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The Mad Woman In The Attic (Series 1)



Written by: Jimmy McGovern

Produced by: Gub Neal

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Originally Screened: 27/09/93 (Part 1), 04/10/93 (Part 2)


"You can’t rape so you kill. That’s penetration. For you that’s penetration" - Fitz


The story begins with Dr. Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald giving a lecture to group of college students in a northern university. He begins tossing classic psychology and philosophy texts around the hall to show his contempt for institutionalized learning and informing the class that they must begin by studying what is inside themselves: “What you really feel not all that crap that you are supposed to feel”. This scene gives the audience a perfect introduction to Fitz as an intellectual rebel and a verbal performer who revels in the shock value of language. Words for Fitz are always weapons to be used against other people.While this is taking place, the body of a brutally murdered young girl is found in a train compartment. It emerges that she is the latest victim of a serial killer known as Sweeney because of his usage of a razor as a murder weapon which draws comparisons with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.


Later that night, Fitz is out to dinner with his wife, Judith, and two friends in a local restaurant. We see Fitz deliberately trying to be provocative by accusing one of the dinner companions, Jo, of hypocritically spouting about equality while employing a “Phillippino” au pair and paying her a very meagre wage. This exchange shows how Fitz is incapable of normal social interaction: He cannot talk to people, only at them. The evening ends with Jo throwing a drink in Fitz’s face (something that will occur again in the next story: ‘To Say I Love You’) and the restaurant refusing his credit card. In the car on the way home, Judith discovers that Fitz has forged her name on a loan document to cover his gambling debts. This provokes Judith into leaving home and taking their youngest daughter, Katie, with her. Fitz wakes up the next morning to discover that a young girl he used to teach (Jacqui Appleby) has been found slashed to death on a train. Fitz decides to help the murdered girl’s family by tracking down the killer.


A blood-splattered man is found lying unconscious beside the railway tracks and he immediately becomes the prime suspect for Jacqui’s murder. Upon recovering consciousness, the man (later identified as Thomas Francis Kelly) claims to be suffering from complete amnesia. Enquiries through the media concerning Kelly’s identity and past prove to be fruitless.Although very reluctant to do so, the officer in charge of the case, DCI David Bilborough, agrees to let Fitz help them with the investigation. With DS Jane Penhaligon (better know to followers of the show by the nickname Fitz gave: Panhandle) acting as an observer, Fitz interviews Kelly. He describes to Kelly the thoughts that he believes would go through the murderer’s mind before he kills which prompts Kelly to remark: “It’s you that needs the psychologist”, something that is suggested to Fitz throughout the entirety of the series. 


Fitz tries desperately to get Kelly to confess by appealing to sense of decency. He tells Kelly that the family need him to confess so they can bury their daughter. Fitz becomes convinced that if they can prove to Kelly that he committed the crime he would confess. Bilborough agrees to release Kelly to Fitz’s care temporarily in the hope that Kelly’s memory would return as a result of more contact with the outside world. Fitz is beginning to believe that Kelly is innocent because he does not wear a watch which is inconsistent with someone who takes trains all the time. Upon leaving the police station, Fitz takes Kelly to the dog track where a face in the crowd sparks some recognition in Kelly. Upon catching up with the man, Kelly is head butted by the stranger who then runs away. (It later emerges that this man had found Kelly unconscious on the railway line and stolen his wallet). Although sparks of Kelly’s memory begin to return, he is still incapable of accurately remembering what happened on the train or whether he murdered Jacqui Appleby.


A man phones Bilborough from Manchester railway station and tells him where they can find the body of Astrid Reynolds. He says that he is a Catholic priest and was told where her body was in confession by her murderer whose picture is on page four of the Evening News. Upon recovering Astrid’s body, Kelly is rearrested and, following intimidation by DS Jimmy Beck, confesses to being the killer.Fitz is not convinced and persuades Penhaligon to let him interview Kelly again. In an attempt to force the return of Kelly’s memory, Fitz aggressively accuses him of the murders and cruelly refers to Penhaligon as the type of “born victim” that would entice Kelly to murder. Both Kelly and Penhaligon are visibly disturbed by this barrage which underlines Fitz’s status as a kind of verbal sadist. Kelly begins pleading with Fitz to “please stop this” as though Kelly was being made the victim of a violent assault. Eventually, under the pressure of Fitz’s interrogation, Kelly’s memory returns. It is revealed that he was on the train and had caught the murderer in the act of killing Jacqui. The two men had fought and Kelly was thrown off the train.


When they first met, the killer (who turns out to be the man who phoned Bilborough to tell him about the body of Astrid Reynolds) said to Kelly: “I have only ever loved two women in my life: my mother and the Virgin Mary”. This confirms Fitz’s belief that their killer is a man who has internalized a perverse form of Catholicism that makes him view sex as dirty. Murder is the only form of penetration that the killer regards as being clean and “moral”. The reason for the shaving of the victims’ pubic hair is to preserve the killer’s vision of women as idealised beings: A view put forward by The New Testament which casts the mother of man as being “ever virgin”. Fitz and Penhaligon now turn their attention to interviewing other potential suspects who use trains on a regular basis and who are unmarried and Catholic. When they arrive at the home of Michael Hennessy, Fitz discovers a cut-throat razor in his bathroom. This, coupled with a fake alibi from Hennessy’s father, convinces Fitz that they have the right man. They arrest him on a train just seconds before he was about to kill another woman.


The final scene has Fitz and Penhaligon returning Kelly to the monastery from which he had left to “see the world”. It has been established that he was monk from a closed order which is why he had no knowledge of contemporary world events. Kelly tells them: “I have seen the world, and you can keep it”. The story ends with Fitz and Penhaligon having one of the first of many verbal sparring sessions. A beautiful friendship has begun for both of them.


Episode Guide written by Graham Price


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The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006