Arctic Noir fever has come to Sky Atlantic, with its big-budget thriller 'Fortitude' making its debut this evening.
'Fortitude' is a tiny community north of the Arctic circle, where everyone knows the business of the few other people, and noone's sure if the sheriff is good or bad, because as one resident explains, it's his job to keep people happy, so the answer is no crime, or at least the reporting of it, or some such logic.
The two bookends in this feature-length opening episode are Christopher Eccleston as a troubled scientist, intent on preserving the region's natural environment, and Sofie Grabol ('The Killing') as the local governor, equally determined to create a premium tourist destination, promising "a quiet life, for lovers of nature, or just lovers..."
Or at least until the first murder occurs, in a region where polar bears prey, and carrying rifles is a legal necessity. Other quirky joys are Michael Gambon going rogue, and Stanley Tucci rocking up as an American detective on attachment to London's Metropolitan Police Force, sent to the Arctic. Because that's completely normal.
Writer Simon Donald spoke to HuffPostUK about his off-beat thriller, and the debt he owes David Lynch...
How did the idea of 'Fortitude' originally come to you?
I had an idea for an independent-sized thriller/horror movie, all taking place in a town which excited and haunted me - Yor Shor in Siberia - where the people have been abandoned by the state and the temp drops to -50 in the winter.
This gradually evolved into something more accessible and practical and 'Fortitude' was invented.
Why the Arctic?
The story needs a community and permafrost. I love the landscape, the starkness and high-contrast - the isolation and extremes. I’m seduced by the pristine and the primal.
What is the show ultimately about?
The hidden chambers of the human heart.
'People' have said it's 'Twin Peaks meets 'The Killing'... does that mean we're going to get a log lady? What are your influences?
There is only one log lady. She lives in Twin Peaks, Washington population 31,201.
The earliest influence of which I’m conscious is the mighty Brian Clemens who died earlier this month. He wrote and produced 'The Avengers', 'Danger Man' and 'Adam Adamant'. Those shows shaped my imagination before Mister David Lynch took a hold of it and put his disease in me.
There's a lot of telling silence and stillness from what I've viewed so far. Does it take some nerve to write these blanks on the page? Do you think audiences have changed, and are able to embrace these pauses instead of more obvious action?
You need silence and stillness in the Arctic. The weight of the place is enormous, overpowering. You have to hush and be still.
You first pitched this as a film - can you describe the process whereby it became a TV series instead?
I told (producer) Patrick Spence the idea (the accursed Siberian hell-hole one) and his eyes lit up. He said I should think about moving it to somewhere they spoke English, had a one-horse town-sized community and we could play the whole story out over a longer period through the lives of many more characters. And if that made sense we could take the whole shebang as a proposal to Anne Mensah at Sky.
What are the advantages of making the story as a TV show, instead of a film?
That instead of being a story with one main event at its heart - the slow-burn and collateral stories of many characters can intertwine and reflect on one another.
We take for granted now that TV/streaming services are as able a provider of quality fare as the movies, but what do you think was the tipping point when this came to pass?
David Chase changed everything with The Sopranos. He created an audience for the appetite.
Do you aspire to be a writer for the big screen, or is TV where it's at, or... ?
“Fortitude” has given me a wealth of control and freedom over a huge story and a barrel-load of characters. It looks as much like a movie as it needs to. It went from pitch to screen faster than any movie screenplay I’ve been involved with. The tone changes and evolves across a ten hour sweep of drama. I don’t aspire to anything more than all that.
'Fortitude' begins tonight on Sky Atlantic at 9pm. Watch the trailer below...