I enjoyed Fortitude but there is a slight sense with the 12-part series that a bunch of people sat in a room and came up with a list of TV shows they liked, and then tried to put together something that included a little bit of all of them. As a result there are echoes of Broadchurch, Lost, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, The Killing and various other things.
Indeed it gets to the point where it’s difficult not to feel the series ends up as something rather different from how it begins, to the point that those who were hoping for the initial murder-mystery might feel a little cheated when it goes a little sci-fi (even if it is very much at the softer, more realistic end of sci-fi). However, those who are open and stick with it are likely to find it rewarding.
Fortitude is an isolated community on an island in the Arctic Circle. It’s a place which is normally peaceful but is rocked by two violent deaths in a very short pace of time, the second of which is a particularly gruesome murder where a professor from the local Research Institute has been savagely butchered. DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) is sent from London to investigate, much to the chagrin of the local Sheriff, Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer), despite the fact he never had to deal with something this serious before.
As they look into the murder, all manner of secrets are unveiled and tensions in the town rise. To add to the mystery, one of the children in the snowy town has come down with a mysterious illness, somebody thinks that they may have found the frozen body of a mammoth and there are rumours about a treasure hidden under the ice. Little of this is welcome news to the Governor, Hildur Odegard (Sophie Grabol), who is trying to revitalise the dying community by building a hotel inside the nearby glacier.
As you can tell there’s a lot going on in Fortitude, so it may be surprising that one of the biggest complaints when it was on Sky TV was some people feeling like it moved at a glacial pace (pun intended). However that was likely to be those viewers who, but to the slightly contradictory marketing, thought they were getting an action-packed murder mystery rather than the more Broadchurch-style ‘community rocked’ drama it starts out as. On DVD it’s not so much of a problem, as being able to binge-watch the series helps a lot and makes it feel a lot faster-paced than when you had to wait a week between episodes.
Binge watching also helps to even out the slightly odd tonal shifts that happen every so often, where the series decides to twist and turn its way through every genre it can think of, before settling into the slightly sci-fi thriller it felt like it ought to have been from the beginning, but half forgot about partway through (not that it ever gets bad, but it does like to flit about a bit).
It’s helped in its tonal shifts by a great cast and some interesting characters who manage to ensure there’s a constant through-line no what genre it’s being at that moment, or indeed during those moments when the plot edges towards being a little bit too over the top for its own good. Of course the location is also a major plus point, with the show making the most of the dramatic Icelandic locales (which stood in for the Fortitude’s Norwegian island) and showing quite how isolated and precarious the community is.
There are moments where it risks the audience suffering from mystery fatigue while it tries to be as cryptic as possible. Plus its massive gambit of telling us who killed the professor partway through and then pretending that wasn’t the major mystery after all, will piss a few people off. However, overall it’s extremely entertaining.
Overall Verdict: The ice-bound drama may try to cram in far too many genre shifts and will annoy some by turning out not to be quite what they thought they were getting. However, a proper binge-watch smooths that out and brings out quite how entertaining it is.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac