Shetland, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
Shetland, BBC One
Scottish islands murder mystery fails to set pulses racing
Apparently on a clear day in the Shetlands, you can see Norway and Iceland. And from about halfway through the first instalment of this Caledonian murder mystery, you could see all the way to the final reel and take a well-educated guess about who did it.
I was reading an opinion somewhere the other day that ITV's Broadchurch was an inferior rip-off of such fashionable Scandinavian fare as The Killing or The Bridge. Can't see it myself. Shetland, on the other hand, was riddled with Nordicisms and fit the bill perfectly. Shetland (the place) was even a Norwegian province back in the Middle Ages, and acquired a language called Shetlandic.
Shetland (the programme), with its raw and wind-blasted local accents, could comfortably have accommodated some of those subtitles that give Danish dramas their distinctively exotic tang. It starred Douglas Henshall as the unfeasibly named DI Jimmy Perez - no, not a Zapata-moustache-twirling tequila drinker with a penchant for bullfighting, but a gloomy single Shetlander trying to make the best of a somewhat solitary life with his daughter Cassie (Erin Armstrong) who, we suddenly learned rather late in the piece, was in fact the daughter of fellow islander Duncan Hunter (Mark Bonnar). Were the boat-loving Perez to have stumbled across the fugitive Sarah Lund surviving on raw fish and puffin meat on an outlying uninhabited island, living in a tent made from old pullovers, it would have been (somewhat doleful) love at first sight (various closely related Shetlanders find another body, below).
Shetland was adapted from Ann Cleeves' novel Red Bones, which I haven't read, but I'd guess it makes a better job than this of knitting landscape, plot and character together. Henshall, who rarely disappoints, earned his spurs again here, persuasively imbuing Perez - in the circumstances, it's hard to type the name with a straight face - with copper-ish firmness mixed with a rather beguiling empathy. However, as the piece developed, something which it seemed to do only reluctantly and with no particular enthusiasm for being dramatic or mysterious, it looked increasingly like a National Geographic documentary with a few stray characters dumped into shot to give some idea of the scale of cliffs and moorlands.
The story was about the historic enmity between two Shetland families, the Wilsons and the Haldanes. The Haldanes got rich by building a trawler-fleet empire in the years after World War Two, while the Wilsons were reduced to gazing up at the Haldanes' fancy house on the hill while getting drunk and grinding their teeth with rage.
Naturally there had to be a murder - two, actually - but they were just excuses to go ferreting about in murky goings-in back in the war, when Shetland fishermen had run a secret shuttle service to Norway called the Shetland Bus carrying spies, supplies and money. The Haldanes suddenly got loaded, remember. Anyway, everybody was more or less incestuously involved with everybody else, and assorted people had various motives for bumping off the victims. Doug sorted them out in the end, obviously. Lovely scenery. Bit of a waste of time otherwise.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Jack Thorne's latest is a gripping whodunit set in the English countryside
Anodyne biog sanitises showbusiness legend
Gripping final episode, but is the very existence of 'The Village' threatened?
Andrew Graham-Dixon begins an excellent trilogy about World War One artists with Paul Nash
Final season opener suffers from sensory overload
The complexities of the Middle East rehashed as slick TV drama
'Nowt as queer as folk': Matt Rudge ventures into the wilder reaches of taxidermy
James Rhodes gets music education moving. The M6 remains at a standstill
No time for deep breaths as baby drama reaches a suitably eventful conclusion
Revelation of early Swedish woman artist opened magpie survey of abstract art
Tradit Tory or true revolutionary? Alastair Sooke ponders John Constable's heritage ahead of major V&A exhibition
Infomercial about arts training looks set to be distinctly undramatic