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Reviews / No blunders…but more balls next time

Douglas Henshall in an early series of Shetland. Photo: BBC

FIVE million viewers tuned in to the finale of Shetland, Ann Cleeves’ crime drama adapted for television by ITV for the BBC and screened on Sunday and Monday night.

The figures were down 1.4 million on the first episode, but enough to make the BBC consider a follow up. A decision on that will be made over the next few weeks, but meantime here is what our reviewer Jordan Ogg thought:

Depending on where you’re from, Shetland was either a cringe-heavy hash of cultural vandalism or an apt tale of murder and mystery for a prime-time BBC audience.

Its visual aesthetic drew from Scandinavian hits Wallander and The Killing, and the landscapes echoed those of Jar City, the superb Icelandic whodunnit and precursor to the Danish strain.

Muggy atmospherics, brooding hillsides and a sharp sartorial eye for knitwear marked out the best bits. But where Shetland made the most of Scandi-style, it lacked the gritty chops of its precursors.

Part one introduced too many characters and the connections between them were confusing.

Detective inspector Jimmy Perez, played by a laconic Douglas Henshall – the only big name in an otherwise obscure cast – seemed to be channeling the static landscape, but held enough mystique to warrant further attention. 

A good bit of gore wouldn’t have gone amiss, especially in the opening murder scene, as would have some passion between Perez and the archaeologist Hattie James.
Throughout the programme Twitter was awash with folk – mostly Shetlanders – moaning about the actors not speaking in a Shetland accent.

Such complaints are daft. If the actors had tried to adopt a local brogue – and let’s remember everyone sounds different depending on where you go on ‘du isle’ – they would have been panned for not getting it right.

Shetland’s not a place that has produced many actors who work in prime-time TV either. But there is one – Steven Robertson – who has a major part in the show.

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Would the same people moan to Radio Shetland about the lack of local voices on air?

By 9pm on Monday there was much left to shore up. Who killed Mima? Did Hattie commit suicide? Was the cop at the Lerwick police station ever going to get a tea break?

In the second half the action got going with relative urgency. Perez started to shout. He was beginning to fathom who’d been up to what and he was having fun with it, not least with the slimy archeology professor who’d managed to bed every woman that came within his grasp.

Claustrophobia was summoned as the streets of Lerwick became rammed with locals out to watch Up Helly Aa.

Then, as the Vikings occupied much of the closing scenes, everything came together around a chilly bouquet of burning galley and fish market.

The finale was a typically British resolution to an ambitious crack at a home-grown, yet Scandinavian flavoured, detective drama.

Shetland is a work of fiction. Anyone moaning about the programme not representing things properly should probably stop watching television (it’s all lies, you see).

The production team did a fine job in presenting a pilot which fitted its demographic. There were no blunders, unlike the shaky Ripper Street series that prefigured it.

If further episodes get commissioned – and I hope they do – they should have the courage to add more balls to the script and ramp up the action.

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