Cracker: To Be A Somebody [DVD]
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Another case for hard-drinking criminal psychologist Fitz (Robbie Coltrane). Albie (Robert Carlyle) is a young man who, psychologically disturbed by the events of Hillsborough and the death of his father, attacks and kills an Asian newsagent. The police believe it to be a racist attack but draw a blank in their investigations into right-wing groups, and so call in Fitz to help with their enquiries.
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I'm surprised I didn't come back to this sooner. Coltrane is perfect as Fitz. Many have tried to play the angry, hard-drinking detective but nobody comes within a country mile of this acid-tongued colossus. He is hilarious at times, genius, tragic and brutal at others. Add to that, the utterly convincing performance of Robert Carlyle as psychotic skin headed killer, Albie Kinsella; the beautiful and poignant writing of Jimmy McGovern; and a rock-solid supporting cast (including a great Christopher Eccleston, Ricky Tomlinson and sultry Geraldine Somerville as `Panhandle') and it is pretty incomparable.
If you like crime dramas and haven't seen Cracker, get this episode, you'll probably buy the boxset. If, like me, you thought it was good at the time but have forgotten just how good, do yourself a favour and give it another go, you won't be disappointed.
Albie, a working-class Liverpool supporter, is distraught after his father's death. When an Asian shopkeeper refuses him change, a frustrated Albie goes home and shaves his head, then returns to the shop and murders the man with his late father's bayonet. While the police attempt to deal with the racial tension in the area following the death, Albie kills again, only this time it is a white, middle-class psychologist. As we soon find out, Albie's hatred does not only encompass other races, but anyone who "assumes things" about him.
Jimmy McGovern, as ever, deals with topics as sensitive as Hillsborough and racism with great care, while still making us think. What is even more remarkable is that he manages to deal with these issues while creating for us a riveting, encaptivating piece of television. Despite the length of the story, you won't want to leave your seat until it's over.
This is as close to flawless television as you will get. Forget Inspectors Morse and Frost, this is in an entirely different league. Admittedly, it is not comfortable, "armchair" viewing, with one of Albie's murders being portrayed very shockingly. However, it still manages to retain its charm.
This is primarily achieved through the character of Fitz (Robbie Coltrane). Fitz is, without a doubt, one of the most brilliant characters even shown on television. He is a man so full of contradictions, that in the hands of anyone other than McGovern, he would undoubtedly become unrealistic. Here we have a man who can look at a person and, in one second, immediately tell what is going on in that person's mind. Fitz is blessed with a brilliant sense of humour, the gift of the gab, a quick mind, a good heart and a determination to find the truth in things. However, he is also cursed: he is a gambler, an alcoholic, overweight, a hypocrite, a dreadful husband and an appalling father. How can one encapsulate all that in one character, and still make him believable?
By casting Robbie Coltrane, that's how. Coltrane is the perfect choice. Admittedly, it is hard to ignore the fact that many aspects of Coltrane's personality are shown in Fitz, but the character has such charm and intrigue that you cannot help but hang on every word he says.
Take the scene towards the end of the story, in which Albie is being held in police custody. He has been chanting his favourite football motto: "L-I-V, E-R-P, O-O-L, Liverpool FC".
"We've had eight hours of this," D.C.I. Wise (Ricky Tomlinson) explains to Fitz as he prepares to confront Albie. By this stage we are all wondering just how Fitz is going to deal with the man. We know he will have to do something extroadinary to get Albie's attention - but what?
Fitz enters the interrogation room.
"L-I-V, E-R-P, O-O-L, Liverpool FC!" Albie repeatedly chants. Fitz stares at him for a few seconds, then bellows: "CELTIC! CELTIC! CELTIC!" The two of them have a shouting match for a few moments, then Albie falls silent, beaten into submission.
This is why Fitz is such a wonderful character. He is like a magician, we never know what crafty technique he will use next. However, "Cracker" fans will know that Fitz is only at his most riveting when his opponent is as memorable, and Albie is as about as memorable as they come. We watch him dispatch four people, each time growing in confidence, and we even start to feel sympathy for him as the bigotries and prejudices of the people around him are revealed. As the story progresses, we begin to root for Albie, despite all the harm that he causes, and, I'm not ashamed to say, you begin to understand why he kills and be affected by his story.
I cannot praise this story enough. While not quite as harrowing as some of the later episodes, it certainly deserves its reputation as one of the most exciting and enthralling of them all. Great acting from all concerned, and, once again, Jimmy McGovern's writing provides the vital foundations for this towering achievement in television. Here we have proof that not all television is mindless and brain-numbing. Here we have proof that television can be effectively used to draw people's attention to sensitive issues, while still providing wonderful entertainment.
An early acting experience by Robert Carlyle really steals the show as a troubled man who has had more than his fair share of bad luck - break down of his marriage, death of his father and most of all coping with the Hillsborough Football Tragedy.
A chilling insight into how circumstances can push some one just too far, and how people deal with guilt, grief and regret.
A real crime that this drama series came to an end....