The Dominion Post
Thriller’s superstar cast follows no-rules playbook
IT COMES to something when being eaten by a polar bear is the least of one’s worries, as in Fortitude, SoHo’s big-budget new thriller, Mondays.
You could be eaten by another human, catch polio, or innocently hang up wind-chimes and be mistaken for a wife-swapper. And then it gets really scary. Fortitude is an isolated Arctic Circle settlement of 700, many of whom are odd, sinister or really quite annoying, a surprisingly number of whom are serious bogans, and some of whom are routinely homicidal.
This promises to be a long ride of twists and turns, combined with lengthy exposition of local quirks and guilty secrets – all firmly penned in by Arctic permafrost and crashing seas.
The opening shot is a polar bear eating someone, with Michael Gambon – this is a seriously stellar cast – fixing to shoot the bear.
Only he shoots the bear’s dinner. Or did he? It’s one of many festering doubts nurtured, for viewers know never to assume too much with these sorts of shows.
And that’s the proviso with Fortitude: it is very selfconsciously one of ‘‘these sorts of shows’’.
It’s a by-the-numbers attempt to replicate all those fabulously original, throw-the-rulebook-out sorts of programmes that have so captivated viewers, and blindsided traditional television show makers, by emulating all their rule-breaking techniques and nuking them at this one expensive super-cast.
There are bits derived from The Killing (including the casting of its star Marie Grobel), Broadchurch, True Detective, Fargo and even the ’90s weirdie Twin Peaks.
Given the polar bear, the mammoth remains and the purposefully random, illassortedness of the characters, it’s even indebted to Lost.
Which is not to say it’s not terrific.
Gambon, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Eccleston could make the Yellow Pages profound and edgy.
The plot is nicely dense and nuanced with competing agendas.
The town’s viability is precarious, and its governor (Grobel) wants to attract tourists with a hotel hewn into the glacier – a plan resisted by the local archaeologist (Eccleston) who believes the glacier is home to a cache of whole mammoth carcasses. Babylon, SoHo, 8.30pm The police satire continues, with the much-resented American adviser in danger of being supplanted by her scheming deputy, while the commissioner squirms through his tabloid ordeal.
While we get acquainted with the criss-crossing lines of sexual tension and quiet despair among the townsfolk, there’s a gory nearfatal attack, and without giving anything away to those who haven’t watched yet, it really doesn’t look as though the bear dunnit this time.
The bear may not even have dunnit the first time.
But whoever did causes Tucci to roll into town as a special detective from the British Met, so it’s an ill wind.