A hot-blooded murder mystery set in the cold of the Arctic Circle, Fortitude has an impressive cast headed up by Stanley Tucci and Michael Gambon, and an atmosphere that draws you in immediately.
Tucci plays a forensic detective who’s our way into this unique TV setting, a rough-and-tumble mining town that’s also the site of a scientific research center. The chief biology scientist is found brutally killed: The suspects could be anyone, including the town sheriff (played by Richard Dormer) investigating the crime, or a polar bear. Hey, in this neck of the tundra, the bears outnumber the people.
Nearly everyone we meet in this 12-part series harbors some sin or secret. Fortitude is written by Simon Donald, who wrote the 2006 UK drama Low Winter Sun, which became a disappointing AMC adaptation in 2013. This new project is much sharper and more energetic. It’s the network’s first try at original scripted programming, and as such, it’s a bold move. Director Sam Miller likes to pull his camera back to emphasize the blinding-white beauty of the landscape around these characters, and he risks letting some scenes drift into snowy travelogues. But just when you think the atmospherics are getting a bit thick, Fortitude gives you a startling scene. Gambon is strikingly good as an alcoholic, cancer-ridden photographer.
And Tucci is terrific, quietly funny in the way he takes the measure of the mess he’s been assigned to investigate, making wry observations, and maintaining a nice poker-face as he ventures some Sherlock Holmesian observations that surprise everyone around him. If you’re looking for a winter-time mystery that will show you people even colder than you may be these days, Fortitude is an absorbing one.
Fortitude premieres Thursday, Jan. 26 at 10 p.m. on Pivot.