Sky Atlantic’s Arctic-set crime drama starts tonight, with Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Eccleston, all of whom experienced filming in Iceland – the dramatic setting that doubles for the unsettling Arctic world in the series.
“In the first 90-minutes of Fortitude you discover that the polar bears are eating each other, they are becoming cannibalistic. The reindeer are mass aborting and the scientists in the world of Fortitude are genuinely baffled by what is going on,” explains executive producer Patrick Spence.
“The Arctic-setting is important, because the tone is there’s something nasty going on but its not ordinary criminal activity.”
The desolate landscapes in Fortitude are a place where the characters can hide from their secrets and hide from their emotions. “It’s a place that you can start again,” says Spence, “It’s a place that you can deny who you are, a place that you can hide from difficult feelings and hide from people who are trying to kill you.”
However, Spence chose to shoot in Iceland, as the Arctic can reach minus 30 degrees in temperature, and would be too harsh for filming. “Literally, when you are in that temperature, your face starts to change,” says Spence. “Your eyes stream with water continually, you can’t act, hold a camera or put on make-up, it’s too tough.” And similarly to the storyline in Fortitude, polar bears are a real threat. “Frankly, it’s too dangerous,” says Spence. “We would have had to have had massive amounts of security.”
Instead, the cast and crew settled on Iceland’s eastern Fjardabyggd region “It felt like nowhere else on earth,” remembers Spence, “but architecturally and geographically very similar to the places we’d seen in the Arctic. It had a local film crew that had just done Game of Thrones, it had enough beds to put us all up, and it was in the middle of nowhere, so it was perfect.”
While Spence reveals that the story’s narrative will come to a complete close, and be fully resolved at the end of the series, he hints at the fact there are more scripts in the pipeline, should another series be commissioned: “We give the audience characters that will never be the same again, and we hope that there are other stories that we can tell through their point of view, and they will be equally interesting.” And there is only one place he’d consider filming the drama. “Iceland is an amazing place to film,” says Spence. “I wouldn’t even consider filming Fortitude anywhere else, if we’re lucky enough to make the show again we’d go back to Iceland. We loved it. We really want to do another one.”
See below for the exact spots to visit from the drama.
Read more: We went on a Fortitude tour in Reydarfjordur with Stanley Tucci’s stunt double
“Translated it means ‘lagoon of the glacial river’ and it’s a pretty spectacular location,” explains Fortitude’s local producer Einar Sveinn. “We used it for the opening shot in the series.” This is also where we see the harrowing polar bear scene on the beach by the glacial lagoon. “There are pieces of ice piling up all around because they are floating out to sea,” says Sveinn, “it is this spectacular all year round.”
“Meaning narrow forjd heath, we used this place to double for a glacier, so the cast didn’t have to be exposed to the elements for too long,” reveals Sveinn. “The cast was very impressed with the nature and landscape in the area. Mjóafjarðarheiði also connects with the aerial shots of the glaciers on the south east coast. There is a tiny road here that opens in spring, which connects to a tiny village of 20 people. It’s a beautiful place to travel.”
This area doubles for the main town of Fortitude, and Reyðarfjörður is used for the main shots in the series. Visually, it’s as you see it in the show, and is representative of small-town life, the main industries being aluminium manufacturing and fishing. “We needed one small community, which architecturally and geographically resembled the Arctic towns that we had researched,” explains Spence. “It needed to feel like it was in the middle of nowhere and Reyðarfjörður is a very small village with nothing around it.”
“A ferry comes into this beautiful little town from Europe,” explains Sveinn, “Travellers can bring their cars and land here. It’s a narrow fjord with high mountains on either side. It’s a beautiful picturesque village and was first used in the Ben Stiller film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, when he rides on a skateboard down the road.” There’s also a big art scene in Seydisfjordur, plus many scenic hiking trails.
Read more: Our guide to Iceland’s east coast – solitude, spectacular scenery and a giant snake
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