It was the vehicle that recast comedy actor Robbie Coltrane in a serious role as forensic psychologist Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, with Cracker’s crime-ridden depiction of Manchester enthralling viewers for five seasons.
Such was the show’s popularity that Coltrane won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor on three occasions between 1994, 1995 and 1996. Several specials were commissioned too, with a US remake transposing the action to Los Angeles in 1997.
With the bulk of the episodes written by series creator Jimmy McGovern, Coltrane’s portrayal of Fitzgerald - an obese, chain-smoking, aggressive antihero - is appealing because he’s just as unpredictable and manic as those he investigates for some of Manchester’s darkest crimes. (“I smoke too much, I drink too much. I am too much,” he aptly says of himself in one episode.) Cracker’s mix of scathing social commentary, human emotion and multi-layered morality means that fans of the series aren’t hard to come by, even more than twenty years since it first aired.
In an attention-grabbing spectacle that is a microcosm of Fitz’s explosive nature, we are first introduced to the lead character hurling a series of books at students in a lecture hall. He tells them to study what is in their heart - “The things that you really feel, not all that crap that you’re supposed to feel. And when you’ve studied, when you’ve shed a little light on the dark recesses of your soul, that’s the time to pick up a book.”
Fitz’s lesson - that the truth of a man’s feelings can be found in his own self rather than what others try to teach you - is one reflected throughout the series.
The fourth Fitzgerald adventure, based around the events of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, saw welder Albie Kinsella (played by fellow Scot Robert Carlyle) embark on a murderous rampage. ‘To Be A Somebody’ is often viewed as the definitive Cracker story as it deals with racism, guilt, feelings of injustice and the collapse of traditional family values. Carlyle’s chilling “This country’s gonna blow” speech is one of the most intimidating in the series, while the three-hour story arc sets up viewers for the tensions between Fitz and old-school DS Jimmy Beck and on-off love interest Jane Penhaligon.
‘To Be A Somebody’ is also known for its famous exchange between Fitz and a fellow shopper at the express checkout, highlighting his assertive, arrogant and volatile charm. Fitz’s delicate balance between persuasiveness and aggression is seen throughout the series. It’s this episode that also delivers a large dose of black humour to deepen the audience’s understanding of the troubled psychologist - ironically told to see a fellow professional after suffering a suspected heart attack.
For all his abrasive charm and natural ability, Fitzgerald finds himself making a grave mistake not unlike those of the coppers he so despises in ‘One Day A Lemming Will Fly’, where the wrong man is pressured by the police into confessing to a murder that he did not commit. In a break from the norm, the viewer never learns who the real murderer is by the episode’s conclusion, and Fitz attempts to comfort the innocent man’s family while searching for a way to soothe his conscience. Viewers see Coltrane’s character at one of his lowest ebbs in the show, with no resolution to the conflict given.
TENSIONS IN THE FORCE
As fans began to get used to the gripping McGovern-written storylines, the fate of recurring characters was often just as interesting and relevant to the plot as that of the criminals themselves. ‘To Say I Love You’, the only three-part story in Season One, saw the death of DS Giggs and highlighted the rising tensions between outsider Fitzgerald and the Manchester police. The strong storyline was further bolstered by the meticulously well-thought out motives behind each criminal’s actions.