TV Review – CRACKER (2006)

Image result for cracker a new terrorCRACKER (TV) (UK, 2006) ***½
      Distributor: Granada Television; Production Company: Granada Television / ITV Productions; Release Date: 1 October 2006; Running Time: 109m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: Super 16; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Antonia Bird; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Andy Harries; Producer: John Chapman; Director of Photography: Florian Hoffmeister; Music Composer: Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Morris, Conboy Corker; Film Editor: Chris Barwell; Casting Director: Andy Pryor; Production Designer: Tom Bowyer; Art Director: Anna Pritchard; Costume Designer: Rhona Russell; Make-up: Jessica Taylor; Sound: Dennis Cartwright.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Anthony Flanagan (Kenny Archer), Nisha Nayar (DS Saffron Saleh), Richard Coyle (DI Walters), Rafe Spall (DS McAllister), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Andrea Lowe (Elaine Archer), Stefanie Wilmore (Katy Fitzgerald), Lisa Eichhorn (Jean Molloy), Demetri Goritsas (Harry Peters), Sara Roache (Chief Super), Matt Rippy (Molloy – American Comedian), Leo Gregory (Wallet Thief), Rosina Carbone (Maria Fitzgerald).
      Synopsis: Fitz returns to Manchester for his daughter’s wedding, but is soon involved in another murder investigation when an American comedian is killed, apparently without motive.
      Comment: Ten years after the last special (CRACKER: WHITE GHOST) was broadcast, Cracker returned along with its creator and chief writer, Jimmy McGovern. The result is an absorbing and heavily political portrait of a former soldier struggling to come to terms with PTSD. Faced with self-loathing and a hatred for Americans due to their perceived support of the IRA and their response to Nine-Eleven. There are echoes of McGovern’s masterpiece TO BE A SOMEBODY in this story’s portrayal of the soldier’s descent into murder in order to extract his own form of justice. Coltrane slips easily back into his role of psychologist Fitz, called in by the police to help track down the murderer. Flanagan is also excellent as the damaged soldier. Where this story falls short in comparison to the series is in its portrait of the detectives – who here are two-dimensional in characterisation and lacking in the dark humour of their earlier counterparts. On the whole, though, this is a satisfying conclusion to the series and significantly better than the last couple of stories – although the finale, which again resorts to genre convention, lacks the finesse seen across the rest of the story.

TV Review – CRACKER: BROTHERLY LOVE (1995)

Image result for cracker brotherly loveCRACKER: BROTHERLY LOVE (TV) (UK, 1995) ****½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 22 & 29 October 1995; Running Time: 150m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Roy Battersby; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Edward Mansell; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Bill Crutcher; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), David Calder (Michael Harvey), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Mark Lambert (David Harvey), Brid Brennan (Maggie Harvey), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Polly Hemingway (Denise Fletcher), Ruth Sheen (Jean McIlvanney), Ron Donachie (Barney), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Paul Copley (Pathologist), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie).
      Synopsis: A prostitute is found raped and murdered, opening old wounds at the station. Beck returns to work after a breakdown, and tensions rise between him and Penhaligon. With the main suspect under lock and key, the police are stunned to uncover two more brutal murders in the space of a few days, and whilst suffering the distraction of becoming a father again, Fitz has to cope with a complex case, the tormented Penhaligon, and a far from recovered Jimmy Beck.
      Comment: The first story of the third series of Cracker sees McGovern bring to a head a number of threads carried forward from earlier stories against the backdrop of the hunt for a serial rapist. The script is top-notch and expertly builds tension through its exploration of themes of Catholicism, prostitution, guilt, retribution and redemption. In fact, so much is packed into the story that McGovern does well to keep all the plates spinning right to the shocking conclusion. The cast is first-rate – notably Brennan as the wronged wife and Cranitch as the guilt-ridden detective who is gradually becoming psychologically unravelled. Coltrane continues to live and breathe his flawed psychologist hero whose professional expertise is at odds with the mess of his family life, now with a new addition. This would be McGovern’s last contribution to the series until its one-off revival eleven years later and the series never got this good again.

TV Review – CRACKER: MEN SHOULD WEEP (1994)

Image result for cracker men should weepCRACKER: MEN SHOULD WEEP (TV) (UK, 1994) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 21, 28 November & 5 December 1994; Running Time: 149m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Jean Stewart; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Nick Wilkinson; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Graham Aggrey (Floyd Malcolm), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Alexander Newland (Marvin Malcolm), Julie Saunders (Bev Malcolm), Rachel Davies (Mrs Malcolm), Ludmilla Vuli (Trish), John McArdle (Tom Carter), Marian McLoughlin (Catherine Carter), Wil Johnson (Skelton), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough),Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie).
      Synopsis: Floyd Malcolm, a black taxi driver, lashes out at white men who disrespect him by raping their wives and destroying the evidence, and strikes at the heart of Fitz’s personal life when Penhaligon is raped.
      Comment: Jimmy McGovern returns to script the final story of the second series of Cracker and it is an absorbing drama. The central story of a serial rapist fuelled by racial insecurity is well-written. The drama also has a twist which brings matters closer to home as Penhaligon (Somerville) becomes a victim – only to realise her attacker is not the man the police are hunting down. Performances are top-notch as usual and the drama only loses its shape in its final act, when genre conventions threaten to de-rail it. Fortunately, the direction and acting are so strong it just about makes it through as we are left on a cliff-hanger ending.

TV Review – CRACKER: THE BIG CRUNCH (1994)

Cracker (UK) - 02x04 The Big Crunch (1)CRACKER: THE BIG CRUNCH (TV) (UK, 1994) ***½
Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 31 October, 7 & 14 November 1994; Running Time: 147m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Julian Jarrold; Writer: Ted Whitehead; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Oral Norrie Ottey; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Claire Kenny; Art Director: Chris Coldwell; Sound: Chris Coldwell.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Jim Carter (Kenneth Trant), Cherith Mellor (Norma Trant), Maureen O’Brien (Virginia Trant), Samantha Morton (Joanna Barnes), James Fleet (Michael Trant), Darren Tighe (Dean Saunders), Roger Sloman (Mr Barnes), Ellie Haddington (Mrs Barnes), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Emma Cunniffe (Sarah Jennings), Nicholas Blane (Father O’Ryan), Tess Thomson (Katie).
Synopsis: A young girl missing for several days is discovered naked, covered in strange symbols and quoting the Bible. The trail leads to a fringe Christian sect and its charismatic leader, Kenneth Trant.
Comment: Fifth story in the Cracker series is the first not to be written by Jimmy McGovern. The setting switches from the inner-city working-class to middle-class suburbia. The story’s focus on religious hypocrisy is a little heavy-handed with its denouement seeming contrived and unconvincing. The strengths of the production lie in the performances of its strong cast, notably Morton as the young girl besotted with Carter’s sect leader. Coltrane is as captivating as ever as Fitz, whose verbal sparring with Tomlinson’s chief of detectives is one of the highlights.

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 – 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.