Fortitude, Sky’s homegrown big-budget murder-mystery, features a veritable constellation of British stars and is – probably – well-worth your patience, says Standard Issue dep ed Hannah Dunleavy.
Sky Atlantic’s first original drama series Fortitude arrives on our screens with considerable fanfare, high expectations and a cast so weighty it requires three “ands” in the credit. (And Michael Gambon, And Christopher Ecclestone. And Stanley Tucci. Mercy.)
In fact, Sky Atlantic, which has made its name buying in quality US drama, seems to have taken a few pointers from HBO. Firstly, pack in as much British acting talent as you can get your hands on (here, it’s hard to find an actor you don’t recognise – among them Jessica Raine, Johnny Harris and comedy stalwart Darren Boyd). Secondly, never be afraid of a bit of full-frontal nudity. And, lastly, never, ever, miss the opportunity to have a great actor call someone a cunt.
Fortitude, an Arctic outpost town which is small enough that everyone knows each other but large enough to have a thriving death metal scene, is emerging from the dark months, if by emerging from the dark months you mean sliding towards disaster. There’s infidelity, melting permafrost, talk of depression, a polio scare, “reindeer abnormalities” and a spot of accidental euthanasia– and that’s before the first ad break.
There are rules in this town, as newcomer Luke Treadaway learns from his colleague: “You have to have a roof over your head and you have to have a job, which means everyone is happy and there is no crime.” Nobody knows whether Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) is a good sheriff or not because currently all he has to do is wander around making sure everybody is heavily armed in case of polar bear attack.
Meanwhile, his boss, the Governor Hildur Odegard (Sophie Grabol) is planning to build an ice hotel to grab her share of the tourist dime, which puts her in direct opposition to Christopher Ecclestone’s scientist Charlie, who’s all about loving the earth. Obvs.
So, when she announces to investors that Fortitude is “the safest place on earth”, you know someone’s turning up dead. And soon enough, there’s a corpse in a town where people aren’t even allowed to die as there’s no ground to bury them in.
Almost immediately, the town splits into two categories; those who look guilty and those you’re fairly sure aren’t guilty, but seem determined to look it.
Fortitude, written by Simon Donald, has a ridiculously impressive cast
It would be unfair (not to mention unforgivably punny) to say things move at a glacial pace, but it’s not a great deal faster than that; three episodes in and we’re still none the wiser on several, seemingly unlinked plotlines. Which is, of course, the essence of great drama, provided they all stitch together in the end.
The dialogue’s a little clunky in places, with characters all keen to opine on the nature of Fortitude and its strangely metaphorical rules. One of the best scenes, in fact, when the Governor, her husband and a recently bereaved friend have dinner, is in complete silence.
Gambon, as you’d expect, does a bang-up job in a less-than-central role, but the real star of the show is Dormer, last seen leading Game of Thrones’ Brotherhood Without Banners. His sheriff is something of a blank canvas on which to paint your own suspicions but he completely holds your attention as a man who might be very good or very bad at his job. Or something else entirely.
Fortitude starts tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.