TV Review – CRACKER : WHITE GHOST (1996)

Image result for cracker white ghostCRACKER: WHITE GHOST (TV) (UK, 1996) **
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 28 October 1996; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Richard Standeven; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head, Delia Fine; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Andrew Hall, Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: David Butterworth; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton, Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Nick Steer.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Barnaby Kay (Dennis Philby), Freda Foh Shen (D.C.I. Janet Lee Cheung), Michael Pennington (Commander Gordon Ellison), Rene Liu (Su Lin Tang), Benedict Wong (Peter Yang), Glen Goei (Dr. Frank Sunny), David Bradley (Frank Carter), Pik Sen Lim (Wei Wei).
      Synopsis: A British businessman operating in Hong Kong has feelings of inferiority and turns to murder when he faces bankruptcy.
      Comment: The first post-series Cracker special suffers from its location transfer to Hong Kong. Whilst this adds a sense of international scale, the production lacks the gritty northern interplay between the cast and is based around a storyline that is pure genre formula. Fitz again too easily comes up with the right deductive answers and this is a problem for maintaining any level of authenticity or dramatic tension. Tomlinson’s appearance is a token gesture and largely played for comedic effect – devaluing the character. This would be the last appearance of Coltrane as Fitz for ten years, until 2006’s CRACKER, which saw the return of creator and scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern.

TV Review – CRACKER: TRUE ROMANCE (1995)

Image result for CRACKER TRUE ROMANCECRACKER: TRUE ROMANCE (TV) (UK, 1995) **½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 20 & 27 November 1995; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Tim Fywell; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Anthony Ham; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Mark Stonehouse; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Emily Joyce (Janice), Rosemary Martin (Irene Jackson), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Fleur Bennett (Nena), Tess Thomson (Katie), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: A lab technician, working at the same university as Fitz, begins to electrocute male students in order to gain the attention of the psychologist.
      Comment: The final story of the regular series run for Cracker is an overly-contrived thriller with strong echoes of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992). As such it comes across more as derivative than innovative, separating this production from the best stories of the series by some distance. Joyce as the besotted and twisted killer lacks subtlety and depth in both the characterisation and performance. Coltrane’s Fitz acts out of character at numerous points in the story, betraying Abbott’s detached nature from Jimmy McGovern’s creation. Two specials followed – CRACKER: WHITE GHOST (1996) and CRACKER (2006).

TV Review – CRACKER: BEST BOYS (1995)

Image result for cracker best boysCRACKER: BEST BOYS (TV) (UK, 1995) ***½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 6 & 13 November 1995; Running Time: 99m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Charles McDougall; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Bill Crutcher; Wardrobe Supervisor: Michael Richards; Make-up: Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Liam Cunningham (Grady), John Simm (Bill), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Annette Ekblom (Diane Nash), John Langford (Brian Nash), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie), Paul Barber (Ian McVerry), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: Stuart Grady, a lonely factory foreman, befriends a young male employee and the disturbed runaway involves them both in murder.
      Comment: The second story of the final full season of Cracker is written by Paul Abbott (later famous for creating the TV series Shameless). Whilst Abbott fashions another solid psychological crime drama, he dumbs down some of the detective work with most of Fitz’s deductions requiring a substantial leap of faith. The strength of the show lies in its excellent performances and this story is well served by a very strong cast – with Cunningham and Simm particularly notable in early roles. The finale drops back into genre convention and the scene’s climax is predictably shocking. Technical credits are strong with Wentworth’s moody score adding to the atmosphere.

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: 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.