Fortitude preview: Atmospheric, eerie and full of stars

Sky Atlantic's Arctic murder mystery brings together a heavyweight cast - Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston, Stanley Tucci - but Richard Dormer gives the breakout performance, says Paul Jones

Most of us haven’t seen actual snow yet this year, but judging by the forecast an icy wind will be whistling outside the window when Fortitude begins on Thursday night, and I for one will be getting some extra mileage out of my “winter” (formerly “Christmas”) jumper.

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Yep, Sky Atlantic have certainly got the scheduling right for their atmospheric, eerie mystery series set in an isolated town in the Arctic Circle – and it has to be said they’ve done pretty well with the personnel too, gathering together a cast of international heavyweights for this showpiece drama…

The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl brings her Nordic Noir credentials even further north as the personable yet highly ambitious governor of Fortitude, whose main focus is a project to build a luxury hotel hewn into a glacier.

British big-hitters include Christopher Eccleston as a research scientist attempting to protect a mysterious find in the thawing ice, Michael Gambon as a terminally ill wildlife photographer who spends his remaining days and nights drowning his sorrows and guilt in vodka, and Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine, about as far from 1950s Poplar as Gambon is from Hogwarts.

Representing the United States, Stanley Tucci’s Scotland Yard detective brings a touch of understated class when he arrives half way through the feature-length opener to a welcome colder than the local climate.

Fortitude’s chief of police, played by Irish actor Richard Dormer, is none too pleased to see him – whether because of his own involvement in the gruesome murder that becomes the focus of this episode, his professional pride or one of the dark secrets that everyone in Fortitude seems to be harbouring, it’s too soon to say.

What I can say is that this should be a break-out moment for Dormer, who until now has been mostly confined to supporting roles in shows like Game of Thrones (perhaps partly due to the fact that he looks and sounds like Michael Fassbender but isn’t).

He is instantly magnetic as Sheriff Dan Anderssen, who seems by turns small-minded, lascivious and dangerous, fiercely intelligent, kind of cool and possibly even heroic.

Whether he’ll get the chance to make a further impact remains to be seen – writer Simon Donald (who also penned Channel 4 crime drama Low Winter Sun) is said to “enjoy killing famous actors”, while Christopher Eccleston says of filming the series, “it was really interesting to see all these big guns go down week by week”.

Perhaps Dormer’s low profile will turn out to be a life saver after all…

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Fortitude begins on Thursday 29th January at 9:00pm on Sky Atlantic