Cracker: To Be A Somebody

To Be A Somebody (1994) writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Tim Fywell cine Ivan Strasburg edit Edward Mansell

star. Robbie Coltrane as Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald

with Robert Carlyle (Albie Kinsella), Beth Goddard (Clare Moody), Tracy Gillman (Jill Kinsella), Christopher Eccleston (DCI Bilborough), Lorcan Cranitch (DS Jimmy Beck), Geraldine Sommerville (DS Jane Penhaligan), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), et. al.

Lawrence Russell

Football is dead

Many people will probably rank To Be A Somebody as the best episode in the Cracker series, especially those who tend to see the world in political rather than existential terms. A study of white male alienation in the contemporary secular state with its trendy leftist multicultural guilt morality, this story allows Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald his best insights and best character counterpoint since the first episode. Fitz is another white male whose decline could also lead to a violent outburst of indignation and egotist revenge... except, unlike Albie Kinsella, he knows full well that he is the main author of his condition.

It's amusing when the police replace him with a university psychologist, whose patronizing profile of Albie as "white, unskilled, unemployed, member of a survivalist group, ex-army perhaps" is as politically correct as it is ironically wrong. It's a testament to script writer McGovern's insight that his criminals often act with a certain amount of moral legitimacy -- we enjoy Prof Knowlton's murder and removal, recognizing him as part of the problem, not the solution. Likewise when the manipulative vixen journalist Clare Moody (Beth Goddard) gets vaporized by a package bomb -- Albie's last strike against a deluded, disloyal, self-infatuated establishment -- we know this isn't "systemic misogyny" but rather good old-fashioned outlaw justice. "This country is gonna blow!" hisses Albie in his last closeup.

The portrait of Albie Kinsella is an interesting one as he assumes the value-structure of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement without being a member of the group. "Direct action" is always the result of arrogance confronting frustration... or frustration thwarting arrogance. When his ex-wife expresses dismay at his freshly shaven head, he says tragically, "It's how I feel." He's chemo gone Nazi, not Nazi gone chemo. Later, when he assumes his father's identity to dupe D.S. Jimmy Beck, he says, "I've got cancer." The sub-text here almost slips past us in the naturalism. The disease Albie is suffering from isn't the one that killed his father... but the name fits.

You might wonder, too, if McGovern borrowed the bayonet motif from another classic skinhead drama, the Australian film, Romper Stomper. Central to the Melbourne squad's integrity is the acquisition of a Nazi bayonet, stolen from the War Museum. Phallic -- yes. Sacred relic -- yes. Likewise Albie's weapon, which his father used in the British Army, fighting for God and country. Hillsborough (96 dead), his wife and child (separated), his father (cancer), are all symptoms of a societal and cosmic betrayal that drive Albie into the role of judge and vigilante. Compared to Hando in Stomper -- whose actions lack ideology, despite the neo-Nazi posturing -- Albie is a revolutionary saint.

If you do some math, it seems obvious that Albie couldn't be the son of a WW2 vet in a drama set in 1994. Grandson maybe. But this is a small detail in an otherwise superb plot.

Meanwhile Fitz is almost terminal himself. His gambling and marriage continue in their masochist looping, a zero-sum game. His wife humiliates him publicly (again) and the police only rehire him (reluctantly) when his replacement is murdered. Although he's the clairvoyant know-it-all about human behavior, his family is self-destructing as if infected by the same disease that destroys Albie's and leads Albie to destroy Bilborough's. Yet despite the humble pie he's forced to eat, Fitz reasserts himself to anticipate and capture British society's latest menace.

"Dig deep and you'll find sentimentality," sneers Fitz. "It's been in every killer I've met -- sickening sentimentality."

But who gets the last gallows laugh? It has to be Albie Kinsella. Once again writer Jimmy McGovern allows the criminal the last statement, forcing us to admit to the ambiguity in our social compact. Once again an episode ends with an explosion that is more than a special effect. Clare Moody's murder is merely another form of surgery.

And what about McGovern's m.o.? The helpless man being driven by a reckless woman into the traffic of our discontent.... Penhaligan does it to Fitz, Moody does it to Albie... and you'll even find it in the homosexual Id of his movie Priest. The repetition might be a creative redundancy. But then, it might be a magnificent obsession.

©LR 1/2000

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