Over the past week we’ve been inundated with murder mystery dramas with both Mayday and Broadchurch attracting viewers with their intriguing storylines. Tonight the BBC gives us another mystery drama in Shetland which feels a lot more traditional than either Broadchurch or Mayday. Based on the Shetland novels by Ann Cleves it introduces us to DI Jimmy Perez a policeman who wants to protect his island at all costs. As Shetland is presented as an island where everybody knows each other’s business the murder of one of its eldest residents comes as a big shock.
But that’s exactly what happens in Shetland’s opening scenes as we see Mima Wilson flicking through an old photo album before being killed by a mystery shooter. The murder is later discovered by Mima’s grandson Sandy who is also one of Jimmy’s colleagues. As a stunned Sandy attempts to come to terms with his grandmother’s death he is also forced to help Jimmy with the investigation. Jimmy learns that Mima’s croft was the site of an archaeological dig with a couple of university students attempting to research the history of the island. It appears as if the dig may have bought up old memories for Mima as the students found a human skull. This skull seemed to have spooked Mima which leads us to believe that it belonged to some she knew. Jimmy later discovers that there is also a family feud boiling between Sandy’s father Joseph and his cousin Jackie the latter of whom is one of the island’s more wealthy residents. It is Jackie’s son Ronald who may be the prime suspect as many of the islanders believe him to have accidentally shot Mima while drunk. Ronald isn’t the only suspect though as it later transpires that Joseph wanted to sell Mima’s croft to local entrepreneur Duncan Hunter. With Mima now dead, Joseph inherits the croft and is now able to sell it to Hunter who wants to build holiday cottages on the land. This theory is strengthened when Joseph shuts down the dig claiming that the croft has now become sacred land following the discovery of the skull.
Though we are given several prime suspects it seems as if Mima’s death could have greater links to the history of the island. As Jimmy finds out that Mima’s husband and Jackie’s father worked on the Shetland Bus together he quizzes his old history teacher for more information on the ships. She tells him that these shipmen would often be involved in ferrying supplies and spies into Norway during the Second World War. She goes onto explain that ‘Taking the Shetland Bus’ became code for escaping from the Nazis. He also discovers that the men who operated the Shetland Bus were later exposed by a double agent who revealed their movements to the Nazis. Jimmy then believes that the man in the picture alongside Jackie’s father and Mima’s husband may indeed be this double agent. Time begins to become an issue for Jimmy as he hopes to solve Mima’s death before the lights are shut off on the island to celebrate the Fire Festival of Up Helly Aa. However the case might not be as easy to solve as he thinks when another dead body shows up on Mima’s land.
After watching the first few minutes of Shetland it is easy to see that the star of the piece is the island itself as its eerie landscape looms large over the investigation. With its low-hanging sky and miles of uninhabited countryside it becomes the perfect place for a murder investigation to take place. Shetland is also presented as a place with a vast history especially when we learn about the involvement the island had in the Second World War. Jimmy Perez is sort of portrayed as the protector of the island as he sees it as a completely perfect place and refuses to believe that this will ever change. We later learn that Jimmy met his true love on the island and they left Shetland only for him to return following her death. Jimmy is also devoted to his stepdaughter Cassie who he is utterly protective of mainly because he’d be lost without her in his life. It appears though as if Cassie might be bored with life on the island as there’s little for a teenager to do in a place as quiet as Shetland.
With its eerie location and Scandinavian connections, Shetland will obviously draw comparisons to the Nordic Noir dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge. Indeed it is often quite brooding with its lack of constant backing music making a refreshing change from a lot of British crime dramas. However where Shetland differs from its Nordic counterparts is that it does have a sense of humour about it. Despite Jimmy being a damaged character he still seems fairly amiable and only occasionally lets his personal grief get in the way of his professional duties. Jimmy’s DC Alison, better known as Tosh, is also presented as the comic foil throughout the course of this first episode. When we initially meet Tosh she is passed out on a friend’s floor and later throws up after indulging in too much Dutch chocolate vodka. Tosh is also unique due to the fact that she wears braces because, as she tells Jimmy, she doesn’t want to be stuck with Scottish teeth. In the lead role Douglas Henshall is suitably stoic and he convincingly portrays a man who wants to keep his island as crime-free as possible. I also thought Steven Robertson was great as the grieving Sandy mainly because he has such an emotive face. However at the same time it’s hard not to suspect Sandy as Robertson has a history of portraying slightly psychopathic characters.
Overall Shetland was a traditional Sunday night crime drama which I enjoyed thanks to easy to follow story that never insulted the audience’s intelligence. Though it didn’t feel completely original it was never boring and I was also very interested in the way the history of the island played in to the central plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other books Ann Cleves’ Shetland series are also adapted for the screen as I feel audiences will respond well to this first two-parter. Ultimately Shetland was well-shot with great performances from Henshall and Robertson but it is the island itself which is the true star of the piece.
What do you think to Shetland? Would you like to see the other books in the series being adapted? Leave Your Comments Below.