11/03/2013 11:02 | By Dan Owen, contributor, MSN TV

Shetland: Douglas Henshall drama fails to impress

TV review: Shetland, BBC1's crime drama set on the Shetland Islands, stars Douglas Henshall but didn't quite work.

Douglas Henshall in Shetland (© Douglas Henshall in Shetland. Image. BBC)


Shetland is a two-part adaptation of author Ann Cleeves's crime novel Red Bone. It focuses on the investigation of an old woman's murder on the remote Scottish island of Shetland, led by Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall).


Unsurprisingly, the opening murder and final "shocking discovery" were the only notable highlights in a sluggish hour bereft of surprise and thrills.


Hard to single anything out as being remarkably bad, it's just that the prolonged tone of Shetland quickly became tiresome.

Full review

The influx of Nordic Noir programming appears to be having an effect on British drama suddenly, as bleak two-part crime thriller Shetland arrives clinging to the coattails of Mayday and Broadchurch.

Inspired by author Anne Cleeves's 2009 novel Red Bones - the third of her Shetland quartet - this drama stars Douglas Henshall (Primeval) as D.I Jimmy Perez, who's investigating the murder of an old woman called Mima Wilson (Sandra Voe) near the site of an archaeological dig.

"Shetland arrives clinging to the coattails of Mayday and Broadchurch."

I desperately wanted Shetland to work because the choice of lead actor in Douglas Henshall is one I can get behind.

In addition, the windswept location offers an immediate feeling of isolation a good crime drama can capitalise on; Shetland did a decent job making you feel island solitude.

And it certainly didn't put off over six million overnight viewers who tuned in to the BBC's latest drama.

There were some welcome quirks about running a murder investigation in a far-flung place (like potential suspects hotfooting it to the mainland by ferry, or unreliable mobile phone coverage making communication tricky). But it wasn't enough to counterbalance a mediocre storyline that failed to keep you focused and guessing.

Shetland's missed opportunity

There was the chance here for something quite unusual and strange given the island setting (although perhaps nothing as sinister as The Wicker Man), but Shetland was unfortunately very straightforward and I often felt a few steps ahead of the plot.

The idea of a murder occurring in a small community where everybody knows each other, but where animosity may be quietly brewing between two families (the wealthy Haldanes and the poorer Wilsons), certainly has lots of potential.

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However, I just didn't feel that Shetland knew how to turn what it had into something truly compelling because the hour soon quickly turned monotonous... with only a few flashes of inspiration, most notably when Perez realised Mima may have been murdered because of an incident from 1944 involving a Nazi double-agent.

The idea of the island's dark past being at the heart of the killing will hopefully take firmer grip in the conclusion.

Shetland at least made the most of its location, but it isn't likely to have viewers rushing to vacation there.

There were times when the camera seemed to have a permanent haze of mildew coating the lens, and Henshall was almost comically dour trudging around in his landscape-matching attire.

A tonal success with the foundation of a fun premise in a divided island community, but Shetland was unfortunately a colossal bore because of a storyline that didn't become riveting.

  • Verdict: Shetland could've easily been named zzzzland.

    Star grade

What other reviewers said

Huffington Post: "All the generic trappings of a crime drama."

Time Out: "At its root, a fairly workaday policier."

What people on Twitter said

‏@unrealitytv - "Douglas Henshall features in this new BBC drama but the island is the real star"

‏@Lynn_Shepherd - "Watching #Shetland last night was so slow it was like that great Lennie Briscoe quote about New Hampshire 'I spent a year there one weekend'."

The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft

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