Shetland: the TV series

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A lonely phone box, Isle of Skye (not Shetland, I know)

I first read Ann Cleeve’s first two books in her DI Jimmy Perez series while on holiday in Uig, Isle of Skye. I enjoyed them enough to track down the series and read them, too. In many ways, they are a fairly typical police procedural series, with a bit too much murder to be entirely realistic, but engaging characters and a fantastic setting.

Skye and Shetland are not the same. I’ve yet to visit Shetland, but from what I’ve seen in pictures suggests that it has similar greys and greens, the occasional piercing blue, as its colour palette as Skye and other parts of northern Scotland.

Anyway, I had been aware that a television version of the stories had been optioned, and then made, but I missed them on broadcast. I managed to pick up the first three series on DVD a few weekends ago. I watched them all in about a week. My immediate thoughts are how well the television series grabbed what I liked about the feel of Ann Cleeve’s books. The characters, their interactions. The realities of life in a small and isolated place. The tensions of generations seeking different things from life. The tensions of not having wall-to-wall communications coverage when you have a murderer or two on the loose.

The first two series are adaptations of some of the books in the series. The first ‘series’ being an adaptation of one book, the second proper series of three of the books in two-part blocks each. Each part long enough to do the characters, scene and story justice, but without having to change the material to an episodic format. That would ruin the pacing of the story-telling, and it doesn’t suit every tale to be told.

The third series, first aired in 2016, was not based on any of Ann Cleeve’s material outside of the characters. It was one story, told in six one-hour blocks, and travelled quite a lot to Glasgow and Gartcosh (the new Police Scotland HQ). While I enjoyed the first four stories, this one did grab my attention far more after a bit of a slow but unpredictable (in a good way) start. The tale is about witness protection, corruption in the legal professions, and old-fashioned Glaswegian organised crime in this modern world. Sexual assault features strongly in it, but what impressed me was the way that was handled – especially given some spot-on criticism of the way other series use sexual violence as a bit of a plot crutch, or worse. For a start none of the assaults are shown at all, not even in that camera-wanders-off-but-you-still-hear-it way. But what I though was amazingly effective was the complicated reactions to it – not just from the victims, but everyone around them.

I was also pleased to see some south Asian actors playing people who aren’t terrorists, or suspected of terrorism.

Oh, and another little thing I thought was handled in a rather lovely way – the revelation of who Alison Graham’s character loved and for whom she was planning her move from Shetland to Glasgow. No fuss. Nobody freaking out. Believable.

So, all up – a good little series that I hope is picked up for more. Nothing flashy, just good and solid scripts, stories, acting, and amazing scenery.