Based on the critically acclaimed novels by Ann Cleeves, Shetland, the Scottish Bafta-winning crime series, is a captivating television production that invites audiences to immerse themselves in an intricately woven web of mystery and intrigue. From its picturesque landscapes to its skilfully crafted narratives, Shetland offers a mesmerizing viewing experience.
At the heart of the series lies the ruggedly beautiful Shetland archipelago, located off the northeast coast of Scotland, the northernmost point of Britain. With its dramatic cliffs, rolling hills, and windswept moors, the setting provides a stunning backdrop for the unfolding stories. The natural beauty of the islands becomes more than just a mere setting, as it subtly plays a role in the overall atmosphere of the show. The harshness of the environment, which gives more than a nod to Nordic Noir, mirrors the complex nature of the crimes investigated, adding depth and authenticity to the narrative.
Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, impeccably portrayed by Douglas Henshall, takes centre stage as the series' captivating protagonist. Hailing from the isles himself, Perez possesses an unwavering determination to seek justice for the victims of crime. His intense yet stoic aura brings an intriguing depth to the character, captivating viewers from the very first episode.
Each story presents a new and intricate mystery for Perez and his team to unravel. From missing persons to gruesome murders, the crimes are expertly constructed, with no shortage of twists and turns. The plotlines are carefully woven together, ensuring that viewers remain on the edge of their seats throughout.
The first series, broadcast across two nights on 10 and 11 March 2013, consists of two episodes, a single two-part story based on the novel Red Bones. Series two was extended to contain six episodes, featuring three two-part stories based on Cleeves' novels Raven Black, Dead Water, and Blue Lightning. Series three saw a format change with all six episodes covering a single story, written exclusively for television.
Perez is ably supported by his team which includes DS Alison "Tosh" McIntosh (Alison O'Donnell), a young bright and ambitious officer whom Perez sees as having great potential. The character, in a later series, suffers the traumatic experience of being raped and her recovery from the ordeal and the struggle to come to terms with the aftermath is treated sensitively and honestly. Writer Gaby Chiappe took advice from rape crisis workers on how best to represent the grief and fury and the life-changing effects it has on the character.
DC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson, who actually starred in a radio adaptation of Shetland, playing Perez himself) is invaluable with his local knowledge of the area. But more than that, Sandy has a strong sense of right and wrong which serves him well. Julie Graham is the Prosecutor Fiscal Rhona Kelly who enjoys a good relationship with Perez and always seems to have his back, but she doesn't hold back from giving him some hard truths if needs be. Sergeant Billy McCabe (Lewis Howden) is a reliable and experienced uniformed member of Perez's team.
Outside of the day job, Perez is doing his best to bring up his teenage step-daughter, Cassie Perez (Erin Armstrong), following the death of his wife, Fran, who in Anne Cleves' original story was stabbed and died just before she and Jimmy were to get married. But this was ignored for the TV series and although it is never really referred to how Fran died, there have been references to her having an “illness”. Cassie is the biological daughter of Duncan Hunter (Mark Bonnar). She was just three years old when her mum Fran and Duncan divorced, as a result of his serial womanizing.
However, with Cassie off to university in Glasgow in series seven, Perez re-evaluates his life and decides it is time to move on to pastures new. At the time of writing, season eight of Shetland is about to begin with Ashley Jensen making her series debut as Detective Inspector Ruth Calder. Shetland is loved by millions of fans on BBC One and iPlayer, with the last series averaging 7.2 million viewers across its run. No pressure then for its continued success.
Audiences have found themselves equally enthralled by the intricate plotlines as they are by the relationships developed between the characters. These multi-dimensional portrayals add depth and realism to the show, leaving viewers emotionally invested and eagerly awaiting the next instalment. From its authentic portrayal of Scottish island life to its masterful cinematography, Shetland is a testament to the power of storytelling and a must-watch for any crime drama enthusiast.
Published on October 21st, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.