WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Murder in the Arctic

By on February 9, 2016

‘Fortitude’ doses viewers with chilling murder mysteries.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – It’s always exciting when Hollywood decides to use your hometown as a filming location. For Jackson Holers, watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” is just that much cooler when Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz ride their horses past the Teton Range, and “Shane” has become a must-watch for those missing life in the valley. Other than “Rocky IV” there haven’t been too many well-known films that showcase Jackson and the surrounding areas. For Icelanders, however, there are more being made every year.

Thanks to some nice tax breaks, Hollywood has been obsessed with filming in Iceland. “Oblivion,” “Prometheus,” “Noah,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” have all had scenes filmed in the country, and it looks like the upcoming eighth (yawn) installment of “Fast and the Furious” will be filmed here as well. Northern Iceland also plays the role of “North of the Wall” in every “Game of Thrones” season so far. But as far as versatility goes, Iceland, which is currently completely covered in snow, can only offer so much.

One show, however, has taken advantage of Iceland’s desolation as well as its dark quirkiness. The crime serial “Fortitude,” (seen on Pivot, which is apparently a channel) stars Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Richard Dormer. It takes place in a fictional Norwegian town, but is actually filmed in Eskifjorður, just 20 minutes from where I currently live. And while viewers might look at the majestic rocky fjord and say, “Man, I want to go to Iceland,” the rest of us are like, “Oh hey, that’s the road to Silla’s house!” For those of us living in such a small community—there’s only about 3,500 people in the municipality of five towns—“Fortitude” is a huge deal.

I’ll just go ahead and say the show is so on point. Everything from the acting to the writing is television at its highest caliber, and with its “Twin Peaks” meets “The Killing” vibe, it is hands down one of the best murder mystery shows I’ve seen (and I’ve slugged through plenty).

After a British research scientist gets killed, the town is on high alert—a murder has never taken place in “Fortitude” before. Polar bear attacks? Pssh. Old hat. But murder is an altogether different beast, and Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Dormer) is way out of his league. He’s stubborn and impulsive, and his rivalry with Tucci’s character, a former FBI agent, propels the show into familiar but completely original territory. Gambon plays Anderssen’s father. Even against such A-list stars, Dormer steals every scene.

A great exchange regarding Dormer’s character takes place between Vincent, a newcomer to Fortitude and a mysterious scientist named Natalie.

Natalie: “In Fortitude there’s two fundamental rules: you have a roof over your head, and you have to be able to provide for yourself. So it follows, everyone’s got a job, no one’s poor, so there’s no stealing and there’s no crime, and everybody is always happy.”

Vincent: “So there’s nothing for [Sheriff Anderssen] to do, then.”

Natalie: “Nobody knows whether he’s a good sheriff or a bad sheriff.”

In a sense, this dialogue completely encapsulates what small town life in Iceland is like. Occasionally, I will see our only cop car drive through the streets and sometimes a fight will breakout between some drunk guys, but otherwise things are pretty quiet and simple here. In a way, a show like “Fortitude” plays more as a fantasy than a hypothetical realistic murder scenario.

There have only been 26 murders in the past 16 years in Iceland, making it the country with the third lowest murder rate following Singapore and Lichtenstein.

Driving to Egilsstaðir you can now spot a small indigenous village of tents constructed across a hillside. Enormous lights and tons of actors and crew are gathered to film their scenes. Even though the set is near the road, the few cars that drive by don’t stop to gawk at the spectacle. Icelanders don’t see the glorified exhibit that Americans might.

“Aren’t you excited about them filming here?” I asked my boss.

He shrugged. “I don’t like the show.”

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