF DEATH). The result is one of the better entries in this otherwise disappointing series to date and there is genuine tension generated by McTighe’s script and Perrott’s direction. The performances, however, remain variable – Cole seems to be becoming more wooden by the week – but at least the companions get to be split up and given equal roles to play. [PG]
Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 51m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Vinay Patel; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Shane Zaza, Amita Suman, Hamza Jeetooa, Leena Dhingra, Shaheen Khan, Shobna Gulati. India, 1947. The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, as the country is being torn apart. While Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history, the Doctor discovers demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want? Bold attempt to add emotional depth and historical significance to the series partly pays off – notably in its heart-wrenching finale. The plot is reminiscent of the Christopher Eccleston story FATHER’S DAY, in its theme of returning to a companion’s past and a tragic outcome that cannot be avoided. However, the narrative still feels cluttered due to too many companions and a need to cover broad topics in a short running time. Some of the dialogue feels anachronistic too, belying the 1947 setting. Still, an improvement on recent episodes and Whittaker continues to grow into the title role. [PG]
Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 51m) ** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Lois Chimimba, Suzanne Packer, Ben Bailey Smith. Injured and stranded in the wilds of a far-flung galaxy, The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan must band together with a group of strangers to survive against one of the universe’s most deadly — and unusual — creatures. After a strong start to this beautifully designed episode things spiral downwards very quickly with a monster fresh out of a Warner Brothers cartoon (was the Pting based on Looney Toons’ Tasmanian Devil?) and some unnecessary emphasis on political correctness by having a pregnant man give birth to a baby boy in a world where seemingly gender parentage is the norm. If Chibnall and the production team could just have concentrated on what could have been an effective sci-fi chiller, without the need for constantly having to tick-box the PC list and with a better-designed monster, then this could have been a winner. As it stands the only real positive, outside of the production design, is Whittaker’s most assured performance to date as the Doctor. [PG]
Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Sallie Aprahamian; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Tico Poulakakis; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Chris Noth, Shobna Gulati, Tanya Fear, Ravin J Ganatra, Bhavnisha Parmar, Jaleh Alp, William Meredith, Sharon D Clarke. The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan find their way back to Yorkshire – and Yaz’s family – only to find something is stirring amidst the eight-legged arachnid population of Sheffield. This episode is an ecological sci-fi/horror tale, which plays to the fears of arachnophobes by introducing us to toxically mutated spiders running amok. Some effective scares and jump moments are offset by a script with some unfilled holes and a performance from Noth as a Trump-like political figure that is over-the-top in the extreme. The TARDIS crew are developing nicely, however, and Walsh continues to bring warmth to his bereaved character. Whittaker is finding her feet well and overcomes some of the script’s weak dialogue with the force of her personality. The spiders are brilliantly realised by the effects team. An abrupt conclusion, which fails to explain satisfactorily how the spider threat to the city is overcome on a broader scale means this episode can at best be seen as entertaining but is undeniably dramatically flawed by overplaying its comedic elements. [PG]