It takes a lot to upstage a cast that includes Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci, but there’s no doubting who the real star of Sky’s blockbusting new murder mystery is: the scenery.

Set in Svalbard, the world’s northernmost settlement (but filmed in Iceland), Fortitude is tailor-made for the HD era: anyone watching on a 52-inch screen must be in serious danger of snow blindness.

The Arctic Circle is an alien environment for newcomers in more ways than one: as if the ever-present threat of polar bears and frostbite aren’t enough, there’s the nude sauna to navigate, while the only watering hole in town appears to be a death metal bar. So much for peace and quiet.

Fortitude is a frontier territory, but without the Wild West lawlessness – until a savage, apparently ritualistic killing threatens to put a nasty dent in the local crime stats. That’s bad news for the governor (Gråbøl), who is hoping to build to an ice hotel in the glacier, but it was worse news for Eccleston’s research scientist, who didn’t last a full hour before being graphically eviscerated on his living room carpet, possibly by a polar bear with a grudge and a spare key. (Oh well, he probably wouldn’t have done a second series anyway.)

Writer Simon Donald has acknowledged Fortitude’s debt to Twin Peaks, and there are echoes of David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece everywhere, from Verónica Echegaray as a troubled temptress in the Sherilyn Fenn mode, to Stanley Tucci channeling the spirit of Agent Dale Cooper as a mysterious Met detective so sharp he begins his murder investigation before it’s even happened.

For all the hype – and we’re talking about a PR campaign that set polar bears loose on the London Underground – Fortitude’s feature-length opener was a slow-burning affair, an offbeat murder mystery with a deliberately fractured narrative taking in everything from infidelity (it’s how the locals keep warm, apparently) to weird animal experiments and what may or may not have been a woolly mammoth in the permafrost.

‘In this place, things can come at you from nowhere,’ warned Echegaray. After two hours, I still have no real idea what to expect, or where all this is heading. But I suspect that’s the point.


TV Extra:


Eat Well for Less

The premise of Eat Well For Less ­– some people spend too much on food, so Gregg Wallace and greengrocer Chris Bavin show them how to cut their grocery bills – is so crushingly dull, you’d struggle to muster much interest if it was your own family, let alone someone else’s. And it’s not helped by Gregg and Chris’ constant lolz at their own noisily unfunny ‘banter’. Gregg’s response to this week’s family buying too many frozen sausages? ‘I bet they’ve got a dachshund at home!’

Maybe you had to be there.


Rory Bremner’s Coalition Report

Satire’s not dead – but it does appear to be feeling a little unwell. Despite five years of material to work with, this toothless mix of stand-up and sketches failed to land a single knockout blow on Cameron and co (I mean, Dave ‘n’ Nick bromance jokes – really?). Is that because Bremner has lost his edge? Or is it that our current government is just a bit dull, grey and managerial? Thank goodness for William Hague and Ed Miliband, who at least have the decency to talk in silly voices.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, Febuary 5, 2015

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