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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 30 July 2007
I remember being packed off to bed whenever my parents would settle down to watch the latest episode of Cracker - my parents none-too-keen on letting their ten year old watch such a dark and disturbing reality-based drama - so I've only really become familiar with it through subsequent TV repeats and now through this DVD box-set. As others have noted, the original shows are absolutely astounding, and more-than stand-up to repeated viewings over a decade on.

Throughout each of the ten episodes (often broken into two or three hour-long episodes when shown on television) we see Jimmy McGovern's writing at a consistent peak. Not only are the stories interesting, intelligent and believable, they're also filled with strong characters, brilliant dialog (that goes from the shocking - Albie's confession towards the end of episode three, To Be A Somebody - to the dramatic - much of the dialogue at the end of Brotherly Love - right the way through to the comedic - the great back-and-forth banter between Fitz and the police), whilst the whole show is taken even further into the realms of greatness thanks to the astounding direction and tremendous performances from the highly esteemed cast. There's also the "soap-opera" elements of each of the three series, too - which keeps our interest in the characters and guarantees our return to each subsequent episode - with McGovern layering each of the crime-stories alongside scenes depicting Fitz's troubled home-life, and the various sub-plots of the cops... most notably, DCI David Bilborough, DS Wise, DS Jane Penhaligon, and the tortured DS Jimmy Beck.

The stories are always great... from the low-key first episode, The Mad Woman in the Attic, to the international Hong-Kong set 1996 special, White Ghost, with McGovern (and later Paul Abbot, who took over for the final two episodes of series three) tying the drama to characters we can believe in and villains that are never two-dimensional caricatures. My favourite episodes include episode two, To Say I Love You, One Day A Lemming Will Fly, To Be A Somebody, Men Should Weep and Brotherly Love, with McGovern looking at standard themes, like guilt, revenge, gambling, petty-theft, alcoholism and accidental death, alongside more topical or, indeed, controversial issues, like rape, murder, religious fanaticism, racism, paedophilia, kidnap and suicide. Episode one of the second series, To Be A Somebody, even went one-step further to involve a more social (or political) agenda with the allusions to the Hillsborough tragedy. This episode would be the real turning point for the whole series, with McGovern orchestrating the brutal murder of one of the central characters, which will have a devastating ripple effect on the lives of Beck and Penhaligon in subsequent episodes, Men Should Weep and Brotherly Love.

Brotherly Love is perhaps my favourite episode of the entire series, featuring strong and striking direction from Roy Battersby, great writing from McGovern and a tremendous set of performances from guest-stars Brid Brennan, David Calder, Ruth Sheen and an absolutely standout performance from Lorcan Cranitch as the volatile Jimmy Beck. Throughout the series, the performances of the central characters are always believable and compelling, with each member of the cast getting their own big-dramatic storyline (the aforementioned Lorcan and his gradual decent through Men Should Weep and Brotherly Love; Christopher Eccleston is fantastic throughout the first series, building to his confrontational scene half-way through To Be A Somebody; and Geraldine Somerville is suitably affecting in one of the most controversial storylines, Men Should Weep). Meanwhile, we have the central performance of Robbie Coltrane as Fitz, the titular "cracker", who creates a completely realistic and believable character, completely at odds with the kind of work he was known for prior to the series.

As impressive as the lead cast is, there is strong support from a wide-array of British acting talent, with the likes of Adrian Dunbar, Andrew Tiernan, Susan Lynch, Tim Healy, Frances Tomelty, Jim Carter, James Fleet, Ricky Tomlinson, Paul Barber, Liam Cunningham, Emily Joyce (and so on, and so on...) all giving great, dramatic performances, whilst the series also introduced us to a wide-range of new acting talent, particularly Robert Carlyle, Samantha Morton and John Simm. The series would also bring together a collection of excellent TV technicians, producers and directors, most notably Tim Fywell (To Be A Somebody, True Romance), Andy Wilson (To Say I Love You), Jean Stuart (Men Should Weep), Roy Battersby (Brotherly Love) and Simon Cellan-Jones (One Day A Lemming Will Fly), et al, as well as offering an early break for now-acclaimed British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, who, at thirty-one, would follow his episode of Cracker (The Mad Woman in the Attic) with a clutch of award-winning films, from Jude, to Welcome to Sarajevo, through to Wonderland, Twenty-Four-Hour Party People, In This World and, more recently, 9 Songs.

For me, this is one of the greatest TV-drama series' of the last decade... as essential and rewarding as the likes of Pennies From Heaven, The Decalogue, The Singing Detective and Twin Peaks (only much less convoluted than those classics) and, is a testament, along with Hillsborough and The Lakes, to the writing talents of Jimmy McGovern. Some would argue that the series went downhill after his departure, with Abbot's episodes, Best Boys and True Romance, often featuring fairly low on fan's "top-ten" episode polls, though I think this has more to do with the mammoth task of returning to something low-key after the escalating melodrama of To Be A Somebody, Men Should Weep and Brotherly Love ( it happens, I'm quite fond of Best Boys... particularly the astonishing performance work of John Simm and Liam Cunningham in the central roles).

Although it has no extra-features, this DVD box set is still a must-have purchase, with Cracker still seeming as intelligent, interesting and emotionally affecting ten-years on, as it no doubt seemed when first broadcast over a decade ago.
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on 11 April 2009
Written by Jimmy McGovern, this is an emotive Roller Coaster of a series. Robbie Coltrane plays Fitz, a man who spends his working life solving psychological problems of all around him, but is clearly the man most in need of help.

Fitz has problems.....drinking problems, gambling problems, women problems, money problems and health issues. The earlier episodes highlight inadequate policing, in judgement and in ability. Set in the North West of England Fitz slowly works his way into permanently working for the police and helping solve many of their most complex cases. Coltrane is a man of the people and McGovern writes as a man of the people.

I could pick out a few weaknesses, but why bother? I sit down to an episode and I blink, before it is over, totally enthralling. The best acting seems to go to the villains. From a stuttering cop killer to a mentally disturbed Hillsborough avenger. Apart from Coltrane you'll be treated to performances from Robert Carlyle, Christopher Ecclestone and many recognisable faces.
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on 28 August 2009
I'll endorse everything that's been said about the excellence of the writing, and the consistently brilliant performances, esp. from Robbie Coltrane and Geraldine Somerville. But the three stars are a warning that there can be production faults with this box set: last night we sat down to watch the disk labelled "True Romance", only to find that the actual content was "White Ghost" (the not-so-outstanding Hong Kong episode). And unfortunately the disk labelled "White Ghost" was also "White Ghost." So, if you buy it -- and I'd recommend it to all -- do a quick preview of each disk when the product arrives.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 January 2009
Cracker was Coltrane's finest hour. He IS Fitz, the classic antihero of the piece. He's obnoxious; he's large; he's an unrepentant gambler and drinker; he's sometimes wrong, and the consequences are serious; his wit is sharp and his humour's as black as ichor; he's human, and thus one of the finest TV characters ever written.

The cases are generally interesting. There are some high points, and some episodes that don't match those, but I won't say which as this is all subjective. They are uniformly well written and acted, however.

Very highly recommended for anyone in the mood for a cerebral crime drama that doesn't pull any punches.
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on 29 December 2006
Our hero here is a fat, sweaty, womanising, gambling alcoholic. The setting is slate-grey dreary, gritty Manchester. The subject matter is murder and rape, race and kidnap. Yet is it uplifting to watch because the quality of the series, particularly in the early episodes is so delightfully rare.

The episodes are `why dunnits' rather then `who dunnits' and it is Fitz, played brilliantly by Robbie Coltrane is a genius psychologist with a rare gift to unravel a criminal mind, that plays them out. From the start of the series, when we watch him give a lecture and throw books at students, it is clear he is a magnetic character. What makes him so likable is his brutal honesty and his inability to conform.

However, it is the whole package that makes `Cracker' so essential. The scripts, Jimmy McGovern are superb. He is a national treasure.

There is also the strength of the supporting cast. In particular, I liked the characters of Jane `Panhandle' Penhaligan, and DCI Bilborough, (Christopher Eccleston in one of his finest roles) and the unhinged D.S Jimmy Beck.

The greatest episodes are when these characters are involved and when McGovern writes. These episodes in themselves warrant the highest mark possible for this collection. The quality tails off slightly after this but the series is always engrossing.

This box set does not offer any extras, but I doubt that many people will care. This is simply British drama at its finest, and essential viewing.
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on 16 June 2009
This is one of those series, that if you didn't catch it when it was originally on TV, you will be amazed and awed. Everything is well done. The acting, the writing, the timing, the direction, choice of material. Some of it will have you disgusted, fascinated, pulled in and wanting to look away but want more. It's like driving past a car crash.

The array of actors in this is such that you watch it now and see all these now familiar faces starting out. It is definitely one of those "ooh that's such and such!" series.

Robbie Coltraine is perfectly cast as a flawed alcoholic, gambling, cheating, brilliant psychologist.
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on 7 March 2007
If you are like me then you grew up with Robbie C in the Young Ones and the Comic Strip - right? Could you ever have imagined him less than a decade later playing a tough but compromised psychologist drawn into Manchester's crime world through results and building reputation?

No of course not.

This is what Robbie Coltrane does so well; building the character (possibly with Jimmy Mc's help of course) into the story line and seeing strong development as the series progressed. His character acting is simply inspired.

Stories are typical Mr McGovern, strong, powerful and ever-so-slightly unbelievable with characters to match.

Very powerful, excellent British crime drama. Do they write like this anymore? With the exception of the McGovern Cracker episode penned and aired a year or so ago (included here) and possibly the last of the Prime Suspect films, probably not. Turn off your reality TV stuff and plug into this. When you are done with all Cracker, go get Prime Suspect and do the same again; More strong stories, charatcers and early 90's fashions/cars/mobile phones.

....If, on the other hand you know Robbie Coltrane best as a huge bearded school caretaker with a passion for owls and spiders... well you are either too young to watch Fitz or you are old enough to have kids of your own... :)

Highly, highly recommended.
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on 22 March 2010
This has to be one of my favourite TV shows. Robbie Coltrane plays Fitz, a man desperate to be living on the edge. He ignores his long suffering wife and two children to help the police solve a murder - a student of his that he was extremely close to. He gets results and the series starts for real - more murders and more cases needing a psychological profile, but along the way drives other people to distraction by challenging them, insulting them and psychoanalysing them. He spends more and more time on police cases and away from his family, and more time with Penhaligan, a female detective who both loathes and likes him. As the series progresses we see many reasons why Fitz has the relationships he does. He is both arrogant and charming, generous and selfish and drinks, gambles and smokes way too much, but we love him anyway.
There are several great stories in this DVD set, and some brill actors popping up along the way - Samantha Morton and Robert Carlyle probably the best. Robert Carlyle's character was truly disturbing, and at this point I realised how good Jimmy McGovern's writing was. At times, Fitz would meet a killer who could analyse him too, and the dialogue would be fascinating.
The show is set in Manchester in the mid to late 90s and I love looking at Manchester and how it used to be - the old Arndale, Victoria station etc, all before the bombing and regeneration - the skyline is markedly different.
For me, this show set the bar high for all the police dramas that came after it, and very few came close. This boxed set covers all the episodes including the 1996 "White Ghost" but doesn't include the 2006 episode.
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on 29 December 2015
Robbie Coltrane is peerless in his portrayal of 'Fitz' - a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, addicted gambler and failing husband and father, who is, nonetheless, a quite brilliant and cognitive super psychologist who perceives and roots-out the evil in a variety of evil-doers. The police don't always thank him for it either. There must be a better expression than 'addictively watchable,' - if it were a book it would be 'unputdownable.'
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on 17 July 2009
With this dvd-set you get 11 episodes of the best crime-television there is. Robbie Coltrane at the top of his acting, he IS Fitz.
After watching all stories, the only thing you want to do is watch them again. And again. And again.
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