“Cracker” was back, for the first time in ten years, on Sunday evening for a one-off feature-length episode and written by its creator, the brilliant and extremely likeable Jimmy McGovern. Entitled “Nine Eleven”, it featured many of the trademarks of previous stories, revealing the killer early on, thus enabling the narrative to concentrate on the why rather than the who. Despite the title, the story centred on the aftermath of the Troubles of Northern Ireland for one particular ex-squaddie called Kenny, engagingly played by Anthony Flanagan, now working in the Manchester Police Force and with six years service behind him. Psychologist Fitz (Robbie Coltrane) returns to Manchester from Australia for the first time in seven years, for his daughter’s wedding, only to find the city redeveloped after the IRA bombing and becomes embroiled in the case, much to the annoyance of his long-suffering wife, played as ever by Barbara Flynn.
Richard Coyle, best known for sitcom “Coupling”, played Fitz’s new boss DI Walters and good though he was, especially when losing his temper, I did miss the sincerity and wisecracks of Ricky Tomlinson as DCI Charlie Wise, who joined the drama in its second series as the replacement for outgoing DCI David Bilborough played by Christopher Eccleston, together with the other original regulars DS Jane Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville) and DS Jimmy Beck (Lorcan Cranitch). The latter, of course, committed suicide in quite spectacular fashion, in third season opener “Brotherly Love”, unable to cope with both the guilt he felt over the nature of Eccleston’s demise and the subsequent descent of his own character compelling him to rape colleague “Panhandle”. In the latest story, Belfast serves the same function as Hillsborough in that most highly-regarded of “Cracker” serials “To Be A Somebody”, the 1989 football disaster being part of the trigger which ignites the never-bettered Robert Carlyle as Albie Kinsella on the road to ruin, but “Nine Eleven” is still cracking stuff. Kenny, the copper with problems, driving his first victim’s Mother, and intended next victim, back to her residence is reminiscent of a scene in “Men Should Weep” in which taxi-driver Floyd Malcolm (Graham Aggrey), wanted for rape, gives a ride to a witness who, during their journey, fleetingly recognises her cabbie’s turn of phrase.
I do think the “radical departure from the norm of police procedural dramas” element has been overstated somewhat in the promotion of “Cracker”. There are a number of Hitchcock thrillers, Joseph Cotten as the Merry Widow Murderer in “Shadow of a Doubt” and Barry Foster dubbed the Necktie Murderer in “Frenzy” for example, that tell you who the killer is long before the resolution. But hype hasn’t detracted from the quality of the product. McGovern’s creation remains one of the jewels of ITV’s output and its resurrection hasn’t undermined what went before, back in the early Nineties. The new episode is available on DVD from the 9th of this month together with the entire back catalogue of stories, from the 16th, either individually or as a box set. I have a sneaking admiration for two of the non-McGovern penned stories, “True Romance” by Paul Abbott, featuring Emily Joyce as an unhinged admirer of Fitz’s, but especially “The Big Crunch” by Ted Whitehead, featuring the always excellent Samantha Morton as schoolgirl victim of creepy Head Teacher and Minister Jim Carter ably supported by ex-“Doctor Who” companion Maureen O’Brien as his wife. But if you want the essence of “Cracker”, go for “To Be A Somebody” or “To Say I Love You”.