Dougie Henshall simmers away as a Spanish-Scot crime-solver
Given the Shetland Islands’ close kinship with Scandinavia (it was a Norwegian province until the 15th century) does this returning crime show count as Nordic Noir? When Shetland first arrived last year, it was dubbed ‘the Scottish Killing’, but such headline-grabbing comparisons are really nothing more than an empty promotional tool to get an audience on board. You’ll look long, hard and fruitlessly to find any cuttings about The Bridge being named as ‘the new Hamish Macbeth’.
Mind you, some viewers would have benefitted from subtitles to penetrate Brian Cox’s broad accent as the reclusive Magnus Bain in this first of three two-parters. A threadbare hermit with a fondness for ravens, Bain is all-too inevitably hounded by local witch-hunters when a 17-year-old girl is found dead on the beach not long after visiting his hut for cake. Given that his humble abode overlooks the crime scene, a stylized b&w photo of him is discovered on her phone and links begin to emerge between this murder and the case of a missing primary schoolgirl two decades earlier, the circumstantial evidence is weighted rather massively towards Bain.
But this is a 120-minute TV crime drama, whose very structure determines that the metaphorical finger of suspicion lodged in our minds will naturally point towards one far too-obvious character before finally alighting upon the actual murderer who will be: a) the first person you thought of; b) someone you fleetingly considered was a potential felon; c) a character you would never have possibly suspected.
The Killing, of course, got the suspect-MacGuffin motif down to a fine art, spending hour-long episodes taking us completely up a narrative cul de sac, before plucking the real criminal out of Danish thin air. The psychologically-flawed crime-solver here is Jimmy Perez, a Spanish-Scot widower who has returned to the isles. Played by Douglas Henshall (perhaps the least Spanish-looking Scot on the planet), Perez is no Sarah Lund: for one thing, his only relationship to eye-catching knitwear is having been born on Fair Isle.
But Henshall is very convincing as a cop with simmering personal tensions bubbling underneath and brings humanity to an investigator who has little time for the playboys and charlatans of the island, but plenty for its waifs and strays. And the writing neatly lets in shards of back-story for those who may not have caught the first episodes last year. It’s not The Killing and it’s not The Bridge, but Shetland, like the island itself, has many charms all of its own.
Shetland starts on BBC One, Tuesday 11 March, 9pm.