In Fortitude, anyone with common sense totes a rifle to safeguard against roving polar bears.
This new Pivot TV series, which premiered in January, opens with a photographer (Michael Gambon) navigating a snowy shoreline near the Arctic town of Fortitude. With a rifle strapped to his back, he weaves among large chunks of glacial ice tossed up by the turbulent surf. Snowy cliffs in the background add to the otherworldly landscape.
The man pauses to snap photos with his powerful zoom-lens camera. But as he looks through the viewfinder, he is shocked by what he sees. He rips off his facemask and grabs his rifle.
What follows is intentionally unclear, but the riveting scene will haunt viewers, even as more definitive events unfold, including a murder that sets the normally placid town on edge.
“The audience should feel that something is going terribly wrong,” says executive producer Patrick Spence.
Previously with the BBC, he now heads Fifty Fathoms, a boutique division of Endemol’s Tiger Aspect production company. Spence describes the show as a crime thriller about changes afoot in an Arctic town. In a nod to global warming, remnants of a prehistoric mammoth are emerging from a melting glacier, setting off further covert activity among some residents.
The cast includes Stanley Tucci as a visiting investigator in an inadequate coat, and Sofie Gråbøl (who starred in the Danish version of The Killing) as the ambitious governor.
Whisky-voiced Irish actor Richard Dormer plays sheriff Dan Anderssen, a man of murky motivations.
“He’s a good man who maybe did a bad thing once,” says Dormer, who’s spent 20 years in supporting roles on stage and television, including Lord Beric Dondarrion in Game of Thrones. He finally landed this lead after Fortitude’s writer and producers decided he uncannily fit the part. “Better late than never,” Dormer says.
The town of Fortitude is modeled on Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean that’s halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Residents of the area, the northernmost permanent community in the world, are required to carry rifles to protect against polar bears.
“But we couldn’t shoot there, because it was minus 40,” Dormer says, so filming alternated between a remote area in Iceland and stage sets in London.
For the first time on record, however, no snow fell in the Icelandic town where they were shooting, so snow was crated down from higher elevations. In some scenes, the entire village was decked out with vast quantities of artificial snow.
Spence refuses to say what inspired the story, which was primarily written by Simon Donald (most recently of Low Winter Sun). That would spoil the ending.
But much more transpires, he says, in that initial beach scene than is shown in the first brief sequence. The rest will be revealed piecemeal until the conclusion, says Spence — and even then, he notes, “It doesn’t take you where you think it might.”