The last thing I saw Scottish actor Douglas Henshall in was that bloody dreadful ITV series Primeval. He was arguably the best thing in it – managing to carry a startlingly stupid plot while at the same time not shouting “this is total bollocks” at five-minute intervals, nor bursting into tears at the thought of his until then pretty decent career going up in smoke.
North-of-the-border drama Shetland comes from the ITV studios too, but Aunty Beeb is the channel broadcasting it (weirdly), and it’s back to square one for Henshall – and I mean that in a good way.
His Detective Jimmy “you don’t look Spanish” Perez is everything a TV cop should be – rough around the edges and knackered-looking, but sharp as a tack when the brown stuff hits the fan, criminally speaking.
So it goes with this curtain raiser for the full-length series, which follows last year’s acclaimed pilot. It’s midsummer and there’s not quite enough night to prevent the islanders from going a wee bit bonkers. For the tiny police force however, their hands are soon full with a murder case after the body of teenager Catherine Ross is found on the beach.
While Perez and his teeny, tiny team leap into action, with the finger of suspicion circling over the isolated croft of local recluse/weirdo Magnus Bain (played by the magnificent Brian Cox). While Perez understands the man is vulnerable, angry and suspicious locals aren’t so eager to give him the benefit of the doubt and it’s not long before Bain becomes a target for baseless rumour and gossip.
But just when the tomatoes start flying and the fingerprinting kit comes out, the discovery of a young girl’s body up on the hill sends the police into a tailspin. Are they really dealing with the work of an as-yet unknown serial killer? Who knows, but the sense of anticipation is palpable as the mystery ever-so slowly unfolds, with deliciously tantalising hints here and there of murky pasts and unresolved issues.
No crime drama – certainly no murder mystery – on the telly these days can pass without even the vaguest reference to the stunning Broadchurch, but the latter really does seem to have injected new life into the genre. While Shetland isn’t quite on a par with the David Tennant drama, it is nonetheless brooding stuff and well worth a look.
Shetland is brooding stuff and well worth a look. Henshall – for me – redeems himself for the dire Primeval with a performance that is both clever and nuanced, but he’s aided and abetted by Alison O’Donnell and Steven Robertson as his dedicated fellow ‘tecs.
The biggest star of all has to be the Scottish landscape. There is moody shot after moody shot in the opening reel, and I’d be surprised if the makers of Shetland haven’t been slipped a backhander by the Scottish Tourist board to cast the place in the best light possible.
I wouldn’t care if they had. Being half Scottish, anything that promotes my ancestral stomping ground is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully the drama accompanying the jaw-dropping natural beauty is every bit as satisfying too. Bring on episode two!
Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington
Shetland Continues Tuesday’s at 9.00pm on BBC ONE.