Douglas Henshall’s Shetland returns to BBC for fifth series

Shetland, the murder-mystery drama starring Douglas Henshall as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, is back for its fifth series. Georgina Humphreys takes a look at what makes the show such a success.
Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, Alison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh. Picture: BBCDouglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, Alison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh. Picture: BBC
Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, Alison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh. Picture: BBC

Sometimes the location of a TV show can become like a character in itself.

That’s certainly the case with BBC1’s Shetland, which is set against the striking Scottish backdrop of – you’ve guessed it – the Shetland Isles.

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Made up of more than 100 islands (just 15 of them inhabited), the remote archipelago spans a hundred miles to the northernmost point of Britain.

Alison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh, Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez. Picture: PAAlison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh, Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez. Picture: PA
Alison O'Donnell as DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh, Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez. Picture: PA

With dark, wild winters, stormy seas and skies and dramatically rugged coastline, it’s a beautifully bleak place. Which only adds to the notable Scandi noir feel to Shetland – inspired by Ann Cleeves’ award-winning novel series of the same name.

As the show returns for a fifth season, we will see its main character DI Jimmy Perez – played by Glaswegian Douglas Henshall – uncover a complex and unsettling network of organised crime.

Once again, he faces plenty of obstacles, both in terms of the cases and his relationships.

“The challenges are the same – getting people to trust him,” notes Henshall, 53, who’s also known for science-fiction series Primeval.

“When you live alone and you live for your job, how do you manage to stop yourself getting really badly wounded by what it is that you do? You have to be able to keep the job at arm’s length sometimes and I don’t think he’s very good at that.”

Here, we chat to the star to find out what’s in store.

Sinister case

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Each series of Shetland focuses on a new investigation – but if the shocks and surprises of season four are anything to go by, we’re in for a dramatic watch.

Here’s what we know so far: the first episode of series five begins with a young man waiting patiently for someone on a “windswept hillside”, before tentatively approaching a vehicle which appears.

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A few days later, a jogger on her morning run makes a shocking discovery – a severed hand on the beach.

A holdall containing further body parts is found, the victim is identified as a young Nigerian man, and things take an even darker turn as Perez and his colleague start looking at his final movements and scrutinising his social media accounts and email.

It will be a stellar cast bringing the story to life, with the likes of Alison O’Donnell (who plays DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh) and Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson) returning alongside Henshall.

In previous series there have been some standout guest stars, so look out for the new faces, too...

Off duty

So, we have an idea about Perez’s work this time round.

As for his personal life, an old friend of his will be returning to Shetland, and there are some very harsh truths coming his way thanks to her.

“She knows him very well, and there’s probably not a lot of people who are prepared to say the things to him that she says,” reveals Henshall.

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“And she’s right. So yeah, I think she absolutely nails him.”

Fans of Shetland will remember Perez is a widower – series one began with him moving back to the island to create a secure home for himself and his daughter, Cassie, following the death of his wife Fran.

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We’ve seen him try to bring her up the best way he can, and get on with life as a single father.

But when Henshall is asked whether any romance could be on the cards for his character this year, the father of one teases: “I don’t want to say too much but it looks like it might be wonderful.

“But that doesn’t always mean that it will be.”

Secret to success

With streaming services at our fingertips, there are a multitude of crime dramas for people to choose from as their next TV binge.

What is it about Shetland that keeps bringing audiences back year on year, then?

“I think it’s maybe to do with the fact that the writers of our show have really hit their stride as far as these characters and the format is concerned,” says Henshall.

“One of the benefits of a long-running show is that the public get to care about these people and care about what happens to them.”

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There are other factors too, says Henshall: “The writers get to properly explore the characters over a period of time; it’s not like they’re having to cram everything into one go and that’s it.

“They get to put people in real situations and explore what they’re like.”

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He continues: “I think ultimately the public care about characters; it’s the characters that people like. Audiences have had six years to build up a relationship with these people and I think they’re hooked now.”

When it comes to what the role of DI Perez means to Henshall, it’s a character that he continues to feel a kinship with.

“I think, regardless of who you play as an actor, you have to empathise with them, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to play them with any degree of justice,” he suggests.

On set

Quite a lot of Shetland is actually shot on the Scottish mainland, with locations including Kilbarchan in Renfrewshire, Barrhead, Ayr and Irvine, and North Ayrshire, while the cast and crew have Glasgow as their base.

But Henshall shares that he filmed on Shetland itself for six or seven weeks. And you can’t help but wonder what it was like to work somewhere so remote (the island’s nearest neighbour is Orkney, 50 miles to the south west).

“It’s great, I love going there,” says Henshall.

“Our crew are fantastic. It was a really nice bunch of people and we got on very well. When you’re working very hard and the elements are against you, it draws people very close.”

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Because the cast and crew travelled to Shetland in summer for the first time in a long time, Henshall saw first hand how screen time has boosted tourism.

“The amount of people who are coming to Shetland now as a direct result of the show is astounding,” he enthuses.

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“Apparently since we started the series, the amount of people who are coming has gone up by 40 per cent year on year, it’s nuts! So that was good fun in summer.”

Shetland returns to BBC1 tonight at 9pm

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