CRACKER: 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.
CRACKER: 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.
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.
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.
Come Home (2018; UK; Colour; 3 x 60m) *** pr. Madonna Baptiste; d. Andrea Harkin; w. Danny Brocklehurst; ph. Joel Devlin; m. Murray Gold. Cast. Christopher Eccleston, Paula Malcomson, Kerri Quinn, Anthony Boyle, Lola Petticrew, Darcey McNeeley, Brandon Brownlee, Patrick O’Kane, Brid Brennan, Derbhle Crotty, Rory Keenan. When mother Marie (Malcolmson) mysteriously leaves the family home, the repercussions are enormous, but when secrets are revealed from the past, both Marie and her husband Greg (Eccleston) realise they can’t just walk away from their lives. At times this often intense drama captures the depths of despair from both sides of the story with its structuring geared around a balanced perspective and a final episode designed to weight the arguments equally, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion. The story is therefore both authentic and ultimately disappointing. Authentic in that it does not go for the big dramatic climax and disappointing in that the climax itself is anticlimactic. Technical values are good, if at times the camerawork is overly self-indulgent. The performances from Eccleston and Malcolmson feel real and honest. In the end, though, you are left with more of a feeling of voyeurism than engagement – as if you’ve been watching real-life without the protagonists permission. This may well have been the intention, but the result is a good drama that somehow misses out on being something with more to say.
A Word – Series 2, The (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Jenny Frayn; d. Susan Tully, Luke Snellin; w. Peter Bowker; ph. Ruairí O’Brien, Ollie Downey; m. Rob Lane. Cast: Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Max Vento, Molly Wright, Christopher Eccleston, Vinette Robinson, Greg McHugh, Pooky Quesnel, Leon Harrop, Lucy Gaskell. Second series of the BBC drama following the Hughes family living in the Lake District and their young son Joe (the excellent Vento) who is diagnosed as autistic. In this second series Bowker opens up the story to broaden the scope of the story – bringing in the personal lives of the family and their impact on each other and on how they deal with Joe. Whilst the first series struggled initially to get the tone right before eventually striking a successful balance between drama and humour, this second series hits the ground running and produces a set of funny and touching scenes throughout an engaging and real story. The perfomances are excellent – notably the remarkable Vento as Joe and Eccleston as Joe’s tactless grandfather. Ingleby and Christie are also very good as Joe’s parents, who begin to drift apart as they struggle to come to terms with their son’s condition. Bowker’s writing manages to steer clear of descending into soap opera as he juggles numerous relationship storylines across six episodes. Making great use of its Lake District location this is a warm drama that treats its subject matter seriously whilst still finding a lovely humour that feels natural and respectful. 
1 episode / 44m / 4 June 2005
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Joe Ahearne
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), William Thomas (Mr Cleaver), Annette Badland (Margaret), John Barrowman (Captain Jack), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Mali Harries (Cathy), Aled Pedrick (Idris Hopper), Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen).
Plot: The TARDIS crew take a holiday, but the Doctor encounters an enemy he thought long since dead. A plan to build a nuclear power station in Cardiff City disguises an alien plot to rip the world apart. And when the Doctor dines with monsters, he discovers traps within traps.
Comment: The Slitheen (or rather one of them), first seen in the earlier Aliens of London/World War Three, return in this uneven episode, which mixes juvenile humour, in the entrapment of Annette Badland’s alien, with commentary on the Doctor’s unwillingness to face the effects of the changes he instigates. The episode is best when tackling the latter issues packaged around a restaurant dinner in which Badland’s Slitheen prods and pokes at the Doctor’s conscience. There is also the reuniting of Piper’s Rose with Clarke’s Mickey and Clarke manages to at last add some depth to his character. Barrowman continues to impress as Captain Jack, but in more of a support role here. The finale adds a little spectacle to the proceedings and the denouement is fairly neat. But overall the episode is another struggling to find the balance between the serious and the silly. In retrospect it is easy to understand Davies’ broad brush approach during this first season, with him being keen to attract a wide enough audience back to the series after its lengthy absence. Fortunately he would get it right in the season’s finale.
THE EMPTY CHILD / THE DOCTOR DANCES
2 episodes / 85m / 21 & 28 May 2005
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: James Hawes
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Kate Harvey (Nightclub Singer), Albert Valentine (The Child) Florence Hoath (Nancy), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd) Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness), Robert Hands (Algy), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr Constantine) Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child), Dian Perry (Computer Voice).
Plot: London, 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the army, while homeless children, living on the bomb sites, are being terrorised by an unearthly child.
Comment: Atmospheric, funny, frightening and terrifically entertaining this remains one of the series’ all-time classics. The haunting “Are you my mummy?” plea of the gas-mask faced child is unforgettable. The story was shot entirely at night and set during the London Blitz. The visual effects work is impressive, notably during the scenes where Rose is hanging from a barrage balloon rope. Barrowman makes his debut as Captain Jack Harkness and immediately strikes up an excellent chemistry with the two leads. Eccleston was right when in the finale he claimed he was “on fire”. His performance here hits just the right mix of gravity and humour and his “Everybody lives” speech is the most uplifting moment in the series’ history. Full of witty one-liners, scary moments and one of the best cliffhanger resolutions, this is a story that lives long in the memory.
1 episode / 43m / 14 May 2005
Writer: Paul Cornell
Director: Joe Ahearne
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Robert Barton (Registrar), Julia Joyce (Young Rose), Christopher Llewellyn (Stuart), Frank Rozelaar-Green (Sonny), Natalie Jones (Sarah), Eirlys Bellin (Bev), Rhian James (Suzie), Casey Dyer (Young Mickey).
Plot: Rose travels back to 1987, to witness the day her father died. But when she interferes in the course of events, the monstrous Reapers are unleashed upon the world, and a wedding day turns into a massacre. Even the Doctor is powerless, as the human race is devoured.
Comment: Powerful and emotive episode that tugs at the heartstrings like no other story in the series to date. Cornell’s script may feel manipulative, but it plays nicely against the paradox of time travel. Ahearne also directs with energy and encourages exceptional performances from the main cast. By now Eccleston and Piper have established a strong enough rapport for the audience to believe Rose when she says the Doctor can never leave her. Dingwall is also excellent as Rose’s father, who’s bickering relationship with her mother bursts Rose’s idealistic fantasy of an idyllic marriage. The denouement is sympathetically played and is guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house.
THE LONG GAME
1 episode / 45m / 7 May 2005
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Brian Grant
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Bruno Langley (Adam), Colin Prockter (Head Chef), Christine Adams (Cathica), Anna Maxwell-Martin (Suki), Simon Pegg (The Editor), Tamsin Greig (Nurse), Judy Holt (Adam’s Mum).
Plot: Adam discovers the wonders of travelling in the Tardis. In the far future, Satellite 5 broadcasts to the entire Earth Empire. But anyone promoted to Floor 500 is never seen again, and the Doctor suspects mankind is being manipulated. Does Adam have what it takes to become the Time Lord’s companion?
Comment: This episode is largely unremarkable and is the second in this series (after THE END OF THE WORLD) to use a space station setting. The premise doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny and the CGI monster of the week does little but show its fangs. Simon Pegg adds some wit to the proceedings as The Editor, but outside of the regulars the cast is largely unremarkable – save for Tamsin Greig’s poker-faced nurse. The direction by Grant is quite flat but there are a couple of memorable sequences – notably as Maxwell-Martin’s Suki explores Floor 500. A trend has been setting in through the series in that lead writer, Davies, has been responsible for the weaker scripts to date. Grand ideas lacking in logic and often held back by juvenile humour. Thankfully here that is kept in check and whilst the story fails to excite, it is not a disaster – merely bland. Also, thankfully, Langley was not kept on as a companion.