Shetland: the allure of northern noir

shetland-islands-1001417_1920Sweeping, grey green vistas and bleak moors contoured by lonely single track roads. Strange, troubled individuals inhabiting remote croft houses. A pair of unsolved murders with labyrinthine roots snaking back decades, and a quirky pairing of detectives – older grizzled male DI Perez and younger female, ‘Tosh’, recently traumatised… I can only be speaking of BBC crime noir, Shetland.

I’ve just finished watching it on iplayer, where it expired last night. Just a few reflections here about its hold on audiences and possible deeper ramifications.

Living as so many of us do in such urban, crowded spaces, the pull of bleak northern beauty is hardly surprising. I recently read a wonderful defence of protecting bird species, not for any economic benefit but for the value of their sheer alien ‘otherness’. Panoramic Shetland shots offer a landscape equivalent, transporting us outside our familiar worlds.

Viewers are drawn too to the rich, nuanced characters, and the fundamental decency and probity of the two core detectives. Drawn also to the honest search for truth in a murky environment where it’s easily overlooked by less scrupulous officers flown in from the central belt. And perhaps most poignantly, we admire the kindness with which DI Perez treats rough former inmate and all round ‘difficult character’ Thomas Malone, who’s widely suspected of the second killing. A stark contrast to the sledgehammer ‘justice’ meted out by the mainland force contingent.

With daily lives that can feel so often trammelled and confined, and where unmerited generosity is hard to come by, it’s no wonder some of us are drawn to a drama marked by such wild beauty laced with moments of grace. Whether we then allow such qualities to move us to seek out what theologian David Kettle calls ‘the deeper, more trustworthy horizons’ of transcendent faith – that’s a choice that remains with each of us.

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