Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston PREVIEW

Sky Atlantic’s much-anticipated new crime series is a slow thaw, but it has a great cast and a terrific setting


Stanley Tucci as DCI Eugene Morton; Sophie Grabol as Hildur Odegard; Christopher Eccleston as Professor Charlie Stoddart in fortitude
In cold blood – murder comes to Fortitude, with Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston. Pics: Sky

Rating: ★★★½

Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 29 January, 9pm

Story: In the close-knit community of Fortitude in the Arctic Circle, a murder touches everyone and the unsettling horror of the crime threatens the future of the town itself.

AN AVALANCHE of hype has accompanied Sky’s Arctic thriller. At a rumoured £25million it has cost more than the entire budget of the Sky Arts channel, apparently. It’s meant to pitch Sky Atlantic into the HBO league of major drama creators. It’s the network’s most ambitious series ever etc etc.

Richard Dormer as Dan Anderssen in Fortitude
Sheriff Dan doesn’t think the town is big enough for him and Morton

With a terrific international roster of actors including Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer and Sienna Guillory, it certainly grabs the attention. And devotees of recent dark mysteries such as The Killing and Broadchurch will also be intrigued by an unusual 11-parter set in an almost surreal frozen setting.

But, on viewing it, how does Fortitude measure up? I thought it got off to a slightly bewildering start.

Sofie Grabol is Fortitude’s governor

Michael Gambon as Henry Tyson in Fortitude
Wildlife photographer Henry makes a horrid discovery

The opening feature-length episode is stunningly set in an Icelandic town, but it hurriedly throws so many characters and storylines at you that the first hour leaves you a bit, well, cold.

It begins with Michael Gambon’s Henry stumbling on a savage scene on the seafront, which is immediately disconcerting. Then a young lad is stricken with a mystery illness and is left by his father, who’s having illicit sex with a hotel receptionist.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a mammoth’s remains by two chancers threatens the plans of the governor, Hildur (The Killing‘s Sofie Grabol), to redevelop Fortitude.

We also meet the town’s odd but charming PCs Ingrid and Petra, and new arrival Vincent (played by Luke Treadaway), who’s here to help Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston).

Stanley Tucci as DCI Morton

There’s more, but the blizzard of plotlines comes to a halt when a grisly murder is discovered, and the town with no crime is abruptly revealed to actually harbour very dark undercurrents.

Mia Jexen as PC Ingrid; Alexandra Moen as PC Petra in Fortitude
Ingrid and Petra

It is when Stanley Tucci’s character, DCI Eugene Morton, arrives from London that the drama gels and we get our bearings (though how an American with FBI credentials happens to be working for London’s Metropolitan Police is again confusing).

Morton is confronted by the antagonistic sheriff (Richard Dormer), which sets up the juicy prospect of a running battle between the pair.

After what is a messy opening episode, Fortitude could well develop into a sharp and intriguing drama. Created by Simon Donald, who wrote C4’s gritty crime series Low Winter Sun, it is certainly original, with a savage but beautiful setting.

Continued…

Sofie Grabol shows her versatility by throwing off her strutting detective Sarah Lund from The Killing to play an under-pressure politician with an agenda. Tucci is very watchable as the outsider poking his nose in, and there are certainly enough murky goings-on to keep viewers guessing.

Luke Treadaway as Vincent Rattre; Sienna Guillory as Natalie Yelburton in Fortitude
Newcomer Vincent (Luke Treadaway) meets Natalie (Sienna Guillory)

I’ve seen it compared to Twin Peaks, which is misleading. But Fortitude is in the rich vein of contemporary dark crime series full of compromised heroes.

Sky will be anxious that it snowballs into a bigger hit than its previously acclaimed series The Take (2009) and Mad Dogs (2011), but, while refreshingly bold, it doesn’t put them in the same league as HBO and True Detective just yet.

Cast: Richard Dormer Sheriff Dan Anderssen, Stanley Tucci DCI Eugene Morton, Michael Gambon Henry Tyson, Sofie Grabol Governor Hildur Odegard, Christopher Eccleston Professor Charlie Stoddart, Luke Treadaway Vincent Rattrey, Jessica Raine Jules Sutter, Nicholas Pinnock Frank Sutter, Johnny Harris Ronnie Morgan, Veronica Echegui Elena Ledesma, Sienna Guillory Natalie Yelburton, Darren Boyd Markus Huseklepp, Mia Jexen PC Ingrid, Alexandra Moen PC Petra, Darwin Brokenbro Liam Sutter, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips Carrie Morgan, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson Eric Odegard, Chipo Chung Trish Stoddart, Phoebe Nicholls Doctor Allerdyce

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Low Winter Sun, Fox, with Mark Strong, Lennie James PREVIEW

The cast of Low Winter Sun on FOX.
The cast of Low Winter Sun. Pics: Fox

Rating: ★★★★

Fox UK: starts Friday, 16 August, 10pm

Story: Two detectives murder a drunken colleague in a crime they believe is perfect. However, the next day, before the body is discovered, Internal Affairs start investigating the dead detective.

LOW WINTER SUN was a Channel 4 three-parter from 2006 (see trailer below). It starred Brian McCardie and Mark Strong, with the latter getting the rare chance to reprise his character, detective Frank Agnew, in the new US 10-parter, swapping a Scottish for American accent.

Lennie James as Joe in Low Winter Sun on FOX.
Lennie James as Joe

Detroit, famously in ruins these days, provides a suitably decaying backdrop to this dark tale of moral rot. It’s a gritty, tense ride from the moment the opening credits are done. It’s made by AMC, who have high hopes for the show, as their other supreme successes Breaking Bad and Mad Men are now in their last seasons.

We immediately encounter Frank and detective Joe Geddes, played by another Brit, Lennie James, at a moment of crisis as they prepare to commit a murder.

A perfect murder?

The two conspirators have it in for Brendan McCann, for reasons that are not that clear initially, though

Mark Strong as Frank and David Costabile as Boyd in Low Winter Sun on FOX.
Watch your back – Frank and Boyd

McCann seems to be a paragon of corruption. But is Joe something of an Iago figure here, egging Frank on? ‘The man’s a disease,’ he tells Frank. ‘We’re making it right.’

Frank believes he is basically a good guy, but still falls in with Joe’s reasoning, and together they pull off what they think is a murder that will elude solution by their colleagues.

But the best laid plans and all that… The very next morning events start to spin beyond the two detectives’ grasp. Internal Affairs turn up at the office to investigate Brendan before anyone knows he is dead, and elsewhere in the city Brendan was supposed to be conducting a drug raid and handing over some of the merchandise to his criminal partners.

David Costabile is terrific as the Internal Affairs rottweiler

Instead, these partners, Nick and Damon, go ahead and ripped off the dealer, who has major connections, and steal the whole consignment of cocaine. Meanwhile, Frank and Joe are already looking daggers at each other.

It’s a breathless opening. Lennie James, who we recently saw as another bent cop in the BBC’s Line of Duty, matches Mark Strong stare for sneer. And David Costabile has toughened up since his appearance in Breaking Bad as mild chemist Gale to play the rottweiler IA investigator Boyd.

The dialogue is terse –

Billy Lush as Nick, Sprague Grayden as Maya and James Ransone as Damon in Low Winter Sun on FOX
Criminals – Nick, Maya and Damon

Boyd: ‘Are you and Joe Geddes friends?’

Frank: ‘How do you mean?’

Boyd: ‘Are. You. Friends?’

This is a dirty game and Detroit certainly looks like the last place in the world to be a good guy. While this is also a grim set of characters, the urge to see how Low Winter Sun is going to unfold is pretty irresistible – particularly with the humdinger of a twist that hits us at the end of episode one.

Cast: Mark Strong Frank Agnew, Lennie James Joe Geddes, James Ransone Damon Callis, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Charles Dawson,  Sprague Grayden Maya Callis,  Athena Karkanis Dani Kahlil, Billy Lush Nick Paflas, David Costabile Simon Boyd

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