Contains spoilers. Maybe.
These are strange times for Shetlanders. Accustomed to obscurity, used to explaining with an illustrated map precisely where we live, it is not common for Shetland to be at the forefront of media attention. We are typically left off weather maps and nobody really seems to care about us unless discussing North sea oil. So it’s with some surprise that I’ve witnessed our islands become almost famous in recent weeks: first with a certain dancing pony advert and now with the BBC adaptation of Ann Cleaves’ book, Red Bones, creatively called ‘Shetland’.
I’m completely unable to look at this programme objectively – in fact, my sole reason of watching it was just because it’s set in Shetland. I don’t tend to watch much TV, otherwise. And, of course, I spent most of the first episode jeering at inaccuracies, like virtually every other of our 22,000 residents. They’d get a ferry from Lerwick (wrongly pronounced ‘Lerrik’) to Bressay (wrongly pronounced ‘Bres-say’) and end up on a completely different island! I had no idea there were so many Glaswegian accents here – a Shetland or an English accent was nowhere to be heard. What I expected to be the worst offender, when watching the trailer, was the line, “on a good day you can see Norway from here” [Norway is 200 miles away], but this sort of turned out to be in jest. I think. Not quite sure. And, of course, the fact that not just one but two murders would happen here is incredibly unlikely – as mentioned in the show, a lot of people don’t lock their doors here, and I can’t really remember any murders in my lifetime. …They got the bit about the terrible phone signal right, however.
Poking at inaccuracies aside, I really wasn’t that impressed in general. As I said I can’t take an objective view, but the ‘gritty’ style of direction just didn’t appeal to me. The acting, the dialogue, it all felt so falsely forced. People are just not that stand-offish with one another, they don’t speak so perfectly… Seeing a TV drama set where I live has exacerbated how forced the genre can be, out of place in the setting, though Shetland felt particularly bad. And the tinting! Gosh, is distorting the colours really supposed to make it more engaging? There really are more colours than grey and green here!
But I did enjoy Part 2 more. The plot actually began to move, rather than the characters aimlessly travelling around and chatting to faces I’d forget once they left the screen. The plot gained some momentum and, while never really reaching an effective climax, did begin to engage me. I enjoyed the Up Helly-Aa scenes. But, again, I can’t distinguish between the show and the place its set. How weird it was to see the street I regularly walk down filmed on polished, BBC cameras! And even weirder to see friends as extras during the crowd scenes.
Overall, it was a very interesting experience watching Shetland, but I’m not convinced I ever actually enjoyed it. It doesn’t help I have a very low interest in crime dramas at the best of times, I suppose.