Shetland: More, please. Literally

henshallGuest post by Sarah Lady

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?”
“My childhood”

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.

Posted by Sarah Lady


Filed under Detective/police drama, Drama

7 responses to “Shetland: More, please. Literally

  1. Corumba Love

    See now, PLA

    This is why you’re soooo good:
    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.

    It’s not just the teasing wit (though that’s guaranteed and loved by this chap) it’s the deeper appreciation of what makes a good drama work. And that’s def not about screenwriting 101 (yawn) and besides you take it up a notch or so to 1001, which being a big, big carpet cleaner may not be altogether helpful in this instance. Even so, being as me and Old Girl have got all sorts of rugs about the place, we’ll certainly give you a call at the first claret on the Afghan. We’ll handle the Sauvignon though – the Taliban prob won’t notice that.

    Own view on Shetland: not entirely happy with it as we’ve some way to go to catch up with the best US cable quality. But that’s me being a TV snob.

    Background to that view: Brideshead. I read the book after seeing the C4 revisit in the 90s. Gosh: a multipart series that managed to fillet the source text while sparing the bones. Paradox aside, I wish the TV companies in this country still had the courage to do that.

    There have been so many film adaptations in the last few years that would have had so much more room to breathe as a TV series. Thank the Dragon Queen that Game of Thrones falls into the latter camp.


    • pauseliveaction

      I love a nice compliment, CL, but it’s a bit misdirected this time. I didn’t actually write this review – it was my esteemed colleague Sarah Lady. I know it says my name at the top, but that’s because I uploaded Ms Lady’s fine words for her.

      Glad you liked the review and agreed with her thoughts. I didn’t see Shetland, because I’m still watching Broadchurch and one brooding crime drama a week is enough for me.

      • Corumba Love

        Doh. Well pass it on then, woman. Might as well offer a BOGOF on praise in these straitened times.

        On Broadchurch: started watching it because I know that part of the country very well. Reckoned I was in for a two hour stint of nostalgic sightseeing at most, having not realised it was supposed to be ITV’s answer to The Killing. Will keep on with it I suppose but it falls some way short of its aspiration, not least because it uses, dare I say, Holbyesque tricks to inject fake drama where none need exist. Those tricks work for Holby’s knowing cartoonery but jolt you out of a supposedly more complex story that needs you to remain immersed.

        Also: it should be shot in Winter so that we could have some spiffy knitwear about the place. That would keep it windswept and interesting.

      • pauseliveaction

        I admit my attention did drop a bit in episode 2 of Broadchurch. I don’t think any of these incidental characters are compelling enough to make me feel a six hour commitment is worth it. Still worth watching for David Tennant – and I agree that spiffy knitwear would be an enhancement there, though I did think the lovely weather in the first episode worked really well in a “what horror lurks beneath the surface of ice creams and sandcastles” kind of way.

  2. Sarah Lady

    Just seen these comments – thanks CL, that’s ever so kind! You’ve encouraged me to contribute more often, if PLA will have me!
    You’ll notice that Shetland was nice to us on the knitwear front, it was largely that (and the location) that made me want to watch it in the first place.
    Started on Broadchurch but agree, two British crime dramas at once is too much.. Add to that that Mayday was still on, irritating all kinds of hell out of me and I had to leave Broadchurch for another time. A big sacrifice for me, given my love for DT and Olivia Coleman.

  3. Dan Beale-Cocks

    I hope they treat this like a pilot, and now commission a bunch more.

    They do similarly frustrating things with other series – the awesome Sherlock is being dribbled out in tiny little 3 episode seasons; The really nice British version of Wallander was killed after 3 episodes. (Yes, the original was great too, but the British version could have been brilliant.)

  4. Julie Quantick

    I enjoyed this drama greatly and am now inspired to visit Shetland. I too would like more episodes. Unfortunately, I missed part of Episode 2 and therefore I am wondering if there is anyway I could watch it. please please? Thankyou for reading this.

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