A major new prime time television drama set in Shetland and based on the work of popular crime-writer Ann Cleeves had a preview in Mareel on Wednesday night.The two-part drama, due to be shown on BBC One in January, with the simple title Shetland is based on Cleeves’s book Red Bones, one of her quartet of Shetland books featuring detective Jimmy Perez.
Filming was carried out in Shetland earlier this year – about a third of the film was shot locally – with Scots actor Douglas Henshall playing Perez and Shetland actor Steven Robertson, working at home for the first time, as the young local policeman.
Lerwick, South Whiteness and the Bressay ferry are all featured in the drama, and the atmospheric shots of the town’s quaint and imposing buildings, the lonely voes and empty roads should whet the appetites of potential tourists.
Head of drama at BBC Scotland, Christopher Aird, was in Shetland with Cleeves, Robertson and script executive Clova McCallum for the preview. Mr Aird said if ratings were good a six-part series was possible.
Two more books in the series are already being prepared. Cleeves herself hinted her work could go global, to the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as to countries requiring subtitles.
In a question and answer session after the preview, which comprised the first episode in front of an invited audience, Aird asked the audience if they wanted to see more. “Yes”, was the resounding response. The episode, which had started with a murder, had ended on a cliff-hanger, a “hook”, as McCallum called it, with the discovery of a second victim.
Cleeves described her work as “traditional crime-writing”, and is delighted with the adaptation for the screen.
She said: “It’s great, it’s not faithful to the book but it’s faithful to the atmosphere and spirit of the book. It’s important that it’s a good piece of TV rather than stick rigidly to the book.”
In the book the action takes place in an archaeological dig in Whalsay – this is substituted for Bressay for logistical reasons – and the digging up of the past is, said Cleeves, a metaphor for unearthing secrets.
The story features two related families, one well-off thanks to pelagic fishing, the other poorer, and undercurrents of jealousy and greed. The action comes very close to home when a family member of policeman Sandy Wilson, (played by Robertson, who comes from Vidlin) is murdered and suspicion falls on the relatives.
Robertson, who convincingly struggles with professionalism and grief, said it has been a “privilege” to work back home and in his own accent for thefirst time. He had been aware of the part, he said, and hopeful of getting it, but had to audition like everybody else.
* Full story on the front page of this week’s Shetland Times.