Awwww boy…what or what can be said about this show? So far it’s another example of the programs that SKY Atlantic are bringing out, with excellent acting, high production values, a multi-layered story about humanity within the context of its environment, and obviously, shooting on location (or at least when it’s outside). Fortitude is not only the name of the show, or a description, it’s the name of the village that the story/stories are set. The village is meant to be on 1 of the islands of Svalbard, which is a collection of islands owned by Norway, and are over a thousand miles away in all directions. However, due to the weather conditions, permission, facilities, and other dangers, the Fortitude crew decided to base the story in Svalbard, but shoot it in the east coast of Iceland, so that as the producer said, “Nobody would die”.
So here’s the overall story; Fortitude is the most northern patch of civilisation in the world, and has a population of just over 700 people. It’s a close-knit community made up primarily of Brits, Scandinavians, Icelandics and other europeans, where everybody more or less knows each other, everybody has a job, and therefore nobody steals, and the only work that the police really have to worry about involves rescuing people who venture into the icy wilderness without a hunting rifle (as the island is inhabited by 3000 Polar Bears). The type of work available to the community ranges primarily from the Police to Scientists to Artists to managers and cooks and of course, miners.
When our story begins, jobs in mining diminish greatly when the mines themselves dry up, and therefore more people become laid off, and may have to go back to the mainland to find employment. Meanwhile, to help rescue the community, the governor of Fortitude, Hildur Odegard (played by The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl) decided to switch the primary industry from mining to tourism, by making plans to build a high class hotel, attract rich holiday-goers, and hopefully provide work for any miners with no place to go. But everything changes in Fortitude, when a brutal murder takes place at the home of Professor Charlie Stoddart. Charlie is not only dead, but disembowelled…like someone who was mauled by a wild beast.
What makes Fortitude fascinating is the fact that there is an unbelievable amount of suspects and possibilities as to what’s going on. Is there a serial killer? Are there a group of killers? Is there some sort of pagan cult doing this? Is there a political agenda here? Or is there in fact, a demon, as 1 character believes may be behind it. Some could argue that the show is slow and quiet – but it does build up gradually, and in terms of its violence and gore, it leaves little to the imagination.
In order to piece together the complex story a little bit, lets talk about the characters, without giving away any spoilers.
SHERIFF DAN ANDERSEN (Richard Dormer): The Sheriff of Fortitude is a Norwegian man who has lived and worked on the island for about 8 years. About 3 months before the events of the show, he may or may not have murdered a man who was being eaten by a Polar Bear. He also appeared to be the 1st person at the crime scene when Charlie Stoddart was killed. What makes him complicated is when he becomes quite extreme in his job (as it is his life) and even secretive. In his personal life, he has a crush on Elena Ledesma (The beautiful spanish woman who runs the Inn/Cafe), and can express jealousy in his actions. On top of this, he is a character who does try to be truthful, but isn’t always believed. He also doesn’t like DCI Eugene Morton, who has come to investigate the death of the man who Andersen possibly murdered and also the Stoddart murder.
DCI EUGENE MORTON (Stanley Tucci) Detective Morton is an American detective who oddly enough works for Scotland Yard in London. He is most definitely the outsider of the village, and while some members of the community are friendly and cooperative with him, others, like Sheriff Andersen, Officer Eric Odegard and Irish community members don’t take kindly to his straightforward, unbias approach.
HENRY TYSON (MICHAEL GAMBON) Henry Tyson is 1 of Fortitude’s artistic outlets, as he is a wildlife photographer who makes a living by taking beautiful photographs, primarily of Polar Bears. Henry is also a more confusing character. He’s dying from liver cancer (due to his alcoholism), and 3 months before the events of the show, he tried to kill a polar bear that was mauling a man to death, but instead he accidentally shot the man in the head…or did he? Sheriff Andersen was also at the scene, and after Professor Stoddart’s murder, Henry phones Scotland Yard while in a bar and tells them about 2 murders that have taken place (blaming Andersen for at least 1), to which Detective Morton comes to town. As a superstitious man, Tyson also believes in the power of shamanism, including the use of dream catchers.
GOVERNOR HILDUR ODEGARD (Sofie Grabol) The Govenor is a woman who is torn about what is best for Fortitude. When the primary industry closed up (Mining), she then decided to switch it to tourism by building a large, fancy hotel. But her plans to go ahead with the project are currently delayed, as Professor Charlie Stoddart believes that the proposed site of the hotel might contain something very valuable, on an archaeological scale (A Mammoth). But Stoddart died before he found out what is was, leading Hildur down a very long detour.
PROFESSOR CHARLIE STODDART (Christopher Eccleston) Stoddart was creating a report that decides whether to go ahead with building a fancy hotel in the Glacier, when he was approached by an Irish miner named Jason Donnelly. Jason shows Stoddart something he found, a tooth…possibly from a Mammoth that he and Ronnie Morgan found in the Glacier. Jason asks Stoddart how much money he could sell it for. But the rules of Fortitude include mandatory donation of archaeological remains to the scientists of the island, rather than selling them for money. Jason refuses to tell Stoddart anything, and takes the tooth back. Stoddart then questions whether to go ahead with the hotel project, but dies before he reaches his decision or hands in his report to Governor Odegard.
TRISH STODDART (Chipo Chung) Trish Stoddart is Charlie’s wife, who has come to Fortitude for a very good reason – to see her husband and help him in his research. But shortly after arriving, the news was broken to her. Charlie is dead. It gives her little reason to stay, but at the same time she wants to know what happened, and Governor Odegard is not only not telling her anything, but she deleted a voice message from Charlie to Trish, telling her of this amazing discovery.
FRANK SUTTER (Nicholas Pinnock) Frank is a Search And Rescue Pilot for the Fortitude Police, who often works with Sheriff Andersen, and was once a soldier serving in Afghanistan. If Frank was a professional wrestler his name would be Frank “That’s none of your business” Sutter, and “That’s none of your business” would also be his catchphrase (and would look good on shirts and caps). He’s married to Jules (Julia) Sutter and has a son named Liam, but he also has a secret mistress in Elena Ledesma. Due to his dark choices and avoiding to answer questions, Frank becomes a surprisingly dislikable character, even though it’s evident that something has made him this way, rather than him wanting to be difficult.
JULIA “JULES” SUTTER (Jessica Raine) Jules is Frank’s wife, and their marriage hasn’t been easy (Their son, Liam, is possibly what is keeping them together). She too was in the army, until she became pregnant with Liam. She comes across as troubled, but honest, which also amplifies the impact of Frank’s adultery for us.
LIAM SUTTER (Darwin Brokenbro) Liam is Frank and Jules’ son, and while he was out with his friend, Carrie Morgan, on a walk, he becomes ill and faints when he comes home. He has a fever and is sent to bed. Later that night, when Jules went out and Frank was seeing Elena (when he was meant to be staying at home), Liam decided to get up and climb out of his bedroom window (despite being unwell), into the arctic night, wearing nothing but a pair of pajama bottoms. When Frank returns from his fling, he finds his son lying on the floor and covered in blood. Frank cleans up Liam and his mess, but soon after Jules comes back home, Liam begins to experience severe pain in the form of terrible frostbite on his bare feet. His illness now threatens the Sutter’s livelihood, as he is placed into an experimental pod that hadn’t been experimented on humans yet, as the only other option is to go to the mainland.
ELENA LEDESMA (Veronica Echegui) Elena is a beautiful, young spanish woman who loosely resembles Penelope Cruz and who runs an Inn which is also a cafe. Elena believes that there is a demon in Fortitude, which is possibly causing the killings. She is also Frank’s fling, and someone Sheriff Andersen wants all to himself. She has a dark past, and is in Fortitude for a reason.
VINCENT RATTREY (Luke Treadaway) Vincent is a newly recruited scientist who has just arrived in Fortitude (Making him different to Detective Morton who is basically visiting). He is young and optimistic, even though his thesis was on the apex predators of Britain (which, to the humour of his co-worker, are Badgers…and yet here he is in a land full of Polar Bears). Vincent is the first suspect in the murder of Charlie Stoddart, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as Sheriff Andersen arrests him when he arrives.
NATALIE YELBURTON (Sienna Guillory) Natalie is a scientist and also Vincent’s co-worker, who is studying a sudden change in Fortitude’s deer population, which appear to be experiencing a form of hermaphroditism. Despite what could be suggested by Elena, Natalie is 1 of the least modest women, and she has no problem sleeping around or sharing a sauna with a man who isn’t her lover. But this doesn’t stop her from being a very competent scientist, as she has managed to not mix work with pleasure.
RONNIE MORGAN (Johnny Harris): Ronnie was a miner, and 1 of the men (along with Jason Donnelly) who found Mammoth remains. Like Jason, he plans to profit from this find, as they decide to store the mammoth remains secretly in a slightly heated storage room (bad idea). Ronnie also becomes a suspect in Stoddart’s death, when he decides to run away with his daughter Carrie. He also takes anti-psychotics, which he left behind when he went on the run.
CARRIE MORGAN (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) Carrie is a bright, rather naive, but normal child, who was with Liam just before he fell ill. She likes cartoons, but has trouble adapting to the runaway life that her father has dragged her into.
MARKUS HUSEKLEPP (Darren Boyd) Markus is the only German in Fortitude, and is both Liam and Carrie’s teacher. He likes to collect vinyl records of ’80s music, and for some reason, fatten up his girlfriend Shirley Allerdyce by going as far as to feed her condensed milk from a tube. Out of many suspects in Fortitude, he could be a red herring or the real deal. He also appears to be 1 of few people in Fortitude who believes in a divine creator.
SHIRLEY ALLERDYCE (Jessica Gunning) Shirley works as the clerk of Fortitude’s supermarket. Her mother is Dr. Margaret Allardyce (who treats Liam’s frostbite) and her boyfriend is Markus Huseklepp (who is obsessed with feeding her).
OFFICER INGRID WITRY (Mia Jexen) Ingrid is the brunette of the police officers who witness nearly everything that is happening, and possibly has a crush on Vincent Rattrey.
OFFICER PETRA BERGEN (Alexandra Moen) If you recognise Ingrid as the brunette, then Petra is the blonde and they basically see most of the same stuff.
OFFICER ERIC ODEGARD (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) Eric is Governor Hildur Odegard’s husband, and also of the Police Officers who really does like Detective Morton (possibly more so than Dan Andersen at times). He spends much of the show recovering from a broken ankle, but continues to get on with his duties.
JASON DONNELLY (Aaron McCusker) along with Ronnie Morgan, Jason Donnelly found mammoth remains, which he decided to put into a storage facility so that he could return and sell it for a profit. He approached Charlie Stoddart to find out if it’s a genuine article, but refused to donate it to science. He is from Northern Ireland.
MAX CORDERO (Michael Obiora) Little is known about Max, but he is easy to recognise because outside of Frank Sutter, Liam Sutter and Trish Stoddart, he’s the only black man in Fortitude.
YURI LUBIMOV (Emil Hostina) Little is particularly known about Yuri, other than he’s Russian, likes vodka by the bottle, and was on friendly terms with the man who was eaten by the polar bear 3 months prior. But he does have a plan…what is it though?
DR. MARGARET ALLARDYCE (Phoebe Nicholls) Dr Allardyce is fortitude’s local physician, and basically everybody’s doctor. She is an average doctor, who is easily squeamish about certain foods and is quite stern with her daughter Shirley.
TAVRANI (Ramon Tikaram) Tavrani is Fortitude’s go-to guy for taxidermy, and for Henry Tyson he is also the go-to guy for shamanism, even though Tavrani is far from a master in the ways of his ancestors.
Now lets break it down to its foundations:
The acting is top notch from nearly everybody, with nothing bad to say about many of them. The characters are very good, but many of them still feel like they’re in their infant stages. Dan Andersen is pretty well explored, possibly more so than the others. But characters like Officers Ingrid and Petra need to do more to stand out, because right now they’re just nice, normal girls who happen to carry guns and wear suitable uniforms.
The music is minimal, but very well done, and also pretty creepy when it needs to be. At times it can sound like it’s from Silent Hill. The actual theme music is haunting and beautiful, but also enough to stand out as a theme song.
The location choices…backgrounds…sets…I know it’s in Iceland, rather than where it’s meant to be set, but dear goodness!…this is a very good looking show. You feel the cold, and you feel amused by how much the homes remind you of IKEA, and it’s all nicely put together. We’re also provided with great cinematography to show it off.
Without spoiling the show, it can be said that this does need its second season (Thankfully we’re getting it next year). Not just for the way it left itself off, but for what is brewing under the surface. Does Fortitude qualify in the horror genre? In its own way it does. But don’t expect jump scares, because it’s not that type of show. Like films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, this is a horror that builds, and builds, episode by episode, with the layers peeled back gradually, and I can honestly say that Season 1 isn’t so much the 1st chapter, but it felt more like a prologue. What is about to happen from Season 2 onwards will probably be…insane…massive.
Would I recommend Fortitude? Indeed I do, but at this point it is difficult to say whether it will improve or not. Does this mean Season 1 is bad? No! But it does require some patience. Many characters still need more screen time to be embraced, and we are provided with some well made choices in writing. It can also be noted that Fortitude actually took some interesting risks. The type of risks that would make some writers of gory fantasy rather proud.