Welcome to Fortitude, population: less than one thousand. Demographics: mixed English, American and Scandinavian. Crime Rate: unusually high. This fictional Arctic Circle mining community is the setting for the next big drama series from Sky Atlantic, the channel that brought us True Detective, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire.
If that pedigree isn’t enough to grab your interest, the 12-part crime series also features the talents of Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston and The Killing’s Sofie Gabrol. So when Fortitude starts on Thursday next week, we’ll have another locale to plot on a crime drama map which already includes such charming hamlets as Broadchurch, Twin Peaks and Midsomer.
A strong sense of place has become the must-haves of must-watch TV. It’s one explanation for the massive popularity the Nordic Noirs have enjoyed with British audiences. In Britain, those overcast skies, bleak landscapes and moody locals are a beguilingly mix of exotic and familiar. It’s telling too, that while the second series of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch was shrouded in secrecy, with both the cast and the plot remaining under wraps right up until broadcast, one returning element was never in doubt; the titular coastal town in Dorset. One of the very first scenes took place under the white chalk cliffs that his first series had made iconic.
Broadchurch’s landscapes are postcard-perfect (if you can ignore the odd corpse), but TV towns must be more than picturesque. In crime series, a supporting cast of eccentrics provides a set of ready-made suspects and also add local colour to less sinister stories. Twin Peaks had Log Lady and The League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey sent up the convention with a whole town of “local” people. Such townspeople are no use if there aren’t also a few hang-out spots where we can be guaranteed to run into them, like Sunnydale’s The Bronze in Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Noel’s House in Crinkley Bottom. Will Fortitude’s Fortitude have enough character to encourage repeat visits? The Icelandic tourist board will certainly be hoping so.
It's streetwise to be a soap star
Many actors pass through our soaps, but only a handful stick around long enough to feel like a part of the family. Anne Kirkbride, who sadly passed away this week aged just 60, was one such actress. She played Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street for 41 years, starting out on the cobbles in 1972, at 18 years of age. Over the years Deirdre's raspy voice and over-sized specs became so familiar that when the character was imprisoned for fraud in a 1998 storyline, Corrie fans launched a real-world “Free Deirdre” campaign, complete with T-shirts and newspaper appeals.
Alongside class-obsessed sit-coms and programme titles involving “The Great British….”, the long-serving soap star happens to be something of a national speciality. On the continent the best they can boast are a few original cast members who’ve been in German soap Lindenstrasse for the last 30 years. In the US, it’s Helen Wagner who played Nancy Hughes in As The World Turns from from 1956 to 2010, but Britain is home to the world record holder, William Roach, who has played Ann Kirkbride’s on-screen husband Ken Barlow for 54 years and counting. And that’s only impressive if we’re not counting stars of Radio 4 soap The Archers, such as 62-year veteran Lesley Saweard (as Christine Barford).
It’s a life which probably doesn’t appeal to young actors who are first starting out. They dream of far-flung location shoots and the chance to flex their thespian muscles, but what do they know? As the outpouring of affection for Anne Kirkbride has proved, long-serving soap stars are among TV’s most beloved and admired.
If you watched Russell T. Davies’ brilliant new series Cucumber on Channel 4, then followed up with the interlinked half-hour show Banana on E4, then the next logical step is to check out 4OD’s web documentary. Tofu features frank interviews about modern sex with both the public and Cucumber cast members.
Wolf Hall, BBC iPlayer
Imagine House of Cards with doublets and you’re halfway to appreciating the appeal of this Tudor-set series. Mark Rylance plays back-stairs maneuverer Thomas Cromwell and every twitch of his face is thrilling. It's a beautifully realised adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novel.
The best new sitcom on television features good-looking funny people Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney playing two strangers who decide to make a go of co-parenting when a fling has unintended consequences. Filthy and funny, Catastrophe also the end of a long wait for fans of Horgan’s brilliant 2006 series Pulling.
Surviving The Holocaust: Freddie Knoller’s War, BBC iPlayer
If you watch only one programme from the BBC’s season to mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau on Tuesday, make it this one. The 92-year-old North Londoner tells his life story in his own words and it’s full of adventure and tragedy, but what’s most remarkable is his candour.Reuse content