With a trip to the Shetland islands planned for this summer, I approached BBC One’s recent two-part adaptation of the Ann Cleeves novel Red Bones with trepidation. Not just because it suggested that the Scottish archipelago might not be as safe as popular perception suggested, but that it would be shown as bleak, cold and harsh. Lloret de Mar might not seem so unappealing after all.
Shetland was as mean and moody as the subject matter suggested, but also vast, open and dramatic, and an epic backdrop for what boiled down to an intimate tale of long held secrets, family rivalries, and an episode of Time Team with a randy professor who had the phrase ‘too obvious suspect’ writ large on the back of his outdoor designer duds.
We also had a detective with issues (is there any other kind?) heading up the investigation. Jimmy Perez has just returned to Shetland after some time away with his difficult adopted teenage daughter in tow, and wife in the grave. He heads up a small team who get to watch lots of tellies whilst waiting for something crime-related to happen, and when it does its more than just an escaped sheep. An old woman is brutally killed near her croft close to an archaeological dig, which later claims another victim. Nothing seems connected, and there’s a few red herrings caught by the local trawlers before all is revealed against the spectacular backdrop of Up Helly Ha, the fiery annual Viking festival.
Shetland has a high bar to leap given the TV crime competition lately, especially the previous week’s Mayday and of course ITV’s epic Broadchurch. The setting and the filmic quality are the real stars, as the plot resolution starts to become obvious the moment Perez starts surfing the internet (which makes you wonder why most TV detectives don’t do the same) inevitably leading to the person you least expect being the culprit.
But there’s some strong dramatic confrontations in there, even if the performances aren’t always on the mark; Douglas Henshall, likeable though he is, once again fails to get under the skin of a character and gives a frustratingly low-key performance. The rest of the cast are reliable enough, with Alison O’Donnell stealing the show as Perez’s awkward sidekick Tosh, getting all the best lines.
Whether the rest of the novels get filmed remains to be seen, but Shetland is engaging and watchable without ripping up any trees – which is just as well, as the islands themselves, as Perez’s daughter points out, don’t have any.
Aired on Sunday 10 March and Monday 11 March on BBC One.
What did you think of Shetland? Let us know below…