BY ANDREW MOODY
When I was in my early twenties, every Christmas I’d ask for a box set of my favourite TV shows. Before Netflix and online streaming, these box sets were the only way I could watch my favourite shows. One of these turned out to be Cracker.
From 1993 to 1996, Robbie Coltrane starred in a groundbreaking police procedural tv show. As Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald, he was a criminal psychologist who, like Hannibal Lecter, had an innate understanding of human evil. Lecter has been the jump off point for all criminal profiling since his first appearance in Manhunter as Hannibal Lector. Fitz is a different kind of flawed character, a heavy drinking, chain smoking gambling addict, Fitz could recognize the motive inherent in the bloody murders he was hired by Manchester police to solve. Whether he was looking deep within the killer, or deep inside himself was never quite made clear.
“I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much, I am too much,” Fitz explains, but it’s his cerebral approach to crime fighting that warrants results.
“You’re an emotional rapist,” DS Jane Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville) tells him in the most famous episode of Cracker: To Be A Somebody after the murder of their boss DCI David Bilborough (Christopher Eccleston).
“You saw promotion. With Bilborough dead,” Fitz explains to her. “Come on, it’s better out than in. Yes?”
“Yes .You’re an emotional rapist, Fitz,”. Penhallagan and Fitz engage in an unlikely romantic relationship over the course of the three seasons, while his marriage breaks down due to his alcoholism and rampant gambling.
The series comprised of three seasons, each with three episodes, and two one off specials, White Ghost (1998) set entirely in Hong Kong, and a feature length episode in 2006, Nine Eleven/ A New Terror directed by Antonia Bird.
Created by acclaimed writer Jimmy McGovern, Cracker was inspired in part by Columbo. The murderers are seen before the investigation begins, and a seemingly ruffled and disheveled investigator cracks the case despite his outward appearance. Coltrane plays the role perfectly, overweight, drunk, brilliant, not surprisingly he appeared in dozens of secret crushes polled by various 90s magazines. His ability to dominate interrogations with various psychopaths and force confessions make him a compelling antihero.
The supporting cast are all sublime. DS Beck (Larcan Cranitch) is a tortured police detective with psychosexual problems, his climactic ordeal in the show has to be seen to be believed. Christopher Eccleston complained to McGovern that his was an empty role, and refused to come back for season 2 unless he was killed off. In one of the most moving and traumatic scenes in TV history, Robert Carlyle, playing a psychotic football fan looking to get revenge for the Hillsborough massacre, stabs him with his father’s bayonet and leaves him to bleed to death.
Ricky Tomlinson as DCI Wise replaced Eccleston as the boss of the Manchester unit. He joins Fitz in Hong Kong during the 1998 special White Ghost.
Robbie Coltrane won three BAFTAS in a row for Cracker, a record only shared with Michael Gambon, Julie Walters and Helen Mirren.
Jimmy McGovern is a lapsed Catholic with a passion for the North. He took police profiling to another level, with murder investigation often taking the back seat to seething tensions between the officers on the case. Taking Twin Peaks, Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, and The X Files as a starting point, he created in Fitz a legendary character, one of the most memorable police profilers in modern history. Both arrogant and acerbic, wounded and vulnerable, if you have yet to see Cracker (an enormous ratings winner in the early nineties) it’s available to stream for free on YouTube. Highly recommended, especially when the government has told us in no uncertain terms that we can’t leave our bubbles.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction_