Cracker — Killer TV No 10

max1221239162-frontback-coverITV, 1993-1996, 2006

‘You looking for a broken nose, pal?’ – Skinhead

Yeah, you know someone who can give me one, pal?’ – Fitz

Robbie Coltrane, Geraldine Somerville, Christopher Eccleston, Ricky Tomlinson, Lorcan Cranitch, Barbara Flynn

Identikit: A brilliant criminal psychologist with an addictive personality struggles to hold his personal life together while at the same time helping police to uncover vicious killers.

logos‘I’d prefer you not to smoke,’ says a cabbie to Dr Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald. ‘Tough,’ he replies. His wife would prefer he stopped gambling their mortgage away, his kids would prefer not to lend him money, ticket collectors would prefer he paid his fare, friends would prefer he didn’t drunkenly insult them, detectives would prefer he didn’t belittle their investigations. ‘I drink too much. I smoke too much. I gamble too much. I AM too much.’ Fitz made cop show anti-heroes look puny. In addition to the classic drink and marriage problems, he was fat and self-loathing. But he was brilliant, with the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes, which he used constantly to try to deflect the police from clichéd thinking and going for easy suspects. And he was superbly ironic – noting that he was born on the same day as Twiggy, or telling a cop, ‘I’ve forgotten more about amnesia than they’ll ever know.’ Cracker was made twenty-odd years ago, but stands alongside Prime Suspect as the most powerful British crime drama in that time, far superior to the formulaic procedurals in twee settings that channel execs play safe with these days. Death was never treated lightly as a plot device, and the stories – about male rage, murder, Hillsborough, justice, atonement – were engrossing and thought-provoking. Cracker had writing by Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott, directors including Michael Winterbottom, and guest actors of the calibre of Adrian Dunbar, Robert Carlyle, Samantha Morton and John Simm. All of which was topped by the inspired choice of casting Robbie Coltrane in the lead. Coltrane won three consecutive Baftas for his indelible portrayal.

Classic episode: To Be a Somebody, with Robert Carlyle as Albie, a skinhead who embarks on a killing spree to avenge the dead of Hillsborough.

Spin-off series: A US version made by ABC was set in LA with Robert Pastorelli in the lead, but lacked the edge of the original.

Watercooler fact: Fitz was originally envisaged as a wiry man, with Robert Lindsay and Keith Allen both considered for the role. James Gandolfini, future Tony Soprano, was approached for the US version, but turned down the role.

The Shadow Line — Killer TV No 25


Three’s a crowd: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Rea and Christopher Eccleston

BBC1, 2011

‘With what I see here, you try to find the line [of truth] on something like this, it’ll fur up your arteries so thick you’ll think you’re a fucking werewolf.’ – Sgt Foley on discovering the shot-to-death body of Harvey Wratten

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Rafe Spall, Lesley Sharp, Antony Sher, Stephen Rea, Kierston Wareing

Identikit: The murder of a drug baron just released from prison sets detectives and criminals on a chase to discover who ordered the hit.

logosATTRACTING SMALL audiences on BBC2, this conspiracy thriller – created, written and directed by Hugo Blick – nevertheless stood out as one of the most distinctive dramas of 2011. It opened with two uniform cops at the scene of a shooting, the victim being a criminal slumped in a car on a dark night. Dishonest sergeant Foley lingers over the corpse, preparing to inform one of his gangland associates before his own detectives. Moodily shot, with long scenes and a fixation on verbal tension and wordplay, this was a superb drama with mesmerising performances from the likes of Antony Sher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston and an unforgettable Stephen Rea as the chilling manipulator and mystery man Gatehouse. Blick made his name with comedies such as Marion and Geoff and Roger and Val Have Just Got In, but The Shadow Line was a brilliantly realised change of pace. Big-time drug smuggler Harvey Wratten ends up with two bullets in his head soon after his release from prison, and DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), recently recovered from a bullet to the head himself, is called in to investigate. He is plunged into a murky case where he can barely differentiate the goodies from the corrupt, is not even entirely sure whether he was corrupt himself before the bullet in his head disrupted his memories. The only reason he’s still alive, he is repeatedly told, is that he cannot remember certain things. Ejiofor’s riveting performance is accompanied by some great turns from the amazing Rea and the likes of Rafe Spall as Wratten’s psychotic nephew, Kierston Wareing as Gabriel’s mouthy colleague, and Antony Sher as the super secretive Glickman, one-time partner of Wratten’s, now on the run. The Shadow Line took the motifs of the cop drama, such as the opening scene in which a body is usually discovered, and invested them with depths of menace and metaphysical conflict. The series got a mixed critical response after its opening episode from reviewers unused to its dense noir style, but by its conclusion it was praised. Towards the end of its seven-episode run, it veered a little into convoluted and unbelievable terrain, but overall it was a superbly dark and original piece of storytelling.

Classic episode: Episode five is a stormer, as Gatehouse finally locates Glickman in Ireland, where this lethal operator is posing as a cuddly clock seller. Gatehouse has already been shown to be a remorseless and dismayingly efficient killer, so we expect these to be Glickman’s last moments. But when Glickman turns the tables by blowing up his shop, the story again stuns us and spins in a new direction…

Music: Pause by Emily Barker

Watercooler fact: The method of drug smuggling mentioned in the series – drugs hidden in crates of blooms from Holland – was based on a real case (the Flowers Gang).

Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston


Isolated – Christopher Eccleston in Safe House


He’s a former cop, his remote house offering shelter to a troubled family is ‘safe’ and has security cameras – what could go wrong?

★★★★ ITV, Mondays, 9pm

WITH SO many whodunits, police procedurals and foreign cops on TV these days, it’s a tough ask to come up with something fresh.

Safe House is a thriller that has a good go at doing just that. It has an interesting premise and a magnificent, forbidding setting.

Ex-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston plays Robert, a former cop living in a secluded, ramshackle house in the Lake District with Katy (Marsha Thomason). Robert’s old colleague Mark (Paterson Joseph) points out that the home they plan to turn into a B&B would make a perfect safe house for people who need protection.

Safe House, ITV, Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston, Marsha Thomason and Paterson Joseph

Troubled family go to the safe house

Robert’s career came to a violent end when he was shot. He still hankers after the life and is haunted by the shooting, so he accepts Mark’s proposal, with Katy’s agreement.

The plot is thickened nicely by the family they must take in. Someone has tried to kidnap prison officer David’s son at a fun fair and then killed a bystander who intervened. Who is this menacing figure, who tells David’s son his name is Mike? And why was David targeted?

David (played by Jason Merrells), his wife and their teenage daughter and young son move into Robert’s house. Meanwhile, David attempts to contact his other son, who is meant to be at uni but seems to be living on the road. David’s violent stalker could also be homing in on the lad.

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Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston PREVIEW

Sky Atlantic’s much-anticipated new crime series is a slow thaw, but it has a great cast and a terrific setting

Stanley Tucci as DCI Eugene Morton; Sophie Grabol as Hildur Odegard; Christopher Eccleston as Professor Charlie Stoddart in fortitude
In cold blood – murder comes to Fortitude, with Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston. Pics: Sky

Rating: ★★★½

Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 29 January, 9pm

Story: In the close-knit community of Fortitude in the Arctic Circle, a murder touches everyone and the unsettling horror of the crime threatens the future of the town itself.

AN AVALANCHE of hype has accompanied Sky’s Arctic thriller. At a rumoured £25million it has cost more than the entire budget of the Sky Arts channel, apparently. It’s meant to pitch Sky Atlantic into the HBO league of major drama creators. It’s the network’s most ambitious series ever etc etc.

Richard Dormer as Dan Anderssen in Fortitude
Sheriff Dan doesn’t think the town is big enough for him and Morton

With a terrific international roster of actors including Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer and Sienna Guillory, it certainly grabs the attention. And devotees of recent dark mysteries such as The Killing and Broadchurch will also be intrigued by an unusual 11-parter set in an almost surreal frozen setting.

But, on viewing it, how does Fortitude measure up? I thought it got off to a slightly bewildering start.

Sofie Grabol is Fortitude’s governor

Michael Gambon as Henry Tyson in Fortitude
Wildlife photographer Henry makes a horrid discovery

The opening feature-length episode is stunningly set in an Icelandic town, but it hurriedly throws so many characters and storylines at you that the first hour leaves you a bit, well, cold.

It begins with Michael Gambon’s Henry stumbling on a savage scene on the seafront, which is immediately disconcerting. Then a young lad is stricken with a mystery illness and is left by his father, who’s having illicit sex with a hotel receptionist.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a mammoth’s remains by two chancers threatens the plans of the governor, Hildur (The Killing‘s Sofie Grabol), to redevelop Fortitude.

We also meet the town’s odd but charming PCs Ingrid and Petra, and new arrival Vincent (played by Luke Treadaway), who’s here to help Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston).

Stanley Tucci as DCI Morton

There’s more, but the blizzard of plotlines comes to a halt when a grisly murder is discovered, and the town with no crime is abruptly revealed to actually harbour very dark undercurrents.

Mia Jexen as PC Ingrid; Alexandra Moen as PC Petra in Fortitude
Ingrid and Petra

It is when Stanley Tucci’s character, DCI Eugene Morton, arrives from London that the drama gels and we get our bearings (though how an American with FBI credentials happens to be working for London’s Metropolitan Police is again confusing).

Morton is confronted by the antagonistic sheriff (Richard Dormer), which sets up the juicy prospect of a running battle between the pair.

After what is a messy opening episode, Fortitude could well develop into a sharp and intriguing drama. Created by Simon Donald, who wrote C4’s gritty crime series Low Winter Sun, it is certainly original, with a savage but beautiful setting.


Sofie Grabol shows her versatility by throwing off her strutting detective Sarah Lund from The Killing to play an under-pressure politician with an agenda. Tucci is very watchable as the outsider poking his nose in, and there are certainly enough murky goings-on to keep viewers guessing.

Luke Treadaway as Vincent Rattre; Sienna Guillory as Natalie Yelburton in Fortitude
Newcomer Vincent (Luke Treadaway) meets Natalie (Sienna Guillory)

I’ve seen it compared to Twin Peaks, which is misleading. But Fortitude is in the rich vein of contemporary dark crime series full of compromised heroes.

Sky will be anxious that it snowballs into a bigger hit than its previously acclaimed series The Take (2009) and Mad Dogs (2011), but, while refreshingly bold, it doesn’t put them in the same league as HBO and True Detective just yet.

Cast: Richard Dormer Sheriff Dan Anderssen, Stanley Tucci DCI Eugene Morton, Michael Gambon Henry Tyson, Sofie Grabol Governor Hildur Odegard, Christopher Eccleston Professor Charlie Stoddart, Luke Treadaway Vincent Rattrey, Jessica Raine Jules Sutter, Nicholas Pinnock Frank Sutter, Johnny Harris Ronnie Morgan, Veronica Echegui Elena Ledesma, Sienna Guillory Natalie Yelburton, Darren Boyd Markus Huseklepp, Mia Jexen PC Ingrid, Alexandra Moen PC Petra, Darwin Brokenbro Liam Sutter, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips Carrie Morgan, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson Eric Odegard, Chipo Chung Trish Stoddart, Phoebe Nicholls Doctor Allerdyce

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Fortitude, January 2015 – sneak peek

SKY ATLANTIC’S starry new thriller Fortitude is set to hit the small screen in January. Its international cast includes Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Sofie Grabol, Richard Dormer and Luke Treadaway. Set in an isolated town in the Arctic Circle, and filmed in Iceland and the UK, the series is a 12-parter and will be one of the biggest productions on Sky next year. The story will follow how the small community is shattered by a rare violent crime, the mysterious horror of which threatens Fortitude’s future… Anyway, here’s a brief taster.

Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston

Michael Gambon; Richard Dormer

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Lucan, ITV, with Rory Kinnear, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Gambon PREVIEW

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON as John Aspinall.
High-rollers Lord Lucan (Rory Kinnear) and John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston). Pics : ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Wednesday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: Desperate to get custody of his children, professional gambler Lord Lucan plots to make his wife Veronica ‘disappear’…

IT IS ALMOST FUNNY that Lord Lucan, professional gambler and murder suspect, was known by the nickname ‘Lucky’. However, this story, based on true events, is too full of callousness and cowardice to be a laughing matter.

The sobriquet was given to him by his chums after the Earl won £26,000 in one night’s gambling.

Lucan, ITV: CATHERINE MCCORMACK as Veronice Lucan.
Isolated – Veronica Lucan (Catherine McCormack)

But as ITV’s riveting two-part drama reveals, it soon became an ironic moniker as Lucky started haemorrhaging thousands of pounds at the Clermont Club, owned by his pal John Aspinall.

In the drama he also fails to bully his wife Veronica into a psychiatric institution and loses his custody battle with her for their three children, making him distraught that his position in life as a gambler and Earl did not entitle him to take precedence over her.

Final gamble is cowardly and disastrous

And then his final throw of the dice also goes disastrously for Lucky when, instead of killing his wife in a plan to make her disappear, he kills his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, by accident.

Lucan, ITV: MICHAEL GAMBON as Older Burke and PAUL FREEMAN as John Pearson.
Author John Pearson (Paul Freeman) and Burke (Michael Gambon)

The 1974 crime is a cause célèbre, as is Lucan’s amazing disappearance. Despite many reported sightings of the Earl around the world, his fate remains unknown. ITV’s Jeff Pope, whose script won a Bafta for his drama See No Evil: The Moors Murders, here delves into a world of incredible snobbery and class arrogance to explore events before and after the 1974 murder.

Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Lucan has less to do with the charismatic, Aston Martin-driving gad about town of repute, than a cruel, introverted chancer who’s flung away his money and is obsessed with regaining his children.

Christopher Eccleston is chilling

Lucan, ITV: LEANNE BEST as Sandra Rivett
The nanny, Sandra Rivett (Leanne Best)

The most terrifying character on show is Christopher Eccleston’s John Aspinall, who owned the Clermont – in real life he later became well known as a zoo owner. His approach to human relations here owes much to the law of the jungle, and he encourages his friend Lucan to crush Veronica through the courts without mercy.

When that fails, he almost encourages something more extreme. ‘I’m your friend,’ he says to the moping Earl, ‘but I cannot help you if will not help yourself.’ This is a man who milks his ‘friend’ Lucan for all his money via his gambling club and bemoans the fact that people of breeding are losing control of the country, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was born out of wedlock, the son of a soldier.

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and Exttras from the show, Myrtle Vraets and Kya Garwood
High life – Lucan at the Clermont

Veronica appears to have been treated with huge cruelty and callousness by the Clermont set, most of whom seem to believe she should leave her husband alone to throw away all of his wealth.

John Pearson’s book The Gamblers

The drama is based on John Pearson’s book The Gamblers, and speculation and fictionalised characters are used to tell the tale. That Lucan’s now grown-up children, Lady Camilla Bloch and George Bingham, have been voicing their fears over the drama is a reminder that dramatising real-life crimes to some degree appropriates the lives and memories of surviving family members.

However, conscientious dramas such as Five Daughters and Appropriate Adult have been serious attempts to understand notorious murders or examine the wrong done to innocent, decent victims. Lucan is a worthwhile and compelling look at a brutal unresolved crime that still makes the headlines today, along with the social world that engendered it.

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Accused 1, Inspector Montalbano 2 DVD REVIEW

DVD: ★★★★½
Extras: ★★★

Six episodes of terrific writing and great acting. Jimmy McGovern, the man behind Cracker, The Street and The Lakes and the lead writer on these stories, is so respected by actors that this hard-hitting series about men and women who find themselves accused of crimes attracted an A-list of British talent – Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Christopher Eccleston, Naomie Harris, Mackenzie Crook, Ben Smith, Peter Capaldi and Juliet Stevenson. Each story is powerful, dealing with moral dilemmas and ordinary people at crisis points in their lives who end up in the dock – but should they be there? And each begs the question of what would you, the viewer, have done. The series won an International Emmy for best drama, along with Christopher Eccleston for best actor, as the man who finds a wodge of cash in a taxi and ends up in a great deal of trouble. Mackenzie Crook plays against his comic persona as a psychotic soldier, while Marc Warren is the dad who goes after a man suspected of assaulting his daughter, with tragic results. This story, Jimmy McGovern reveals in the DVD’s extras, was partly based on his own experience. ‘There is a fine line between being in prison and out of prison,’ says McGovern. ‘There but for the grace of god…’ Thought-provoking and compelling drama.
Running time: 385 mins, two discs. RRP £19.99. Cert 15

DVD: ★★★★ 

Extras: ★★★ 
This Italian-made dramatisation of Andrea Camilleri‘s popular novels, starring Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano, captures much of the magic of the books – the setting, the Sicilian lifestyle, the food and the interplay of characters – some wily, some comic. This three-DVD set has six 90-minute films, most of which were shown in the UK earlier this year (but were actually made a decade or so ago). These are Excursion to Tindari, The Artist’s Touch, Montalbano’s Croquettes, The Scent of the Night and The Goldfinch and the Cat. Though the series is subtitled and tucked away on BBC4, it has won a loyal core of devotees. The stories deal with chilling crimes involving murder or drugs, with Montalbano swerving between the Mafia and the expediences of his superiors, while viewers undoubtedly revel in the glimpses into Sicilian life, Montalbano’s beautiful beach house and his infidelity, as he occasionally sneaks away from his lover to enjoy a favourite meal. Gripping and mouthwatering at the same time. Extras include a biography of Andrea Camilleri.
Running time: 611mins, three discs, RRP £25.99, Cert 15

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Blackout starring Christopher Eccleston, Dervla Kirwan

Hitchcockian assassination scene from Blackout. Pics:BBC

Rating: ★★★★

Channel: BBC1, starts Monday, 2 July, 9pm

Story: Corrupt council official Daniel Demoys’ life is spiralling out of control. He’s an alcoholic, his wife has had enough of his lifestyle, and he finds himself in an alleyway with the businessman who is bribing him when his life takes a violent turn.

Blackout is a bold bit of TV noir. It’s hard to look away from the car-crash life of local politician Daniel Demoys, played without vanity by Christopher Eccleston, as he descends into out-of-control alcoholism, corruption and family destruction.

It takes place in dark alleys and rainswept streets in classic pulp-fiction mode, and begins with a Hitchcockian bit of silent storytelling, a montage that sets the scene nicely, with Demoys stealing council documents that he will sell to a local businessman before turning up late for his daughter’s school dance performance – drunk.

Nightclubbing: Sylvie (MyAnna Buring) and Daniel (Christopher Eccleston)

Waking up as a potential murderer
The blackout of the title is the drunken loss of awareness Daniel suffers later that night. After a bit of corridor sex in a club with a blonde he’s met, Sylvie, he hands over the documents to Pulis in a back alley. The businessman taunts Daniel, things turn violent, and in the morning Daniel wakes from his stupor realising he may have committed murder.

Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent

His wife, Alex ( Dervla Kirwan), is sick of Daniel, his son is scared of him, he is disgusted with himself.

‘Show me a way out of this hell,’ he says, as his life takes a twist when he recklessly stops a bullet for a young man campaigning against gang violence. Director Tom Green again pays homage to the Master of Suspense by shadowing the famous assassination scene amid an array of umbrellas from Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent.

Dervla Kirwan is Alex

Bullet-stopping Daniel Demoys
Suddenly, Daniel has a heroic profile and is encouraged to run for mayor, to turn his life round and reignite his youthful dreams of making a difference to society. Will he make amends for the damage he has caused, or will his past catch up and destroy him?

Blackout is a sharp and compelling psychological thriller, with a first-class cast, including the electric Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) as a slightly unhinged cop and menacing ex of Sylvie’s, Lyndsey Marshal as Daniel’s sister, and Ewen Bremner as his election agent. That’s in addition to a star turn from Christopher Eccleston as the sweaty, red-eyed, dishevelled Daniel.

Cast: Christopher Eccleston Daniel Demoys, Dervla Kirwan Alex Demoys, Ewen Bremner Jerry Durrans, MyAnna Buring Sylvie, Branka Katic Donna, Andrew Scott Dalien Bevan, David Hayman Henry Pulis, Rebecca Callard Ruth Pulis, Lyndsey Marshal Lucy Demoys, Olivia Cooke Meg Demoys,  Danny Sapani Detective Griffin

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