Television

'Fortitude' review: Red-hot mystery melts a frozen world

"Fortitude" is an enigmatic and engrossing whodunit that should move to the top of everyone's DVR queue.

Never trust a politician, even if she's the mayor of a safe little town called Fortitude.

"We live in the one place on Earth we're guaranteed a quiet life," says Hildur Odegard (Sofie Grabol) in the two-hour premiere of "Fortitude" (9 p.m. Jan. 29, Pivot; 4 stars out of 4), an enigmatic and engrossing whodunit that should move to the top of everyone's DVR queue.

As Hildur addresses a group of travel executives she's hoping to impress with her plan to build an ice hotel into a glacier, she learns that a brutal murder—Fortitude's very first—has shattered the peace she wants to share with the world. Still she presses on, showing the fortitude that earned her town its name.

Fortitude sits on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean about midway between Norway and the North Pole. It gets its name from the attitude its inhabitants must adopt while living in an area where they are outnumbered three to one by polar bears. A law forbids residents from dying in Fortitude because the permafrost is so solid that nothing can be buried.

But someone does die—or more specifically, is murdered. The killing casts suspicion on several of the town's residents, not least of whom are Hildur and her sheriff, Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer), who want to save their tourist project.

Filmed in London and, more breathtakingly, Iceland, the gorgeous psychological thriller boasts an international cast that includes Grabol (the original Danish "The Killing") and Dormer ("Game of Thrones"), plus Stanley Tucci ("The Hunger Games"), Michael Gambon ("Harry Potter" films), Jessica Raine ("Call the Midwife"), Christopher Eccleston ("Doctor Who"), Sienna Guillory ("Luther") and Luke Treadaway ("Unbroken"). They all do amazing work here.

Once DCI Eugene Morton (Tucci) arrives from London to help a resistant Anderssen with his investigation, he begins to expose the corruption, infidelities, jealousies and other secrets long hidden beneath the town's seemingly idyllic surface.

But just as the melting permafrost reveals an ages-old carcass that may be a mammoth, each clue Morton digs up only deepens the compelling mystery.

On the surface, a crime thriller might not seem like the kind of story Pivot would present as its first original drama. Already the American home for the wonderfully funny Aussie comedy "Please Like Me" and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's audience-participation series "HitRecord on TV," Pivot was launched in 2013 by Participant Media. Focusing on social advocacy of all sorts, it targets adults ages 18 to 34.

"Fortitude" fits into the young network's mission, however, with creator Simon Donald's subtle yet powerful commentary on the ways changing climate can affect our lives.

And don't even get me started on the two shocking scenes in the premiere involving a polar bear and a hog. Donald gruesomely comments on the ongoing battle between man and nature, as well as the price we pay for progress.

There's a lot more to "Fortitude" than a murder mystery, making it one of those rare shows worth more than one viewing on a cold winter night.

Email: cwwagner@redeyechicago.com | Twitter: @ShowPatrol

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