Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… except the BBC, in its infinite wisdom, decided to start Shetland (its new Sunday night offering) three books into Ann Cleeves’ quartet. This has meant some jiggery pokery with both the plot and the characters which may annoy fans of the books, but the author has said she’s happy with the adaptation as it captures the spirit of both the books and the islands, so who are we to argue?
None of these changes detract from the series. It’s stunningly shot: all greens and coppers and rusts, earthy Autumnal which feels strange given the book is set in Spring and the fire festival, Up Helly Aa, featured in episode two, is in January. There’s an awful lot of daylight and not enough clothes for January too, but that’s a trifle. Shetland looks utterly beautiful and the music is sensitively haunting without turning every scene into a tourist information advert.
Dougie Henshall as Jimmy Perez is commanding and genuinely interesting to watch. I wanted to find out more about him and his rejigged back story; recently widowed, returned islander in this, rather than ‘new to the island’ with a wife on the mainland from the books. This change makes for a deeper, sadder, more interesting character. His concern for the well being of Cassie, his step daughter, and his relationship with her and her father is both touching and true to life. Cassie gets all the best lines, too:
“I can’t wait for this to be over?”
The supporting cast is generally good, full of granite faced old-school Scottish actors and the delicious Mark Bonnar, who plays Duncan Hunter, local businessman and Cassie’s dad. He’s an intriguing and potentially sinister character who hopefully plays a greater part in future episodes (a girl can dream, right?).
The only wrong note is Tosh, played by Allison O’Donnell, Perez’ assistant detective. I couldn’t decide if it was the writing or her delivery but she’s too comic, too flippant to really fit into a drama that seems to nod north to its Scandinavian neighbours (in its seriousness and hue), rather than to the urban crime dramas of Taggart and Rebus. From her introduction, appearing from beneath a pile of sleeping party-goers, it’s hard to take her seriously and during certain scenes this jarred badly.
My major complaint however, is the length of the series. In this era of season-spanning adaptations, two one-hour episodes just didn’t give this story enough time to breathe. There was the promise of a fascinating family saga that could unroll over a few weeks and yet the whole thing was wrapped up very neatly over two nights. I could have watched so much more about the Norwegian Bus and found out more about the philandering lecturer and his many, many women.
The fact I wanted to see more shouldn’t be a criticism but it is, and it worries me for any future shows. I don’t want another cosy Sunday night Hamish Macbeth, I want something cerebral like The Killing. I want whole episodes where nothing really happens but we learn huge amounts. I think I probably want too much. I’ve no idea if there are plans for more, I do hope so but I just hope they’re kinder with the format.
And it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF YARN PORN throughout. Sweaters, hats, scarves, acres of wooly goodness, wrapped round hunky Scotsmen with lilting accents and a gritty murder or two to solve. That’s pretty much all my Christmases at once, that is.