"Cracker: The Complete Collection," is our first opportunity to acquire all eleven of the riveting mysteries in the highly-praised British television series of crime dramas. It comes as a deluxe set of ten disks that includes all three series of the long-running British mystery (1993-95), two standalone TV movies, and a 45-minute behind-the-scenes retrospective documentary. It runs approximately 22 ½ hours all told, and also includes, thank goodness, and thank you Acorn Media Group, subtitles for each episode: it would, otherwise, be rather difficult for us on this side of the pond to make out the Manchester accent, as that handsome, ethnically diverse northern English city is where the series was largely filmed, and the actors encouraged to utilize its hard-on-the-ears accent. The series has shown here on the A & E network, and on BBC America: it was made by Granada for broadcast over the independent TV stations (ITV) in the United Kingdom.
Jimmy McGovern (The Street), a hugely talented writer who has traveled far on, and from, his Celtic working class Liverpool origins, created the series and wrote several of the strongest episodes. The series stars the very large Scottish Robbie Coltrane, who took his stage name in homage to the American jazzman John Coltrane; he was better-known at that time as a comic actor (Nuns on the Run, I believe, is where I first saw him, playing with Eric Idle). Coltrane made the role of Cracker, Edward Fitzgerald, a brilliant but deeply flawed forensic psychologist, who frequently worked with the police, his own; and his extraordinary work in it made him famous. He has gone on to play in Ocean's Twelve,GoldenEye, and as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films. Coltrane is volcanic in "Cracker," and there are those who will say, like "The Philadelphia Inquirer," that it is his greatest role.
Mind you, Coltrane plays Fitz as an abrasive, egocentric man, addicted to alcohol, cigarettes and gambling: the character drinks a bottle of scotch a day; smokes 50-60 cigarettes, and keeps his family in constant financial turmoil with his gambling. Coltrane is backed in this series by an excellent supporting cast: Christopher Eccleston (Heroes, Doctor Who), as DCI David Bilborough; Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter series), as DS Jane Penhaligan; and Barbara Flynn (The Beiderbecke Affair), as Fitz's long-suffering wife, Judith.
In addition, the producers have gone out and hired some of the best actors around - and a lot of Celts-- for guest star spots. The often-seen Irish actors Adrian Dunbar, and Susan Lynch each carry an episode, he as Kelly in the first, "The Madwoman in the Attic," a story of railway murders based on a real murder that took place in a train en route to London in the early 90s. She, Lynch, carries the second episode, "To Say I Love You," as Tina; both are powerful performers in powerful stories. The veteran, well-known character actress Beryl Reid also shows up in this second episode, as Fitz's horse-playing mother. The intense Scottish actor Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty - Fully Exposed Edition), as Albie, a skinhead, carries the fourth episode "To Be a Somebody," so well, people are still talking about it. The almost-equally intense English actress Samantha Morton carries the fifth episode, one written by Ted Whitehead rather than McGovern, "The Big Crunch," as a teenage schoolgirl too naïve for her own good. The lovely Fleur Bennett carries the ninth, "True Romance," as an achingly vulnerable young woman: she too, I believe, started in comedy, or at any rate I saw her first as Mavis Moulterd, country-girl/straight-woman to John Inman's Mr. Humphries in the early 90's Are You Being Served? Again! (The Complete Series)
McGovern's scripts are tight, cunning, and fast, no leisurely British exposition here, and capable of continual surprises. Whitehead's are very good, but not quite. Paul Abbot's scripts are fine, but not in the same stratosphere. In Abbot's 9th episode, "True Romance," we suddenly get a left-wing; anti-Thatcher outburst of the sort that could quite ruin McGovern's final script included here, the 2006 standalone, "A New Terror," for a lot of people. There is also a 1996 standalone, "The White Ghost," nice script by Abbot, set in that fascinating and beautiful, tropical, oriental and British city, Hong Kong, in that fraught time shortly before its July 1st, 1997 handover to the Chinese.
Granada certainly didn't stint on this series; it's lavishly filmed, with plenty of cars and people in the urban streets, auditoriums and nightclubs full of students. Direction was excellent, from Antonia Bird and Michael Winterbottom, among others. The music, from a number of talented men, also adds to the mood. The Hong Kong mystery really gives you an eyeful of that great city. The series won more than 25 major awards, including two BAFTAs for best drama series, and three for best actor for Coltrane. Many critics, including one at "The Boston Globe" consider it the best made-for-TV-mystery or cop series. And me? I won't lie to you: I have always loved this series.