By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The alarming lack of working-class people represented in dramatic television is probably the biggest blind spot to our supposedly golden age. Even our comedy shows have more upscale inhabitants than we’ve seen in other years. In Britain, however, one of the country’s most storied television writers is Jimmy McGovern, a wiry, tough-minded but good-natured 57-year-old Liverpudlian resolutely committed to presenting the multifaceted, unvarnished reality of ordinary men and women. McGovern’s name may indicate controversy — he’s tackled Bloody Sunday(2002’s Sunday), gay clergy (the 1994 film Priest), and the disturbing 1989 soccer calamity that killed 96 fans (1996’s Hillsborough) — but he also gives projects the instant prestige that Steven Bochco or Aaron Sorkin do here.
If American audiences are familiar at all with McGovern, it’s from the gut-wrenching mystery series he created, Cracker. Watching the episodes, it was tempting to attribute the impressive girth of Robbie Coltrane’s vice-ridden police psychologist Edward Fitzgerald to the disturbing diet of wounded, wretched, serial-killing psyches Fitz swallowed up to put himself in the head of murderers and elicit confessions. Now McGovern’s come up with The Street, a six-episode anthology series that peers behind six doors on one northern England housing block. He finds, among others, an unhappy wife and mother (Jane Horrocks) who enters into an affair, an elderly worker (Jim Broadbent) caught in the financial Catch-22 of forced retirement, and a henpecked cabbie (Timothy Spall) who wants to do right by a lost African refugee. Each tightly plotted, heavy-hearted, bruising tale is a marvel about the intersection of private demons and public shame, with plenty of room for unexpected humor and/or eye-opening tragedy where least expected. In other words, real drama. Recently McGovern was in Los Angeles to promote The Street, plus a new stand-alone Cracker TV movie airing on BBC America at the end of October that, due to its subject matter — a uniquely disturbing take on the post-9/11 world — could generate a whole new level of rancorous debate for the award-winning writer.
L.A. WEEKLY:How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
JIMMY MCGOVERN: Ever since I was a child, I had a crippling stammer, so for me, a blank page was freedom. I could write down words I couldn’t possibly say, and because I was a word switcher to overcome a stammer, I built up a wide vocabulary. Although I left school at 15, 16 and went out into the wide world, I always came back to writing poems and short stories.
You got your start in TV with the long-running British soapBrookside. What did you pick up from that ?experience?
I found a voice there. I don’t think there’s any better place to learn. What you learn is how to mine a story. Then I got a couple of chances at the BBC to write single films that were fairly well received. But the phone certainly wasn’t ringing. People thought I was a wee bit difficult, which I was on the soap, because I wanted the best for the soap. But God bless Gordon Neal, a fine producer; he must have seen something in me, because he wanted me for this idea about a maverick, so I brought to the table Fitz.
How much of you is inCracker’s police psychologist, Edward Fitzgerald?
I’ve always been fond of a drink, a smoke and gambling. And interestingly enough, he’s a Catholic educated by Jesuits, which is me. That just informs you all your life.
What’s the most prominent way it has?
It gave me an anger, because they were reactionary bastards. I can remember after the massacre of black people in Sharpeville, South Africa, we were being taught by a Jesuit priest who had spent time there, and he said, “Well, of course, the way to make a black African laugh is to say something stupid like, ‘There’s an elephant in the toilet.’?” And I took the faith seriously, because I was totally indoctrinated. It’s only when you’re 15 you wake up to the fact that it’s all nonsense. But I took the examination of conscience very, very seriously, and I can analyze motivation. Even as a child I could do that. “Why did I act this way?” And with no glib answer.
Describe the Liverpool where you grew up.
It was postwar. I was born in 1949, and we used to play in the bombed houses that still hadn’t been removed. It was a time of great austerity. The only thing that gave people work was the war, and a war is always fought on socialist grounds: Men and women come together. But it hadn’t recovered from the war. I was the fifth of nine in a little two-up, two-down. But the Kershaws down the street was a family of 13, and the O’Connors had about 15. So nine was small. And I’m not going to say it was a time when you could leave your front door open, because there was a lot of violence there. Women used to come out and fight over the kids, ’cause everyone was stressed out over gangs of kids, and if men fought, it could be very violent.
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