Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald is always the smartest guy in the room, though he’s usually not the most tactful or sober. And thanks to Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane, he’s also one of the most unforgettable small-screen characters to emerge in the last decade and a half.
Coltrane may be best known to American audiences as the giant Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, but he has been a comedy star in Britain since the 1980s, (he teamed with Monty Python’s Eric Idle in the hilarious Nuns on the Run, a Some Like It Hot-like comedy, among other movies), and a much-praised dramatic actor.
His signature role has been as Fitz in the British TV mystery movie series Cracker, where he plays a Manchester police forensic psychologist. During Cracker‘s three seasons on British television in the early to mid-1990s, Coltrane took home three consecutive BAFTA awards, (the British Emmys), for best actor.
An inferior American version of Cracker, starring Robert Pastorelli, aired on ABC in 1997.
Now Coltrane and Jimmy McGovern, the creator and original writer for the series, have returned for the first new Cracker in a decade. It aired here on BBC America. Not surprisingly for a series that boldly took on topical issues such as skinhead violence toward Britain’s Asian immigrants, homophobia and religious hypocrisy, Cracker: A New Terror involves a murderer who is deeply affected by 9/11, the war in Iraq and the recently concluded war in Northern Ireland.
Fitz, who has been living with his wife and teaching in Australia for the past seven years, he calls it the land of “skin cancer and Skippy”, is back in Manchester for his daughter’s wedding. But when an American stand-up comic is murdered for no apparent reason and the local police seem stumped, he volunteers his services to his former employer.
He grudgingly admits, when pressed by his wife, (Barbara Flynn), that he prefers working on this difficult case to spending time with a grandchild, (his son’s kid), he had never met before. Our hero definitely has flaws.
Cracker movies are not whodunits. Rather, they’re how-will-he-figure-it-outs.
We see the initial murder being committed, and I can’t reveal much about the perpetrator without giving away all sorts of plot secrets, but we don’t know how Fitz will put together the meager clues and come to the correct conclusion. Initially, at least, there is no apparent motive for the crime.
However, from watching previous Cracker‘s, we know there are some things we can count on occurring. We have a strong suspicion that Fitz will do something, usually involving his excessive drinking, smoking and/or gambling, that will upset his family and cause considerable personal turmoil. And what better place for a father to make a complete ass of himself than at his daughter’s wedding?
Cracker: A New Terror presents serious issues in a complex manner; although writer McGovern has a distinctive political perspective, he avoids simplistic characterizations and obvious plot turns. He’s particularly skillful at probing the psychological turmoil of the murderer, looking at what has driven him to kill.
In the process, however, we have too few moments with Fitz and come away wishing there had been more of him. Still, in addition to the excellent scenes showing Fitz at work, there’s an interesting subtext about all the changes that have taken place in Manchester since Fitz left the city seven years earlier.
Coltrane, who delivers his usual powerhouse performance in Cracker: A New Terror says in a 45-minute documentary on the DVD, Cracker: Behind the Scenes, that he was lured back to the role by the opportunity to work again with McGovern. For his part, McGovern says he never would have written another Cracker movie without Coltrane’s participation. They’re joined by Flynn, director Antonia Bird, Christopher Eccleston, (a former cast member who’s now in Heroes), and various other cast and creative team members in interviews in the documentary.
Coltrane also says he doesn’t rule out doing additional Crackers in the future if the producers can maintain the same high standards. We’ll drink to that, along with Fitz.