A welcome return, the sixth season of Shetland
, originally based on a series of crime novels by Ann Cleeves, set in Shetland, and written for television by David Kane, who continues to write the script, though the books have all been mined and the storylines have long since overtaken the novels.
A few criticisms to get out of the way first: part of the plot hinges on hacked photos of a crime scene, to which real life journalists such as Mark Langford have taken serious offence, saying that responsible journalists and news agencies would never have been party to using such material, calling it 'utter fantasy'. Editorial integrity would not permit it to happen. The second criticism is that possibly – perhaps after the postponement caused by the pandemic – too much has been thrown into the mix for Shetland
six. Words such as 'kitchen sink' have been written in reviews. With that out of the way, what does this new series have to offer?
Straight up, the main attraction is Douglas Henshall, a seasoned, charismatic actor, here playing a kind of 'everyman', albeit as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, someone who is there to solve everyone else's problems, but not his own. It is this dichotomy that makes his character so humane, one with whom it is easy to identify. From the opening shots, at his own mother's funeral, it is made plain that here is a man in crisis, and this is the theme that this season of Shetland
develops most beautifully.
It helps if one has followed this series from its beginnings in 2013, but it is not entirely necessary. Now, Jimmy's father is brought home to Shetland to live with Jimmy because he cannot cope alone on the mainland. He has the beginning of dementia. It doesn't take long for it to become obvious that a middle-aged man in charge of a police investigation – yes, of course, there has immediately been a doorstep murder of a local, well-liked lawyer – cannot also cope with an ageing parent, a parent who forgets to turn on the lights, and decides to take the bus, but has no idea where he is going.
In a scene of some poignancy and humour, the senior Perez (a great portrayal by Benny Young) is found out away from town at something called 'the cake fridge'. By the side of the country road is a large fridge, full of cakes, and an honesty box. It's like something out of Local Hero
, and as anyone dealing with a parent with dementia knows, sometimes it is a relief to laugh.
Shetland is simply gorgeous, with the long tracking shots of a car travelling through an almost empty landscape, the sky reflected on water, the green landscape balm to the eye. Perhaps these wide-open spaces have a particular appeal, given the year and a half of being confined in smaller spaces. It can be glowering too, but there is a sense of freedom in the island's spaciousness.
However, do not be taken in. The murder rate is appalling, and the variety of crimes and possibilities for violence do slightly beggar belief: as well as murder, there is serious drug dealing, addiction, PTSS which bodes badly for anyone near by, and old resentments that threaten to explode, plus local politics. Eventually, no doubt, all these will in some way be tied together, solved by the team that DI Jimmy Perez relies on at the police station. This is a team that has served him – and viewers – very well over the past series. Among others, Perez is supported, though sometimes dropped in it, by his DC Sandy (Steven Robertson), and Billy (a trusty Lewis Howden). It is always reassuring in a series such as this to feel one knows who can be believed, and that their actions can be anticipated, like family.
A newcomer is the procurator fiscal (it's Scotland) Maggie Kean (played by Anneika Rose), maybe a little too much of a trope, slightly interfering, questioning, all those things the 'boss' usually does, and is proved to be wrong, but it creates a more diverse cast, which is good to see.
An outstanding performer in Shetland is Alison O'Donnell. Her character, 'Tosh', from MacIntosh, has grown up through the series, had serious setbacks and personal crises, now having reached the rank of Detective Sergeant. She is young, but very much her own woman, strengthened by her past encounters with the crimes of others, and those perpetrated against her. This has only served to give her character balance and insight, often set against the mercurial reactions, and occasional oversights, of her senior officer, Jimmy Perez. Her facial expressions – a superb eye roll of disbelief – and body language are terrific clues for the viewer to follow her line of thinking.
But now there is Donnie, the computer nerd boyfriend (long story) who, frankly, is a delight. Angus Miller, a young actor mainly known for his stage work, is the perfect foil here. A scene between Donnie and Tosh lightens the whole episode, as, while eating sandwiches on a lunch break, they discuss a potential future, but one in which Donnie has truly lost the plot, while Tosh talks rings around him. It's actually laugh out loud. The series needs moments like this, it provides a kind of clarity on what is important, away from the complications of the crime investigation.
is good at this. Relationships are the cement to the series, and what keep the viewers loyal. Jimmy and his friend – and housemate – Duncan (Mark Bonner) manage to be close friends, while also dealing with a form of rivalry that goes back many years, and encompasses other long-lost relationships. It is good to see men as friends, both missing something in their lives and helping each other, while being very different in their emotional makeup. There is a naturalness to the script, taken up by graceful acting on both their parts, each of them perhaps realising that Jimmy's father is a possible future that they will have to face, however distant. Moments of kindness and consideration serve to anchor the story, before returning to the fire and mayhem. Welcome back, Shetland
; we've missed you.
Perhaps this series will do for soft grey pullovers what The Killing
did for Nordic knits.