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The Cracker Top Ten (Contains Spoilers)

 

So what are the definitive Cracker stories?  To fully appreciate Cracker it always best to watch the stories in order from start to finish due to some of the continuous plotlines, but if viewed as individual stories, then there were certain ones that truly defined the series, and these were usually the stories written by series creator Jimmy McGovern. They were without question the strongest and best of the series and in fairness are incredibly difficult to choose between.

 

1. TO BE A SOMEBODY (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"You're looking at me and you're looking at the future. See, this country is gonna blow.

And people like me are gonna light the fuse. The despised, the betrayed. 

We're gonna light the fuse and this country is gonna blow. This country is gonna blow". - Albie

 

Certainly in the UK, Jimmy McGovern's fourth Cracker story was the one that finally got the show the true recognition it deserved when screened back in 1994, and arguably launched the career of Robert Carlyle whose performance as Albie Kinsella was without question the most memorable of all the Cracker villains. Everything about To Be A Somebody is classic Cracker - McGovern's powerful writing, the interview scenes between Fitz and Albie which are some of the best of the series, along with the general interaction between Fitz and the police (most notably the still lingering tension between Fitz and Bilborough). There was also the personal plotlines, and some brilliant Fitz moments that only McGovern could write - walking into the toilet with the two skinheads, the "I've got eight items" scene in the supermarket, and his suspected heart attack which leads him to be told by a doctor that he should see a psychologist. To Be A Somebody was also an important story in that McGovern set off the chain of events that was the Jimmy Beck breakdown/Penhaligon rape storyline - set off by Bilborough's brutal death who is killed after Beck lets Albie go, believing his story of having cancer as the reason for his shaved head. It also featured the first appearance of DCI Wise. At the time of its screening, To Be A Somebody may have received a lot of attention due to McGovern's tackling of the sensitive issue of the Hillsborough disaster, but it without doubt left its mark and will long be remembered as three hours of the finest British television ever made.

 


 

2. MEN SHOULD WEEP (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"I'm not talking to a black man, Floyd. I'm talking to a killer.

And I understand killers. I understand the anger that drives a man to kill" - Fitz

 

Another story that received its fair share of media attention when first screened due to McGovern this time dealing with the subject of rape, Men Should Weep is in many ways the darkest of the Cracker stories, but probably up there with To Be A Somebody as the strongest. Jimmy McGovern's combining of both the police work in capturing serial rapist Floyd Malcolm and the Beck/Penhaligon plot was achieved quite brilliantly. Not to mention the way it directly affected Fitz's own personal life which just got more and more complex with the unexpected return of a pregnant Judith coinciding with the slow disintegration of his relationship with Penhaligon following her rape. Again, McGovern provided us with a villain in Floyd Malcolm who, whilst you could never justify his actions you could at least sympathize with (always an important trait in any of the Cracker stories) - and a crime story that was strong and believable, despite the fact that at times it made difficult viewing. Men Should Weep also marked the moment in Cracker when perhaps the personal storylines of the characters became almost more gripping than the crime stories themselves. The climax of the story really was quite something and whilst the series two cliffhanger of whether Penhaligon shot Beck or not was great it was no doubt torture for fans of the series who had to wait an entire year for the third series and the outcome. 

 


 

3. BROTHERLY LOVE (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I AM too much." - Fitz

 

Another great  McGovern crime story this time centering around the murder of a prostitute by a catholic father of four, which maybe at times was eclipsed by the  enthralling goings on between Beck/Penhaligon and Fitz's personal life which involved the death of his mother and birth of his third child. It was a great start to the third series after the cliffhanger of Men Should Weep, but sadly it was the last story to be written by McGovern. Brotherly Love of course finished with Beck's not entirely unexpected suicide - you always had the feeling that something was going to happen to him - and some of the build up scenes towards it were terrific. There was Beck's confession of the rape to Fitz, Penhaligon dressing up as a prostitute to try and trap the killer, and Beck's own idea of justice by re-arresting murderer David Harvey and dragging him to his death with him. And Fitz was still as great as ever - memorable scenes included his emotional scenes with brother Danny in the pub following his mother's funeral, his trip to confession which ended up with him accusing priest Michael Harvey of murder, and the various scenes shared between himself, Judith and Penhaligon. It may long be debated as to whether or not perhaps Cracker should have ended following Beck's suicide, seeing as it was the last story to be written by McGovern. However, there was always mileage left in Fitz and the other remaining characters and it wouldn't have felt right to have not seen them carry on for longer.

 


 

4. ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"I want him to kill again. You said you'd share my burden. That's my burden. 

I'm responsible for the death of a child, if he kills again you'll be able to share it." - Cassidy

 

The last story of series one which just sneaks ahead of To Say I Love You for that twist alone. Another great series climax with the police and Fitz both to blame for an innocent Nigel Cassidy being charged with Timothy Lang's murder. An unusual Cracker story in that we never learn who the true murderer is, and for once it is one of the suspects who gets the better over Fitz with Cassidy turning the tables on him quite brilliantly in their final scenes together with Fitz having to share Cassidy's "burden" that if the killer strikes again, he will know what its like to be responsible for the death of a child. (This audacious bit of table-turning by McGovern alone is a prime example as to why Cracker is just simply incomparable to any other police drama. It was just sheer writing genius). The aftermath of Cassidy's admission is of course the reason for Fitz's fall out with Bilborough - who himself seemed to struggle to deal with the case and the birth of his first child at the same time. By now however, the character plotlines were developing nicely. Beck's true colours started to show, Fitz's marriage was in its usual mess despite Judith's return to the family home and having agreed to go on holiday with Penhaligon, Fitz ends up not even turning up at the airport. All of which set the scene perfectly for the second series and To Be A Somebody when it was screened a year later. 

 


 

5. TO SAY I LOVE YOU (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"It's just like Bonnie and Clyde...." - Tina

 

The second story, and the only three parter from series one. It was also a great example of how good McGovern is a writer in terms of how he thinks of such good reasons to justify the criminals actions, To Say I Love You in particular looking at Tina's background with her blind sister and her estrangement from her family. Again, the three episodes were littered with memorable scenes involving Fitz - the restaurant scene with Judith and Penhaligon, attending a gamblers anonymous meeting only to get everyone there to start betting on cards, his reaction to Judith's fling with Graham and Mark's admittance to hospital. But it was his all important interview scenes with Tina that stood out, and the final scenes where he tries to reason with Sean. The episode marked the death of DS Giggs, prompting the first signs of tension between the coppers and Fitz, and there was the one and only appearance from Fitz's mum (played by the late Beryl Reid). It's also endlessly watchable thanks to Susan Lynch and Andrew Tiernan's performances as Sean and Tina but overall To Say I Love You was pretty much your classic Cracker story - a strong storyline, great writing and acting, and Fitz as usual stealing every scene he appeared in.

 


 

6. THE MAD WOMAN IN THE ATTIC (Written by Jimmy McGovern)

 

 

"Nobody ever loses their memory. It just gets locked away like the mad woman in the attic. Occasionally you hear her scream, but you don't dare unlock the door and look in." - Fitz

 

The first ever Cracker episode in which Dr Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald first burst onto our screens. A fairly violent crime story that does a good job of gradually introducing the characters of Beck, Bilborough and Penhaligon and immediately highlights Fitz's personal problems - with Judith leaving him for the first time following his persistent gambling. Maybe not as easy to watch as the stories that would follow - it does tend to take a short while to get going - but that was always possibly due to the fact it was the first story and McGovern had to set the scene for future episodes. But as far as the crime story went, it was as usual strong and effective. It also featured some terrific interview scenes between Fitz and Kelly (a brilliant Adrian Dunbar as the initial suspect, Thomas Francis Kelly). There was no doubt from watching The Mad Woman In The Attic, that Jimmy McGovern and everyone else involved in the show were in the process of making a classic.

 


 

7. TRUE ROMANCE (Written by Paul Abbott)

 

 

"The letters are for you. The bodies are for you. She's trying to make you jealous - she's killed three people for you" - Penhaligon

 

True Romance, the final story of Series 3, is probably the best of the non-McGovern episodes. The whole Janice story links well with the disaster that is Fitz's personal life (Fitz's interview scenes with Janice in particular are very effective), and despite some slight storyline implausibility - it's still a little hard to believe that Janice would have followed Fitz for so long - it has always remained one of the most re-watchable stories out of the entire series. Maybe as well, because this story really does focus in on the little seen "vulnerable" side of Fitz as he struggles to cope with his crumbling marriage to Judith, Panhandle's announcement that she's not in love with him anymore and the very real threat of losing his son. It was perhaps a frustrating finale because of the open ended way in which it finished with various storylines left totally up in the air -  such as Judith and Danny's relationship, something that was obviously happening between Penhaligon and Temple and Penhaligon's unexpected resignation announcement. But at the same time the final scene shared between Fitz and Judith worked very well, and was quite a fitting conclusion to the series. It very much had that "not written by McGovern" feel to it, but the acting was still first class from all involved and at the end of the day it still remains the series concluder and overall a good Cracker story.

 


 

8. THE BIG CRUNCH (Written by Ted Whitehead)

 

 

"The Big Bang. The instant the universe was created. The beginning and the end of life. Sex and death, your obsession. You see, sex in death and death in sex and beyond that....nothing." - Fitz

 

The first story not to be written by Jimmy McGovern is a strong crime story - not particularly a gripping one, but it 's immensely watchable and littered with some genuine creepiness due to the character of Kenneth Trant. The storyline itself didn't really give Fitz much to do though - except to continually interview the Trants until they cracked, which of course they did. The Big Crunch's most memorable moments undoubtedly belonged to those between Fitz and Panhandle in which they finally got together, and the scenes in which Beck's guilt over Bilborough's death began to start to overwhelm him.  Samantha Morton's performance as teenager Joanne was also strong, as were the performances of the actors playing the Trants (especially Jim Carter as the smarmy Kenneth). 

 


 

9. BEST BOYS (Written by Paul Abbott)

 

 

"He's fallen in love and killed in one week. And he's separated. 

And Bill doesn't cope with separation very well." - Fitz

 

Sadly, Best Boys often felt fairly average compared to what had come before, despite a good script by Paul Abbott. It was by no means a bad crime story but there was always this feeling that there never was enough reason for Grady and Nash to kill anyone. Which, as with any Cracker story, it helps greatly if you can at least understand why the criminals are driven to do what they do. Grady and Nash, however, did in many ways prove an interesting combination and the performances of Liam Cunningham and John Simm were to the usual high standard of the series. The personal plotlines were also good though and followed on nicely from Brotherly Love - scenes such as Beck's funeral, Judith's struggle to come to terms with the new baby and Penhaligon's discovery from Temple that he found Beck's diary. Best Boys was slightly disappointing overall, but it was always going to be hard to follow on from Brotherly Love and Beck's death.

 


 

10. WHITE GHOST (Written by Paul Abbott)

 

 

The long 12 months between the end of Series 3 and the screening of White Ghost was filled with so much expectation. Most fans of the series no doubt wanted all those loose ends tied up - to find out just what happened after True Romance. So it was a let down when Fitz was stranded in Hong Kong miles from Manchester, miles from Judith and Penhaligon and introduced to some new police officers that it was hard to become interested in. The crime story was always watchable, but without the usual sub-plot of Fitz's personal life alongside it and the lack of the other characters (it was good to see DCI Wise however), it always felt like there was something missing and the episode was overall, disappointing. 


The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006

(http://www.crackertv.co.uk)