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.

Accused — Killer TV No.33


Stephen Graham and Sean Bean – Tracie’s Story

BBC1, 2010-2012

‘You’re the bitch. Right? Till you prove yourself in battle, till you return fire when under fire, you’re the bitch.’ Corporal Buckley (Frankie’s Story)

Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Joe Dempsie, John Bishop, Warren Brown, Peter Capaldi, Mackenzie Crook, Juliet Stevenson, Christopher Eccleston, Marc Warren, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sean Bean, Stephen Graham

Identikit: As each week’s main character climbs into the dock, the events leading to their being accused and tried for a crime are revealed.

‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama’ – that’s how writer Jimmy McGovern described his anthology series. Each story features an ordinary person who ends up in the dock. How did they get there, and do they deserve to walk free or be locked up? The hook for McGovern is the ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ aspect to the lives of many working class people, the fine line between trying to do the right thing and ending up on the wrong side of the law. Such are McGovern’s credentials as the writer of powerful UK television dramas such as Cracker, Hillsborough and The Street that Accused pulled in the cream of British screen talent.

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Common, BBC1, Nico Mirallegro, Susan Lynch, Jodhi May, Daniel Mays PREVIEW

Margaret Ward (SUSAN LYNCH), Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Coleen O'Shea (JODHI MAY)
In the frame – Johnjo, with Margaret and Colleen. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 6 July, 9pm 

Story: When seventeen-year-old Johnjo O’Shea gives his friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour, he doesn’t expect to find himself charged with murder. 

JIMMY MCGOVERN has written some unflinching dramas, with his series including Accused and The Street. Full of moral dilemmas and often uncomfortable to watch, they are a long way removed from your average costume drama or cop procedural.

Common is also another unsettling tale, all the more so because it explores a real contemporary legal controversy, the Joint Enterprise or Common Purpose law under which someone can be charged with a crime for being in the company of the person who commits it. This is actually the second drama dealing with the issue, following 2012’s Murder: Joint Enterprise on BBC2, which was similarly hard-hitting.

DI Hastings arrives for Johnjo

Teen Johnjo jumps at the chance to the drive his cousin and a couple of his big mates to get a pizza. He’s left in the car, but when the trio spill out of the pizza he soon realises that one of them, Kieran, has stabbed another lad for looking at him.

Johnjo goes to the police

From then on, Johnjo (Nico Mirallegro) is lost in a legal maze, the victim’s family is obviously

Johnjo O'Shea (NICO MIRALLEGRO), Tony Wallace (PHILIP HILL PEARSON), Colin McCabe (JACK McMULLEN), Kieran Gillespie (ANDREW ELLIS)
In the dock – Johnjo, Tony, Colin and Kieran

distraught, while Johnjo and his family are under threat from Kieran’s family.

It seems like common sense when JohnJo’s cousin tells him, ‘You can put your hand on your heart and say you knew nothing about it… we’ll back you up… you’ve got nothing to worry about.’

And when Johnjo goes to the police and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m just telling the truth,’ he doesn’t even want a lawyer.

Susan Lynch is moving as the victim’s mum

This conflict between Joint Enterprise and natural justice has clearly agitated the award-winning McGovern for some time, and that sense of exasperation and outrage makes this a compelling and provocative 90 minutes.

Every top British actor seems eager to work for the writer – the late Bob Hoskins, Christopher

Royal Court Judge (SIR MICHAEL GAMBON)
Administering justice (Sir Michael Gambon)

Ecclestone, Juliet Stevenson, Sean Bean, Peter Capadi, Jane Horrocks and many more – but, goodness, does he put them through the emotional wringer. Susan Lynch is superb as the victim’s mother, raging at her estranged husband (Daniel Mays), grieving and struggling to pay for her son’s burial. Jodhi May has never been more affecting as Johnjo’s mother, and their two characters articulate the callous injustice exacted on families.

But despite all the tears and anger and legal brutality, the drama is full of tenderness, even for the less sympathetic characters, and moments of humanity. In other words, it’s a typically passionate McGovern story.

Cast: Nico Mirallegro Johnjo O’Shea, Susan Lynch Margaret Ward, Jodhi May Coleen O’Shea, Daniel Mays Tommy Ward, Andrew Tiernan Peter O’Shea, Robert Pugh DI Hastings, Michelle Fairley Shelagh Wallace, Philip Hill Pearson Tony Wallace, Andrew Ellis Kieran Gillespie, Jack McMullen Colin McCabe, Ben Smith Patrick O’Shea, Sir Michael Gambon Royal Courts Judge

Check out these links…
Our review of Murder: Joint Enterprise
Guilty by Association is a BBC1 documentary (Monday, 7 July) about Joint Enterprise

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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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Accused, BBC1, starring Sean Bean and Stephen Graham PREVIEW

Stephen Graham, Sean Bean
Tony (Stephen Graham) and Tracie (Sean Bean). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★½

BBC1: Tuesday, 14 August, 9pm

Story: Simon is a teacher by day and Tracie by night, a lonely tranvestite. She meets Tony, and though the relationship is complicated, Tracie thinks happiness may be close, until events take a tragic turn.

Tracie’s Story – the opener for this new four-part series – is a gobsmacking and daring drama.

And that’s not just because it has the headline-grabbing prospect of Sean Bean –Yorkshire hardman and Game of Thrones‘ Lord Stark – playing slightly against type as a transvestite, but that it is also a tender, funny and tragic story about a scorned type of love.

We first meet Tracie on a lonely night out, calling everyone ‘love’ and running into the all too predictable hostility of a group of lads on a stag night. Less predictably, one of the revellers, satellite and aerial engineer Tony, comes to Tracie’s aid and offers her a lift in his taxi.

Sean Bean in make-up

Stephen Graham is a long way from Al Capone here
Realising that Tony is interested, Tracie invites him in to her house. A rocky relationship develops between two lonely people, Tony being played by Stephen Graham, another actor stepping out of his familiar roles as macho sociopaths such as Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire.

When a writer with the kudos of Jimmy McGovern, the man behind such TV greats as Cracker and The Street, is at the helm of a series, then top talent is clearly ready to step out of their comfort zone because of the quality of the drama.

This is his second series of Accused, each episode written by McGovern and another writer (Shaun Duggan, Carol Cullington, Danny Brocklehurst, Isabelle Grey). The format of the series is that the story will end up in court with the principal character accused of a crime, and here we see flash-forwards of Tracie, or Simon as he is by day, in the dock.

Sean Bean as Simon/Tracie
Tony – the ‘most boring man on the planet’

Dark side of love
The story spirals towards tragedy when Tracie realises that Tony has lied to her about his wife having died. Karen (Rachel Leskovac) is alive and working as a beautician, whom Tracie visits for a makeover.

Simon, a teacher and ‘the most boring man on the planet’, is lonely, hoping that perhaps Tony might be the one to chose to openly have a relationship with a man who risks opprobrium to dress as a woman – ‘because that’s who I am’. Tony is lonely in a marriage of 12 years, with a wife he loves and does not want to hurt, and is finally pushed to desperation.

This is a high-class drama, unsentimental but moving. And it’s great to see good actors really stretched to create such compelling characters.

‘Touching story about a complicated man’ – Sean Bean
Sean Bean reveals that he wasn’t interested in the role at first: “I had a call from my agent saying, ‘Do you fancy playing a transvestite?’ I said, ‘Not really, why?’

‘But as soon as she said it was a Jimmy McGovern project, who I’ve wanted to work with for a while, I was interested. The script was brilliant, and very moving. It’s a really touching story about a complicated man. He has a relationship with another man, which develops into deep love, and then spirals out of control into something quite dark and disturbing.’

‘It’s a grown up story about identity and about being true to who you are.’

In coming weeks the line-up will include Anne Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, John Bishop, Sheridan Smith and Anna Maxwell Martin. Don’t miss it.

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Accused, new crime drama PREVIEW

Christopher Eccleston as Willy (pics: BBC)

BBC1, Mondays from 15 November, 9pm

Rating ★★★★

In Jimmy McGovern’s Accused there is no opening shot of a murder scene, no serial killers and no detective with regulation sidekick.

The stories in this series of six are crime dramas with the emphasis on drama, exploring how ordinary people end up in the dock. Are they guilty, innocent or victims of circumstance?

Christopher Eccleston, who became known via McGovern’s Cracker before appearing in other works by the writer, including Hillsborough, is light years from Doctor Who in this opening episode. He plays Willy, a plumber with a family who wants to clear off with his younger lover.

Pookie Quesnel, Marc Warren, Juliet Stevenson
Just as he’s about to drop his bombshell to his other half, Carmel, his daughter announces she is marrying her boyfriend. His marriage split delayed, Willy finds he can’t finance his daughter Laura’s wedding when his bank card is declined. The building firm that owes him thousands for his plumbing work has gone bust.

Later, in the back of a mini cab he finds the apparent answer to his problems – £20,000 in a Jiffy bag. Loyal Carmel, played movingly by Pookie Quesnel, wants him to hand it in, but despite his best intentions, events take a disastrous turn.

McGovern, a champion of excellent drama with successes such as The Lakes and recently The Street, steers clear away from the norms and cliches of your typical cop show. He says, ‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama.’

Future episodes will see Mackenzie Crook (right) as a corporal in a story about not obeying orders; Juliet Stevenson and Peter Capaldi as parents of a fatally injured son; Marc Warren as a dad who acts against his better judgment; and Naomie Harris and Warren Brown as parents whose row causes reckless actions.

Wants to leave his wife for ‘firmer flesh’

Willy’s Story is a good drama, though Willy, with his chippyness and selfishness, is not that sympathetic a protagonist. Eccleston describes him as a loving family man, but if that was the intention, somehow it didn’t come across in the execution.

Certainly, many women will be hard pushed to root for a man who impulsively wants to dump his wife because he fancies some ‘firmer flesh’, as Willy tells the priest who gives him unwanted advice.

But the point with McGovern is often about people in glass houses. And perhaps the strength of Willy’s Story lies in something revealed about this production by Eccleston.

When the actors’ read-through of the script was finished, a vote was taken among those present on whether Willy should go down. The vote was split.

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