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Reviews / There’s been a murder!…again?

Hollywood actor Brian Cox as Magnus Bain with DI Jimmy Perez played Douglas Henshall - Photos: BBC

Shetland has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, but it seems right now in TV land the isles are full of bloodlust, lukewarm corpses and, well, a lot of quite dubious folk.

On Tuesday night, BBC One’s ‘whodunnit’ crime drama Shetland made its return to British screens after a two-part pilot aired almost exactly one year ago.

Its shortage of native accents and spiky action divided many on this archipelago, but it ensnared enough viewers to warrant a full series – six episodes split into three two-parters.

The maiden episode, based on Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black novel, saw the return of main man Douglas Henshall as the intrepid DI Jimmy Perez as he investigated the murder of 17 year old Catherine Ross, who was found dead on a beach in Ravenswick – or in this case, near the road to Eshaness, an area which, after the triumph of Socks the pony, must now surely be considered a veritable TV hotspot.

What followed was pretty typical murder mystery fare, with local actor Steven Robertson’s goody-two-shoes policeman character Sandy Wilson forming something of a bumbling Batman and Robin partnership with Perez.

The cast was augmented with some notables, including Hollywood actor Brian Cox in the role of Magnus Bain (a play on St. Magnus Bay, or is that just me?), who, as a raven-obsessed loner that looks like Brian Blessed the day after a drinking binge, is one of the tale’s main suspects.

And there’s TV journeywoman Julie Graham too, drafted in as a cigarette-toting procurator fiscal designed to keep our man Perez in check.

But did they add anything to the project? I’m not quite so sure.

Perhaps mirroring Shetland’s leisurely pace of life, the first episode rarely went beyond a comfortable plateau of uneventful police interviews and gormless looks of sorrow and anguish.

But seeing as it’s the first part of a double-header, there’s surely some bombastic, gung-ho crime drama mayhem set to air next week? Hopefully…

Saying that, the slow, brooding pace complemented the crepuscular landscapes and lighting succinctly, concocting an overriding sense of bleakness.

Shetland has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez.

There was a lot of mist, a lot of simmer-dim darkness and, well, even more bloody mist. And it seemed just about every set of curtains in Shetland were drawn shut. Vitamin D, where art thou?

A lot of the darkness was attributed to the creepy-but-probably-just-misunderstood misfit Magnus Bain, who spends his time sitting alongside a caged raven in a dilapidated croft house, situated near the crime scene.

He rarely ventures outside or speaks to anyone unless it’s his day to ‘go to Lerrick’. Subtitles may well have been needed for some confused regions of Britain, however, with Cox’s mumbling and muddled accent generally marooned somewhere way off the Shetland coast.

And yes, the accents. Steven Robertson was again the main carrier of the native tongue and it was a little disappointing not to hear a full-on Whalsay twang on national television with warts ‘n’ all broadness when a rich ‘playboy’ from the isles, Alan Isbister, opened his gob and out came, alas, a most definite Scottish twang.

Henshall, playing a character raised in Fair Isle with Spanish blood, rarely drifted into the local lilt. And it took the laid-back detective around 40-odd minutes until he uttered tangible emotion, launching into a short, heated verbal tirade at his police colleagues before resuming his poker-faced guise once more.

What irked Perez into his impassioned diatribe? Speculation and rumour, something which the Shetland community knows all too well. And not only in terms of elders gossiping over their tea and biscuits, but on Facebook too, which in the past couple of months has hit the news in the ‘real’ Shetland too.

And all the tourists-in-waiting looking for a peek at one of the Shetland’s main selling points – its landscape – may have been disappointed, with the aforementioned mist and morning darkness masking much of the scenery. But then again, it’s a murder mystery, and blue skies and t-shirt weather don’t really go hand-in-hand with cold-blooded murder, loss and deception.

Come the end of the episode, there was a startling discovery in a peat bog – let’s just say it’s akin to Nibon’s Gunnister Man, but perhaps with a smidgen less historical significance – and it raised even more questions.

Last year’s Shetland lost 1.4 million viewers between its two episodes and it remains to be seen if this full series can maintain Britain’s interest over the course of six instalments.

There were enough leads and red herrings in the episode, however, to pique some interest and I’m sure I’m not the only one wanting to come back for second helpings to discover the red-handed culprit.

I’d like to see Steven Robertson’s butter-wouldn’t-melt cop character unearthed as a frothy-mouthed, knife-wielding serial killer in the next episode, but for some reason, I don’t hold much hope.

So that just leaves one question: who done it? I don’t really know, which I suppose is job well done.

But what I do know is that this first two-partner needs to pick up the pace to justify the programme winning a whole series.

Chris Cope

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