The Right Profile
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 22nd entry, ITV’s Cracker…
Creator: Jimmy McGovern
Stars: Robbie Coltrane, , Geraldine Somerville, Barbara Flynn, Kieran O’Brien, Lorcan Cranitch, Ricky Tomlinson, Christopher Eccleston
When Cracker, Robbie Coltrane’s signature turn as seriously flawed criminal psychologist Edward Fitzgerald arrived, it proved to be somewhat of a game changer. Created by Jimmy McGovern, who had begun his career on Channel 4 soap Brookside, Cracker was like no other crime show protagonist British TV had ever seen before. Made as standalone TV movies with story threads running across multiple episodes, Cracker was probably the most ambitious and innovative British investigative drama up to that point.
Coltrane, who up until then was best-known for appearing in shows like John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti and various comedy appearances in Channel 4’s The Comic Strip Presents in the 1980s, turned in the performance of his career in this series. Playing a degenerate gambler, chain smoker and a man who runs up huge debts, Coltrane is mesmeric on screen, a figure who has seemingly done everything wrong in his life yet the audience warms to him anyway. His own life is disastrous, but he has a unique ability to unravel other people’s psychological issues, and succeeds in solving crimes which have perplexed the finest forensic experts in Manchester’s police force.
A quality crime or procedural show would of course be nothing without its supporting actors. So while Cracker was an exceptional star vehicle for Coltrane, support from the likes of Christopher Eccleston, who played DCI Bilborough, the psychopathic Albie (Robert Carlyle), Geraldine Somerville as the buttoned-up junior policewoman Penhaligon, (who works as a brilliant counterpoint to Fitz’s cavalier lead)and Lorcan Cranitch as the bitter and off-balance Jimmy Beck are all top-draw ensemble players. Barbara Flynn as Fitz’s long-suffering wife Judith and Kieron O’Brien as his son Mark are also excellent too.
Cracker was appointment television, but more significantly threw out the rule book by allowing characters to be dispensable, such as when Penhaligon is brutally raped at the hands of someone she knows, while the death of Bilborough is one of the finest and most surprising moments in modern television.
The quality did dip a little after McGovern left and there was a forgettable one-off installment involving Cracker going to Hong Kong. However, the show achieved so much, introducing viewers to so many superstar actors to be like Robert Carlyle, John Simm, Samantha Morton, Andrew Tiernan, making its legacy unquestionable. Since the show ended, Coltrane became better known as Hagrid, but it is Cracker that he will always be remembered for by devotees.
Cracker is on now on Amazon in the UK and in The US too