Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Terror

Cracker—A New Terror
Directed by Antonia Bird
Acorn Media

Visiting England in late 2001, I heard many expressions of friendship and empathy for America and horror at the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks. How much 7/7 changed attitudes, I could not say. However, it is hard to see how the Britain depicted in Cracker—A New Terror could possibly re-elect Tony Blair, or have any kind words for a visiting American.

Newly released on DVD after airing on BBC America, ANT is billed as the final episode of the British ITV crime series Cracker, of feature length and directed by film director Antonia Bird (best known for the controversial Priest), bringing back hard-drinking, compulsive gambling Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald, a forensic psychologist, just returned to Manchester for his daughter’s wedding after seven years in Australia. Evidently, while he was visiting the beaches down under, Fitz took advantage of an opportunity to jump the shark.

“Fitz” is his usual charming self, except more politically charged, as he makes small talk with wedding guests, like: “suicide bomber kills ten in Iraq, won’t you confess to even a slight tinge of disappointment that not one of them was American, that they were all Iraqis that died?”

Cracker is the cat-and-mouse variety of crime series rather than a whodunit, so we soon know the killer is one of their own: Archer, an ex-military copper, tormented by the memory of a particularly heinous IRA attack in Northern Ireland, for which, of course, he blames America.

The general action of ANT follows a basic pattern: 1. Killer launches into an anti-American tirade. 2. Killer kills. 3. Fitz launches into his own anti-American monologue while tracking the killer. 4. Repeat 1-3.

The original Cracker was stark, gritty TV—naturalistic crime drama as if written by Arthur Miller. Watch Season One, which features Carol Kidd’s (an excellent Scottish jazz vocalist whose career was launched by Sinatra) renditions of “Summertime” and “Stormy Weather” as reoccurring motifs in the debut episode: “The Mad Woman in the Attic.”

Fitz’s interrogations were the centerpieces of each episode, and in ANT it does provide a moment of moral clarity. Analyzing the episode which haunts Archer, Fitz explains: “the soldier trusts the humanity of the sniper. He’s not going to shoot where there’s a pram, but the sniper knows this . . . it’s the abuse of humanity.” Unfortunately, it is a long trek to get to that point, and shortly thereafter it reverts to form, with Fitz virulently bashing America and Bush in an attempt to draw Archer out. Robbie Coltrane was probably born to play Fitz, and he again brings a world-weary gravitas to the role. Unfortunately, the performances are overwhelmed by ANT’s agenda and constant background noise.

The Britain of ANT is truly Orwellian, but not in the way intended by the filmmakers. Just like Big Brother, the leftist media is omnipresent, bombarding citizens and viewers with propaganda reports designed to undercut support for coalition forces and our Iraqi allies. Even die-hard partisans would find it a tad didactic. Check out Season one or other great British mystery series, like Inspector Lynley or Rebus, instead.