By now you’ll have most likely seen a trailer or at least one of the many ads for Sky Atlantic’s new flagship series Fortitude. The never ending big budget promotion campaign might give you the impression of an average series made feel great, but there is real substance to back up the glitz churned out by the hype machine working at overdrive.
Not only has the PR department locked away in the bowels of Sky HQ done a good job, but so too have the makers of the channel’s first major home production as everything about Fortitude matches those of HBO and Showtime blow for blow. Genuinely it looks every bit at home on a channel that has built its reputation around re-airing such headline shows this side of the pond. In fact, the subtle differences seen here combined with the unique setting make for a welcome change of pace from that emanating out of New York or Hollywood.
That setting has helped create a show which resembles the product of a marriage between Deadliest Catch and True Detective. The fictional town of Fortitude is set deep in the Arctic Circle of Norway and within the spectacular backdrop lies a civilisation built on scientific research and mining with the added premise of a perfect society. However, with the mines coming to the end of their riches, the town under the guidance of Governor Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl) and Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) needs to reinvent itself.
Crucially, the brilliant cinematography which brings the viewer through the door of local dive bars and down icy back roads illuminated by the Aurora Borealis is not left carrying the show as the early storyline is already unique and compelling. The development of the central characters and the ramifications of life in the town during the first installment alone provide the viewer with a striking and importantly captivating tale.
The first feature length episode not only details the contention amongst the locals as to the future direction of the town but also shows the early warning signs being given off by the environment around them, which for the most part go unnoticed. Then on top of that, a rare act of violence throws the locals into despair at the prospect of their normal tranquility being broken and the prospect of a fugitive being on the loose.
Because of the extra time devoted to the opener, the show could be considered slow paced and while this was corrected somewhat in the second episode, the pacing and at times lack of dialogue is remarkably distinct to just about anything on television right now.
While there is a certain vulnerability in this, perhaps Fortitude is an answer to an audience expecting something different when they sit back on the sofa. Television (and cinema) are amidst the point of reinvention and like other mediums perhaps it’s the style and not the just the content and distribution methods that needs to evolve.
On that note of evolution, in the past actors and productions have crisscrossed between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean but rarely if ever has there been a true global blockbuster originating here or in the UK – and certainly not on a frequent basis. The current media market and technology have made the opportunity to make such productions far more readily available. Is now the time that producers here begin to distribute regular standout shows and films?
This program certainly breaks ground stylistically, one wonders does it have the potential to become the standard bearer for a continent of relatively undiscovered talent to show what they can do. Indeed, the upcoming academy awards see Irish film Song of the Sea nominated for best animation.
Regardless of the bigger picture, Fortitude presents a sizeable gamble by Sky with a budget nearing €50 million. International distribution is scheduled and an initial UK audience of just over 1.5 million presents promising initial signs. Despite the sometimes sluggishness, its unique qualities make it worth your time. Catch up On Demand or jump right in Thursday nights at 9.00 p.m.