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The psychologist who just unloads

Robbie Coltrane Makes A One-time Return To His Plain-spoken Role In The Bbc Crime Drama. Americans: Be Ready For Analysis.

September 17, 2006|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

POLITICAL correctness never was the distinguishing characteristic of "Cracker," the BBC's lauded 1990s crime drama starring Robbie Coltrane as Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald. The obese and abrasive criminal psychologist always had plenty to say about feminists -- or anyone, such as his wife, who thought he should curb his drinking or gambling.

Now Fitz is back, in a one-time reprise airing on BBC America Oct. 30. This time, it appears his target is the U.S.

In "Cracker: A New Terror" (at least in the preview copy as yet unedited for U.S. audiences), Fitz returns from 10 years in Australia to attend his daughter's wedding in a post-9/11 England. At the reception, he immediately accosts a guest with a news item: "Suicide Bomber Kills 10 in Iraq."

"Wouldn't you confess to a slight twinge of disappointment that not one of them was an American?" he asks, leading with his substantial chin. "Isn't there a tiny part of you that wants the chaos to go on and on until they realize they made a huge, bloody mistake?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 20, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
'Cracker': An article in Sunday's Calendar section about an updated episode of "Cracker" on BBC indicated that the original series was made by and aired on BBC. The original series was made by Granada Television for broadcast on ITV (Independent Television) stations in Britain and A&E in the United States.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 24, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
"Cracker": An article last Sunday about an updated episode of "Cracker" on BBC America stated that the original series aired on the BBC. The show was made by Granada Television for broadcast on ITV (Independent Television) stations in Britain and A&E in the United States.

"Cracker," one of Britain's most popular television series, ran for three seasons and aired on A&E in the U.S. At the end, Coltrane said, "I think everyone was just running out of ideas about crime solving that could be done purely on psychological instinct. You don't want to force it. Leave them wanting more is the golden rule. Never leave them wanting less."

Politics and pragmatism, though, made "Cracker's" return, at least for one installment, seem viable.

Recently, Coltrane and creator-writer Jimmy McGovern were in town to promote the episode for television critics. As they lunched on a sunny patio at a Pasadena hotel, their rapport was unmistakable, with McGovern, in his Liverpool brogue, and Coltrane, in his Scottish burr, engaging in witty repartee, buttressing each other's thoughts.

After the BBC series ended, ABC attempted a remake in 1997; Coltrane portrayed a Hollywood producer in the last episode, an experience he called "industrial and unhappy." McGovern said he hadn't cared how the show turned out; he was only in it for the money. The show was dropped after 10 episodes.

Coltrane, a former leftist comedian, moved on to the role of Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" franchise and McGovern to other projects, including a documentary about the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in Sheffield, England, in which 96 people died.

They decided to reteam partly because McGovern had negotiated a show for Granada Television in return for a large donation to a Hillsborough memorial and partly because he wanted to write about the issues of the day. "If you do 'Cracker' now, somehow it's got to be about the events of 9/11," he said. "It's our world now, isn't it?" echoed Coltrane. "It changed the world."

Both deny any specific political motive colors the show. "It's about a far broader idea, which is what happens when people decide to get what they want by imposing violence on other people," McGovern said. "Violence only begets violence, and there's no end to it. It only escalates."

In the plot -- an investigation into the death of an American stand-up comic -- Americans are portrayed as insensitive, racist and arrogant or ignorant and naive. One character calls America "the land of hypocrites and cowards."

The show also implies that Americans financed the IRA, whose members became frustrated when the events of 9/11 overshadowed their cause.

Coltrane, unlike his character Fitz, knows when diplomacy is called for. He asks permission before lighting up a cigarette and is polite about the show's political undertone.

"At the end of the day, we're in the entertainment business," Coltrane said. "But if you get the chance to do something that's actually about the things you think about in the middle of the night when you're on your own, then you feel as if there's some purpose to it, don't ya?"


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