Shetland: How The Setting Sets It Apart

The stunning crime drama television series was actually filmed on location in Shetland and mainland Scotland, so there was never any danger of this crime series not looking utterly authentic.


But Shetland goes beyond conventional attention to background detail. It turns the location into a crucial part of the programme. In fact, you could go so far as to say the craggy panorama of this isolated region is almost a character in its own right.


Shetland has been hailed as "Celtic Noir", a reference to the hugely successful Nordic Noir thrillers like The Killing and The Bridge. Actually, they don't have a lot in common in terms of plotting, with Shetland being made up of episodic cases rather than having an over-arching saga-like structure in the manner of The Killing. So why the comparisons? It's all down to the aesthetics, which in turn comes down to the setting.

Like those Nordic Noir shows, the very landscape in Shetland has emotional power. The steel-grey skies, pierced through by the white rays of the near-Arctic sun. The foreboding vistas of the countryside. The humans looking small and almost lost against the sprawling landscape. The cinematic scale of the show makes the Scottish setting look simultaneously gorgeous and ominous. Celtic Noir, in other words.


It's not just about the high impact visuals and atmosphere, though. The other reason why the setting is so important to this series is that it's so far flung. The community is literally isolated. This, after all, is a part of the world that's almost as far north as Greenland. And while it may seem rural and idyllic to tourists, in the context of a crime drama it all suddenly seems rather claustrophobic and threatening, with nowhere to run to once the trouble begins to brew.

Another thing: Shetland's position on the globe means that, come the summertime, it's daylight for almost 19 hours every day. These "white nights" can create a hazy, surreal, dream-like atmosphere, especially if they play havoc with locals' sleep. The TV series makes clever use of this, with central characters Jimmy Perez and Tosh McIntosh both burdened by the near-endless sunlight and feeling the onslaught of insomnia. "It's never dark for long enough," Tosh says in one story. "You just wish someone would turn the lights off."