Shetland, BBC1, starring Douglas Henshall PREVIEW

Shetland, BBC1, Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez
Douglas Henshall as Detective Perez. Pic: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1: starts Sunday, 10 March, 9pm

Story: Detective Jimmy Perez has returned to his native Shetland and is confronted by the shooting of an old lady and the discovery of human remains at an archaeological dig. 

The Shetland Islands are not quite far enough north to classify this new crime procedural as Scandi-noir, but they’re not far off. Gloomy and wind-blasted, they even have a Viking-themed fire festival and the locals have the same un-sunny complexion as the characters in The Killing or The Bridge.

Still, this remote outpost of the UK is an intriguing and magnificent setting – when there’s some daylight. It also has its challenges for our hero, Jimmy Perez, such as often having no phone signal or having to jump on a ferry to visit a murder scene.

Sandy, Jimmy and Tosh

Jimmy Perez investigates a granny’s murder
The detective is a native Shetlander who has returned home to bring up his stepdaughter, Cassie, following the death of his other half. The first killing he has to investigate is that of a grandmother, Mima, blasted with a shotgun at her isolated croft.

This two-part mystery is based on Ann Cleeves’ elegantly written novel, Red Bones (Ann is also the author of the Vera novels, soon to return to ITV). Sadly, this production falls into the trap of thrusting us straight in the police procedural element of the story without giving us much chance to learn about Jimmy, his return to the island with teenager Cassie, or his new colleagues – Sgt Billy McCabe, DC Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh and PC Sandy Wilson.

Doulas Henshall heads a good cast in Shetland
So many British crime dramas are about detectives in a pretty setting asking people where they were on the night of the 15th. Sadly, Shetland slavishly follows the formula, leaving Jimmy and the other main characters flat.

Which is a shame, because the cast is good, the novel full of atmosphere and the islands are fascinating. But all we get here is the whodunit with tourist trappings – ceilidhs, seascapes and the rest, with little character interest.

Murdered for her land?
Anyway, back to the plot. Mima has been killed by the site of a dig where a human skull has just been found by Hattie, a young archaeologist. Perez realises that Mima may have been caught between the long-held animosities of two local families – the rich Haldanes and the struggling Wilsons.

Mima had been offered money for her land, which was targeted for holiday homes. Was she killed for her land? Or was it because she might close down the dig after the human remains were found, which for some reason upset her? Are the bones ancient or contemporary?

Up Helly Aa – the fire festival
The drama is ratcheted up nicely in part two as the annual fire festival, Up Helly Aa, is spectacularly recreated and Perez closes on the grievances that led to murder.

It’s a decent enough mystery, but a shame that Jimmy and co never burn as brightly as the festival.

Cast: Douglas Henshall Detective Jimmy Perez, Erin Armstrong Cassie, Gemma Chan Hattie James, Sandra Voe Mima Wilson, Alison O’Donnell Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh, Lewis Howden Sgt Billy McCabe, Steven Robertson PC Sandy Wilson, Jim Sturgeon Ronald, Alexander Morton Joseph

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