Shetland: the TV series

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.

A Rumination about a Story from a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

I was nine when Star Wars first turned up, but probably closer to ten when I first saw it. Exactly the right age to be wowed by the space battles, the simple tale of good vs evil, even not be too bored by the lovey-dovey bits between farm boy Luke and kick-butt ‘princess’ Leia. I loved the crazy creatures, and the music. I think I saw it once at the cinema proper, but then we stayed at my grandmother’s during school holidays when it was on at the drive-in. From the front of her place we could see the screen. I watched it many nights in a row.

I saw Empire Strikes Back at the cinema and it became a firm favourite. I remember the earnest discussions among my school friends about Darth Vader being Luke’s father, the blossoming relationship between Luke and Leia, and the complication of Han Solo. Empire is still my favourite of all of them.

We collected the action figures.

In 1983 my best friend and I scored tickets to the first night screening of Return of the Jedi. I still remember when the movie mags I devoured knew of it as Revenge of the Jedi. Then it changed. I remember loving the speeder bike chase, and laughing at C3PO and the Ewoks. Being dumbfounded by the revelation that Leia always knew she was Luke’s sister! Really? Er. Nope. Argh.

Was I a fan? Yes, to the level of loving the films. I read the books, and listened with fascination to the extended radio play versions of Star Wars. I watched them when I could, but while I played with the idea of writing some fanfic, I never completed any. Stopped collecting all the novels. Kept an ear out for news on the other six movies and then stopped thinking they would.

Then in the 1990s they announced they were making the first set of three films, and I didn’t believe them.

I saw the Phantom Menace at a midnight screening on its first day of release in Sydney, and wasn’t exactly blown away. It had some good set pieces, like the pod race that just went on a bit. I can see why people hate Jar Jar Binks, but I found him okay. The only thing was the odd possible racism, which I’m not sure about. Don’t want to reject it, but equally not sure it was intended as a bad thing. My main thought was: it was a dull movie. I wanted to be wowed, and instead we got slightly cod socio-economics and politics that didn’t quite add up. And as for Anakin Skywalker being that young? Nope. Didn’t work for me. And while the C3PO joke was fun I’m not sure it was entirely worth it. Suitable retconned later, though, so hey. [Imagine a shrug.]

But, the SFX were amazing, and the music. I don’t not watch it in re-watches of them all, but it leaves me cold. I did watch the DVD documentaries when I first got the releases and I remember the Lucas-chosen kid over another who looked a more credible age and from his show reel could act. Ah well.

The Clone Wars were something referred to in reverent tones in the various other movies and ephemera I had loved as a kid and young teenager. I keep renaming the Attack of the Clones to the Clone Wars, and I haven’t actually seen the series. I thought the film better than Phantom Menace, but still felt a bit flat. Hayden Christensen is terrible, but I enjoyed the whole Kenobi plot uncovering the strange order of a clone army. Laughed with joy at the idea that the Stormtroopers are all Maoris.

Revenge of the Sith plots the creation of Darth Vader and should leave us at a decent jump off point for what will always be the original Star Wars – A New Hope. Now if Anakin was played by someone who could act that might have been achieved. But, the horrors that Anakin unleash on the Jedi order in his service to Palpatine (who is brilliantly played by Ian McDiarmid) don’t quite work. Padme’s record-breaking pregnancy, and the strange dying of a broken heart thing. Just not quite right. Christopher Lee is brilliant, of course, and his casting brings a nice symmetry to the series that started with Peter Cushing as Vader’s man on the Death Star.

And that was that. Two excellent films, three okay films, and one dud – all in terms of my enjoyment levels. I’ve watched all of them more than once so there’s that.

Am I a fan? No.

Do I have a fondness for the films? Yes.

I was very sceptical when news broke about The Force Awakens. The title didn’t grip me (still doesn’t), and I’ve only seen one of the many teasers. The proper ones. The first one I did watch in its Lego version, and did shiver at some of the old tropes. The old music.

I didn’t book a seat immediately. Yeah, once bitten.

Then people started to tweet positive things about it. It was fun. Back to basics. I thought I’d book a seat before spoilers started to to leak, and I’m glad I did.

I’ve seen it twice now (and shall leave it at that at the cinema – I’m no longer the kid I once was and time is precious), and both times I was taken back to that time a long time ago, when I visited that galaxy for the first time.

No spoilers now, but what I love about the film is the fine balance of new (I love Rey, Finn and BB8) and old (ah Chewie, Han, Leia, Luke, C3PO and R2D2 – original actors back, too!), but also because it’s fun. Space battles, simplistic good vs evil (or is it?), and old mystics. Desert sands and lush jungles. That music.

There’s a lot more I want to say, but I won’t because of spoilers. But, I will share this little thing. First go around I laughed at Kylo Ren – so cardboard and arch, but a failure. (I love Emo Kylo Ren on Twitter). Then I watched all the films in this order: IV, V, II, III, VI and VII (I had seen I recently enough, so shush! But, you can watch I before II and it’s cool – it all works as a rather good flash back between all the revelations between Empire and Jedi). I was prepared to giggle at Adam Driver’s wooden performance only to notice he isn’t. Watch when Ren and Rey first battle each other and you’ll see what I mean.

Oh, last one I promise – but Snope or Snape? Am I the only one who things Snope is a little too much like Voldemort?