Albie Kinsella

Written by @EllieDangerous
Among the British stalwarts launched by Jimmy McGovern’s grim 90s masterpiece were Robbie Coltrane, Christopher Ecclestone, Ricky Tomlinson, John Simm, Liam Cunningham and Robert Carlyle. In ‘Cracker’, Carlyle in particular was rightly lauded for his portrayal of Albie Kinsella, one of the most intense characters crime drama has ever seen. Albie is a salt-of-the-earth survivor of the Hillsborough disaster. He is frightening, dark and captivating, ravaged by his contempt for police control and the myopia of Old Labour.

Spoiler Alert
Albie is a white working-class Liverpool supporter who exceeds expectations. But nobody notices, allegedly because he’s a white working-class Liverpool supporter. He and his father survived the real life football disaster that took place at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989, but all they ever bonded over was football. After that, they talked about nothing. And when cancer takes his father five years later, Albie’s ingrained trauma intensifies beyond words. As his ex-wife explains, “depressed is not the word for it. There’s no bloody word for it.”

This grief is the catalyst for what turns into a series of cold-blooded murders for which Albie provides a bitter, sociopolitical explanation.

People assuming things is not just a pet peeve to Albie; it’s unbearable. In his opinion, there were only ten people at his father’s funeral “because he was a white, working class man, so he didn't matter. He didn't bleeding matter.” Albie believes people always assume things about the likes of he and his father, and on the surface it sometimes seems that way.

When he advises a workmate on a crossword, the workmate takes a university alumnus’ advice over the uneducated Albie’s. And when he asks to owe a newsagent four pence because he doesn’t have it on him, the newsagent doesn’t seem to believe that he’ll ever pay it back. It’s this event that finally makes Albie crack. To him, the newsagent is assuming he’s scum just because of who he is.

So he goes home. Shaves his head. Black-eyed, bald and brutal, Albie returns to the newsagent, machete in hand, and throws the four pence down on the counter. “Treat people like scum, they start acting like scum, y'know what I mean? Y'know what I mean, you robbing Paki bastard?” We get the impression that Albie has never used this racial slur before. He’s saying it because it’s expected. "I'm a socialist me, pal. Trade unionist. Voted labour all me bleedin' life. I've marched for the likes of you. But you just see me in me clobber. You hear the accent and you assume things. You assume the right to treat me like scum. Well okay, you robbing Paki bastard, you treated me like scum now I'm acting like scum."

He kills the newsagent for assuming things. But he’ll kill more. Many more. In fact, the bereaved and broken killer intends to murder ninety six people — one for every person killed at Hillsborough.

He targets a journalist for assuming racial motivation for the newsagent’s murder; she later assumes he is sexually motivated, which offends him profoundly. He slaughters a professor for assuming that he, the murderer, must have been abused by his father. He murders a DCI played by the recurring Christopher Eccleston, desperate to punish the police. “The busies and the bourgeois lefties. They caused Hillsborough and they're going to pay.”

The case twists and turns because the police are indeed preoccupied with their assumptions. The key is the Guardian newspaper that was purchased in the newsagents but never collected because the customer, Albie, owed four pence. Nobody assumed that the murderer was the customer; that the profiled “white, working class football supporter” would read the Guardian.

But there’s nobody and then there’s Fitz. Robbie Coltrane’s candid maverick psychologist understands that Albie is different, and through this is able to convict and unravel him. He understands that all Albie wants is “to be a somebody”.

But this sensible motivation does not stand on its own in Albie’s twisted mind. Hillsborough left him traumatised beyond repair, and extreme bitterness drives him. He accepts that his father and the other victims of Hillsborough would not want revenge: "but i do".

As for Albie’s perpetual hatred for people assuming things, he is in essence a dangerous hypocrite. He assumes his workmate ignored his suggestions just because of his lack of education. He assumes the newsagent didn’t trust him to bring back the four pence. (It later transpires the newsagent was just extremely meticulous with the till.) He is correct that we struggle with an assumptive culture; but he’s a part of that.

In the end, the fair and rational concerns that once drove Albie are replaced by a wild anguish. There’s an interesting grief in Fitz as he watches this intelligent, heartbroken loner break down entirely. Sometimes the police treat the public like wild animals in cages; so in a performance that resonates powerfully twenty years later, that is what Albie becomes.
What do I look like? What do I sound like? Sun reader. Fascist. Football supporter. Hooligan. This is Mozart, right? Piano concerto number 21 in C major. Yeah?
There's no brownie points for speaking up for us, so the Labour Party turns its back.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 20 August 2015
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