Shetland: Season 1 and Two
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Eight puzzling murder cases keep good-natured Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall, Primeval) busy - and keep you guessing - in the breathtakingly beautiful Shetland Islands. Among the mysteries Perez is confronted with are a local recluse who looks like the obvious suspect in the murder of a teenage girl until another corpse and a secret hiding place reveal new clues; a journalist s fatal car accident seems suspicious after Perez discovers the driver was researching plans for a controversial new gas pipeline; and a scientist s mysterious death. As Perez and the viewer quickly come to realize, not all is what it seems in this close-knit island community. Based on the best-selling Shetland novels by author Ann Cleeves (Vera).
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In episode 3, a character notes that Perez isn’t a Shetland name. Perez replies, “They say they came over with a shipwreck from the Armada, and a Spanish sailor fell in love with a girl from Fair Isle.”
Jimmy is assisted by Detective Constable Sandy Wilson and Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh. Tosh is an excellent example of not judging a book by its cover. Her eyebrows are permanently slanted as if she’s worried. Together with her plump cheeks and sloping shoulders, you could get the mistaken impression that there’s not much going on in her head.
All of these mysteries have convoluted plotting with multiple story threads - never boring! And the islands are like a character. Gorgeous, green and gray and stark. Even at Midsummer, you have to wear a parka at night. I've attached a map of the Shetland Islands, showing Lerwick, the largest city (where DCI Perez is based). It doesn't show Fair Isle, unfortunately, because that little isle is way south of Mainland, half way to the Orkneys, So I added a photo of little Fair Isle itself. Known for its wool and traditional knitting patterns, it is only 3 miles square - which still makes it the 10th largest of the Shetland Islands.
“Shetland” is produced by BBC Scotland. Season 1 first aired in March, 2013, consisting of the 2-part episode “Red Bones”. Season 2, with three 2-part mysteries, aired March/April 2014. Each episode is about 57 minutes without commercials. They started filming Season 3 in 2015. It will be one murder mystery told in 6 episodes.
Most of the filming is done on mainland Scotland, with an occasional foray onto Mainland, Shetland. Even so, the scenery is breathtaking. It must be annoying, though, to live on one of the Shetlands, and see another place represent your own beautiful island.
Episodes 1 & 2: “Red Bones” …On the Eastern island of Bressay, the elderly Mima Wilson muses over a yellowed photograph of 3 young fishermen standing in front of a boat. She hears a noise outside her isolated croft and heads out to check, calling “Who’s there? Is that you?”
The next morning, young DC Sandy Wilson, Mima’s grandson, stops in to check on her, only to find her outside, dead from a shotgun blast. DCI Perez takes the 20-minute ferry from Lerwick to investigate. There are family antagonisms going back 70 years to bear on the case, not to mention an archeological dig on Mima’s land which just turned up a skull. How old is that skull?
To make it worse, Perez has to investigate the murder while dealing with the tourist influx to celebrate the annual Up Helly Aa festival, always a time for people to overimbibe – or to get lost in the crowd.
I've attached a photo from a real Up Helly Aa with Jarl Squad (Vikings) bearing lit torches through the night, culminating in burning a long-boat on the sea.
Episodes 3 & 4: “Raven Black”…It’s Midsummer midnight, and Sally Henry, the teacher’s daughter, and Catherine Ross, local teen-with-an-attitude, are drinking at a beach bonfire. On the way home to their village of Ravenswick, Sally tells Catherine that her mother “does not like me when I’m with you. She does not like you.”
They pass the croft of Magnus Bain, and Catherine insists on stopping for a visit. Magnus, a natural recluse, shy of contact, still not over his sister’s death 50 years before. He's a natural target. I’d write “Poor Magnus”, but he would not welcome that or even understand. He’ll get the worst of it after 17 year-old Catherine is found dead on the beach the next morning, strangled with her own scarf. She had people’s secrets, and it cost her.
Episodes 5 & 6: “Blue Lightning”…Perez is from Fair Isle, and Cassie is visiting his folks on that small island. One of Fair Isle’s international claims to fame is its bird observatory and research center. It has three permanent employees, Ann and Frank Blake, and Anna’s assistant, Finlay Caulfield. Other students, researchers and birders come and go.
Back in Lerwick, Perez is woken by a late night phone call from his Dad. Anna Blake has been killed in her laboratory and Jimmy goes home to solve a murder. As his father tells Jimmy, “There hasn’t been an unlawful killing in Fair Isle for 70 years and even that was caused by the Luftwaffe.”
Episodes 7 & 8: “Dead Water”…A wedding is coming to the village of Skellwick. Jerry Markham, an old journalist friend of Jimmy and Fran’s, makes a surprise visit from London. And Storne Gas wants to build a new pipeline right across a fish farm. These threads come together in a complicated murder investigation that starts after Jerry’s sports car is pushed over a cliff. As Jerry’s grieving parents tell Jimmy: “He had set up this investigative website. We worried about him when he was in London. But not here.”
In the DVD set for the combined Seasons 1 & 2, you get 454 minutes of atmospheric mysteries. They are presented in 16:9 anamorphic and stereo. English subtitles are available for all episodes. The DVD set has no bonus features.
“Shetland” and the characters in it are taken from the mystery novels by Ann Cleeves. She’s written six of them, so far. Cleeves is also the author of the Vera Stanhope mystery series, which have been filmed by ITV as the murder mystery series “Vera”. I haven’t read any of her mysteries, yet, but now I’m going to have to, to see how well she describes the stark beauty of the Shetland Islands, if nothing else. Here's the latest "Vera" available on DVD/BluRay:
Vera, Sest 5
I love learning new trivia from a show. I had to re-watch “Shetland” with subtitles to catch the spelling of some of the old Gaelic words sprinkling the conversations. For example, Ceilidh, pronounced KAY lee, means a social gathering. Glaikit = foolish-looking. The Shetland Bus (episodes 1 & 2) was a very real clandestine special op during WWII. And, last but not least, the El Gran Grifón, flagship of the Spanish Armada, really was shipwrecked with 300 sailors on Shetland in 1588.
A Very Recommended Mystery Series.
Shetland, like Vera, is character centric. In Shetland, our focus is upon the head of CID, Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, portrayed by Douglas Henshall, (Collision, Primeval,) a widower with custody of his beautiful teenage step-daughter, Cassie. He moved away from the Islands, where he grew up, but on the death of his wife, he returned to Lerwick, where they met and fell in love. He feels close to her there and wants Cassie to know the place and people from where her mother came.
Inspector Perez appealed to me as a main character because he's a good man, with a hard job, navigating through an even harder time in his life. I am a huge fan of crime fighters/sleuths being good people. Perez is good, as well as smart, shrewd, intuitive, moral, and fair. As he deals with the survivors and family members of the dead, witnesses, and suspects he does it with kindness, sensitivity, and respect. He is soft spoken but direct.
Cleeves' deft hand is clearly seen in the main character closely watching people with the ability to look deeply inside of them and see more than they wish to reveal. Jimmy's interactions with his step-daughter's biological father had me approving of him even more. Perez is a good dad. Henshall fills the role perfectly. His portrayal was spot on with no slippage in character. He was always believable.
The crew that surrounds and aids Perez are perfectly suited to him. While his Police Sergeant, Billy McCabe (Lewis Howden) is older and wiser, the other two officers who help him do the legwork involved in murder investigation are young and inexperienced. Still, what they lack in experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and determination. PC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson), is dreaming of and studying to become a detective. Sandy displays maturity and emotional fortitude in the face of familial loss. Rounding out the crew is DC Alison "Tosh" MacIntosh (Alison O'Donnell). Her forensic skills and quick mind aid Perez in surprising ways. All three are Shetland Island locals having lived there their entire lives. They know the land and better yet, they know the people. This gives them insight and awareness of the goings on and proves, at times, to be invaluable in solving the murders that devastate the small, close-knit community. Unfortunately, and sadly, this means they also know and in some cases, love the victims... and the murderers.
Sandy and Tosh, while young, are sharp and eager to learn the craft of murder solving. I liked that they were aware and appreciative of Perez's obvious abilities. Also they respected him, but then he's a man who earns respect. Formerly a detective in Glasgow, he brings an impressive resume, experience, and skill to Lerwick. Jimmy Perez is an excellent role model for the aspiring detectives on his team. I liked how he lead by example. A visiting forensic officer from the big city of Inverness said to him, "You know you're wasted here." Oh, no he is not! He's right where he's supposed to be.
The Shetland Islands of Northeast Scotland are stark in their harsh beauty. I was completely captivated by the windswept land, gray churning ocean, and hovering clouds. The often gloomy appearing landscape seemed the perfect setting for tragic death by murder. The locale haunted me and I found myself yearning to go there and experience it for myself. The Scottish dialect can be difficult to understand but I found it lyrical and charming. There are subtitles so nothing is lost to our listening ears.
In addition to the beautiful scenery I was struck by the haunting Celtic theme music. It set the mood of sadness, which accompanies death, perfectly. In the credits, the only reference to the music was the composer, John Lunn. I would love to have the soundtrack...if one were available.
There are four episodes, based upon the best-selling books, Red Bones, Raven Black, Dead Water, and Blue Lightning. Each contain murder, compelling characters, and surprise endings. I loved pitting my crime solving wits against the culprits' and adding my will to Perez and his team's efforts to find and bring the murderer(s) to justice.
I highly recommend this series. If you have not yet seen Vera you are missing out. Recently released in the UK is Vera 4, another masterpiece of murder.
As noted in the product description, this set is Non-USA format and requires a multi-region DVD player and compatible television to play.