The downside of Fortitude being the most expensive drama in British TV history is that that fact tends to overshadow the show itself. The £30m price tag, the animatronic polar bear in the London Underground and the blanket advertising, all important for Sky to recoup their investment, are all anyone seems to want to talk about.
So, let’s put all that aside and consider it no more; let’s take Fortitude as we find it. It is a British take on Scandinavian Noir, a mysterious crime drama set in the eponymous small research town within the Arctic Circle; a Northern European cultural melting pot of British and Scandinavian scientists, rule makers and rule breakers. Not too many rules are broken here of course. As is pointed out to us, despite Fortitude having four police officers working for the chief of police, there is no allegedly crime here. At least no crime that most people were aware of. Because, like a frosty Broadchurch, everyone in this isolated community has secrets.
The first episode shown on Sky Atlantic, and also available on Sky’s streaming service NowTV, was a 90 minute double episode. The principle storyline revolves around Governor and Chief of Police Odegard, The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, burnishing the cast with some Scandinavian clout. The Governor is keen to secure tourism money, in the form of a hotel development carved into a glacier, at seemingly any cost. Aiding her is Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer), a complex character who seems to balance his duty to protect and serve, with aiding and abetting less salubrious methods of doing so. Complicating matters are the scientific investigations of Christopher Eccleston as the British scientist who heads up the Arctic Biology department at the Fortitude Arctic Research Facility.
Sheriff Anderssen is very much a lynchpin of Fortitude, he also keeps an eye on Michael Gambon’s Henry Tyson, a wildlife photographer who has seen too much and seems to be drinking his way to his grave. And Anderssen is also close to Elena Ledesma, the show’s femme fatale played by Spanish Verónica Echegui. A mysterious young woman who is intent on stealing Search and Rescue officer Frank Sutter from his wife, even as their son suffers from a mysterious malady. Finally, when murder inevitably visits the community, the Met sends their American expert DCI Morton, Stanley Tucci
representing the series’ star-billing, to find out what’s going on, putting himself in direct conflict with the secretive Sheriff.
In between all this there are secrets and lies, infidelity and wind chimes, extortion and corruption, a mysterious find and a baffling illness. There are a lot of strands to Fortitude, but they are well-layered and interestingly presented, devoid of the frustrating switch-and-bait that some mystery shows seem to employ. Don’t believe the undeserved frosty reception some have given it, Fortitude warms up fast and keeps you hooked. I, for one, am really looking forward to the next episode.