Sky called it “the most ambitious television British drama ever – in both tone and style”, but interviews with producers and the creator of Fortitude, Seasons 1 to 3 now streaming only on Showmax, show that those aren’t the only ways the creepy Nordic Noir/British crime drama sets itself apart from other chilling series.
Shooting a show that’s set in the Arctic circle – without snow
Season 1 shot its interiors in London on 5 000 square feet of sets, built from scratch by Gemma Jackson, the production designer who had also created the world of Game of Thrones.
“For the first time since records began, there was no snowfall – or snow on the ground – during the six weeks we were filming across the winter.”
For the exteriors of Fortitude, they chose Reyðafjörður, a 1000-person town on the east coast of Iceland.
“The sense of absolute isolation was perfect,” says Patrick Spence, managing director of Fifty Fathoms Productions.
“Except, for the first time since records began, there was no snowfall – or snow on the ground – during the six weeks we were filming across the winter.
“So we had to bring snow to Iceland with us. From London. And re-lay it across our town and mountainsides, for take after take.”
Production moved to Bristol and Svalbard in Norway – the original inspiration for Fortitude – in later seasons.
Small town cops, big-time inspiration
Difficulties aside, there was a good reason BAFTA-nominated creator Simon Donald chose this kind of location for the setting of Fortitude.
“I was keen to find a place where I could set a dark, twisted thriller that was unlike any location we’d seen recently – and that took us right up into the Arctic Circle,” says Donald.
“We set it in a community where there’s a very small police force that is brilliant at search and rescue, but they’re not investigative detectives. So they’re trying to solve a crime without any of the routine choices that cops make in big city shows, where their responses to murder are driven by experience and tested procedures.
“Our cops don’t have any of that. And they’re in a small town with a population of 780, so they know everybody. They’re not used to investigating dark, hidden motivations in people they know well.”
Obscure laws in isolated towns
He modelled the town of Fortitude in the show after his research on small Arctic towns, some of which he discovered had astonishing rules.
“You’re not allowed to be unemployed and you’re not allowed to stay there if you’ve no means of supporting yourself. If you’re caught with drugs or become too dependent on alcohol, you’re off the island because it’s such a dangerous environment. There’s no welfare system on the island at all, which means there’s very little maternal care and there is no palliative care at end of life, so you’re not allowed to give birth or die there.
“There’s very little crime. It’s a relatively high earning community because it’s in an extreme place – the rewards for working out there are higher than for the mainland equivalent. I’d never heard of anywhere like that before.”