Cracker: Best Boys

Best Boys writ. Paul Abbot dir. Charles McDougall

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

Lawrence Russell

The first of the post-McGovern Cracker scripts. So you wonder how much control writer Paul Abbot had over the story-line as it's really just a homosexual version of the Tina-Dean murder rampage in To Say I Love You. The narrative rhythm is more conventional, starting slow, making its impact at the climax. There's a sense of ennui throughout, as if the cast has a collective hangover. While this atmosphere makes initial sense -- the episode starts with D.S. Jimmy Beck's funeral and wake -- it quickly undercuts the black humor that makes Cracker more than just a post-Thatcher exercise in British manic depression.

Not all the humor is gone -- the interrogation of the murdered landlady's boozer husband is classic Fitz. As the suspect is herded into the room, Fitz claps enthusiastically, extends his hand, greets him with, "You killed her! Put 'er there, boy -- every normal man's fantasy -- put the bitch where she deserves to be!"

Again, other characters, other crimes come to mind. Grady and Nash (a.k.a. Priest) are not unlike the Joe Orton story, where an older homosexual is led into destruction by a younger, idealized version of himself. The 17 year old Bill Nash (John Simm) has the sociopathic arrogance of a Joe Orton but instead of becoming a famous playwright who is bludgeoned to death by his live-in lover, he becomes a police marksman's statistic in a bungled hostage manoeuver at a funfair.

The character Grady (Liam Cunningham) -- a cashiered army vet who is now a foreman in a garment factory -- is an interesting study of the homosexual personality in denial. The soul of an artist trapped in the body of a beast, a man who kills for love... yet the symbolism of his falcon bird sculpture remains unrealized by the end of the story. Less annoying than the abandonment of the dead cop's barrister sister within the action, this narrative detail is nonetheless a missed opportunity to move us to another level of insight.

As for Fitz's marriage, the birth of baby "Jimmy" does little to reestablish the bond with Judith. The baby is a screaming, demonized version of their relationship, and she is seen zombized, embracing the vices of her incorrigible husband -- scotch whiskey and blackjack. She passes out on the couch and later Fitz is seen packing the baby with him to a crime scene. As the body of a murdered social worker lies nearby, Fitz cradles the baby into his large bosom, jams a bottle in its mouth, says, "I think this is a new relationship...." He's speculating about the killers, Grady and Nash, but we seize the irony....

Best Boys is perhaps most memorable because of its graphic murder scene wherein the obnoxious landlady Mrs. Franklin is stilettoed by Nash, using one of Grady's wood chisels. Like a mad child emperor, he commands Grady to finish her off... and Grady, forever the soldier, obeys. Instead of the usual cutaway, the action remains uncensored, and we watch as the landlady crawls like a wounded sow along the landing, tracking blood over the lino.

We enjoy this because a) she's ugly, b) she's homophobic, c) she's a husband-batterer. Thus Cracker proves that once again drama remains the only true venue for natural justice.

©LR 1/2000

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