Moonwalking and murder

Between moonwalking ponies and murderous primetime drama, Shetland has had a very high media profile of late. Whilst the TV two-parter ‘Shetland’ has had a mixed reception locally and critically, Socks the prancing pony in the 3 Mobile advert has received almost universal praise.

What’s not to like about a Socks’ computer enhanced performance? And although I rarely watch TV (I haven’t owned one for years), I made an effort to watch ‘Shetland’ with my family and we all quite enjoyed it (despite the fact I had already seen the first part – I was lucky enough to have been invited to the premiere in Mareel)

Before the first part of the TV show had even finished, local folk were already critiquing on Facebook (which often strayed into the moaning territory) the lack of Shetland accents and geographic accuracy. Over the next few days, almost everyone I spoke to had an opinion. It seemed unfashionable for me to be almost completely positive about the programmes. I thought the plot was prettty good, the production values were spot on and the acting was more than fit for purpose.

“But there were hardly any Shetland accents.” That didn’t bother me. There’s lots of non-native accents on the go in the isles and there’s not too many police folk in Shetland who sound like Rhoda Bulter. Far better that than south actors putting on the Norn – that really would have raised the hackles. A few more Shetland accents would have been fine, but Steven Robertson having a central role made up for that.

“Spiggie isna in Bressay.” Well noticed, but it wasn’t an episode of Coast. Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth isn’t in New Zealand either. I just don’t get why this bothered people. It’s a TV drama and the accurate geographic positioning of landscapes isn’t often a priority. All in all, I thought Shetland looked beautiful in ‘Shetland’.

“We dunna have ceilidhs in Shetland” and “why was there bagpipes at a music session.” OK, this did irk me slightly. It wouldn’t have taken much to organise a ‘real’ Shetland session and refer to the ceilidh as a dance. The ceilidh scenes were filmed in Glasgow so I suppose those slip-ups can be put down to lack of research. A meaningful input from local musicians, for the soundtrack too, would have improved things considerably.

Wider discussions about how the ad and TV show will benefit Shetland have largely centred on expected increases in tourist numbers. There’s no denying Shetland’s profile has been raised, with 6 million TV viewers for the drama and almost 6 million YouTube views for the ad as I write. However, of more interest to me is how both have already benefited the local economy and creative industries. Budgets were big, and locals were employed in various capacities, gaining valuable skills and experience. Hopefully other production companies will realise the value of the developing local expertise and consider Shetland for future film, TV and advert locations.

Interestingly, the dancing pony advert doesn’t seem to have raised any of the criticism that “Shetland” did. I’ve never heard anyone pointing out that Shetland ponies don’t actually moonwalk.

Article for Shetland Life magazine – April 2013