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Bloodlands review

Episodes: 4

Premiered: 2020

Duration: 1 hr

James Nesbitt (The Missing, Cold Feet) stars as Northern Irish police detective Tom Brannick in BBC One’s new thriller from Line of Duty and Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio. When a car is pulled from Strangford Lough, the owner kidnapped, DCI Brannick recognises the calling card of a legendary assassin known as Goliath.

Here’s Steve Charnock’s episode-by-episode Bloodlands review.

Bloodlands episode 1 review

We’ve had Scandi-Noir. We’ve had Welsh Noir. Now it’s time for Northern Irish Noir (Noir-thern Irish? No(rthern)ir(ish)?).

Bloodlands is the BBC’s latest flagship Sunday night crime drama. While it’s written by actor-turned-screenwriter Chris Brandon, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a Jed Mercurio production. Whether Brandon was inspired by the Bodyguard and Line of Duty man or this new four-part series has been tweaked by Mercurio, is unclear. What is clear is that this is designed to be a Line of Duty-style series aired to scratch the AC-12 itch of fans waiting for the sixth run of the hit show, due on screen later this year.

DCI Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt, The Missing) is a stony-faced Belfast detective called to investigate a prominent former IRA member’s disappearance. The case is soon linked to a set of abductions/presumed murders from 1998. The ‘Goliath’ case, we soon learn, has a rather personal connection to Brannick.

Goliath, named after the big yellow Harland & Wolff cranes that feature throughout, is a serial killer. Well, he’s an assassin. Okay, more of a kidnapper, really. And maybe a cop. He’s a kidnapping serial killer assassin potential cop.

The stakes are high here. This isn’t just a missing persons case; peace in Northern Ireland is potentially at risk. Brannick’s assignment needs to be investigated and a resolution needs to come quickly and quietly, so says his boss Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch). Of course, that’s not to be…

One of the troubles with the Troubles, from a dramatic point of view, is that there’s a heck of a lot of history and politics to unfurl. Thankfully Bloodlands is careful not to throw its viewers into the deep end, instead preferring to guide us into the water slowly via the shallow end. There’s plenty of talk of the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary groups, Loyalists and the IRA, but you don’t need to have a particularly deep understanding of Northern Irish politics and its recent history to be able to follow what’s going on.

For anyone who does struggle with that side of things – it’s worth a quick Wikipedia session perhaps before the second episode next Sunday night. Firstly, it might help with understanding the context within which the drama exists. Secondly, perhaps more crucially, the Troubles were an important part of British history that can teach us a lot about Northern Ireland – and the United Kingdom – as countries.

As for Bloodlands’ star, well, who else was going to be cast as a craggy-faced grieving middle-aged Northern Irish police detective on the hunt for a bad guy? Okay, given the Line of Duty connection, Adrian Dunbar may have considered turning up for the audition, but he’d have done so knowing full well that the job was always going to be Jimmy Nesbitt’s.

The question the audience is being asked is ‘who’s the baddie?’ Who is ‘Goliath’? It seems likely that DCI Brannick will work it out. If he struggles though, you can almost imagine him picking up the phone to Dunbar’s Line of Duty character Ted Hastings. Such is the similarity between the shows, the two dramas feel like they exist in the same universe. Brannick and Hastings could have been bobbies on the Belfast beat together. Two old pals whose careers went in different directions.

The inevitable comparisons between the two shows might not benefit Bloodlands too much, given it’s not going to be able to build as much tension in its limited run. It also doesn’t seem quite as obsessed with big action set pieces or weekly plot twists. What it lacks in car chases, shoot-outs and unexpected character deaths, it makes up for with its intriguing premise and blackly comic script, with Charlene McKenna’s DS Niamh McGovern getting most of the best lines. And, of course, the easy charisma of Jimmy Nesbitt.

This might not go down as a Goliath of crime dramas, but it stands pretty tall. We’ll be looking forward to the second instalment next weekend. Join us back here for our review after it airs.

Did you watch Bloodlands episode 1? What did you make of it? Let us know down in the comments below…

Read Steve Charnock’s review of Bloodlands episode 2 here.

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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Bloodlands episode 2 review

Spoilers for Bloodlands episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.

Well, then. On the off-chance that you hadn’t realised that BBC One’s latest Sunday night crime thriller was being brought to us from the stable of Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio, they go and end part two like that…

In case you’re yet to catch up with Bloodlands episode 2, we’ll spare you the specifics of its stunning reveal at the end. Trust us, you’d have to own pretty expensive binoculars to see this one coming. For those of you that have seen it, you’ll know exactly what we’re referring to.

Now, of course, we’re only halfway through the series at this point, so there’s a very good chance that the rather large reveal turns out to be some sort of enormous red herring. After all, it seems likely that a twisting and turning crime drama like Bloodlands might well be planning yet more twists and turns to come…

So it’s perfectly possible that things may not quite be as they seem. For that to be true, we’d need to be given a darn good reason why an otherwise reasonable and respectable senior police detective like Jimmy Nesbitt’s DCI Tom Brannick would have behaved the way he did with a seemingly innocent old man like Adam Cory (Ian McElhinney). Speaking to Brannick’s number two Niamh here, old colleague Justin ‘Dinger’ Bell – the always excellent character actor Michael Smiley (Free Fire, Kill List, The Lobster) – describes Brannick as ‘the great enigma’. But even Dinger wouldn’t imagine the Great Enigma to be quite as enigmatic as this.

Before that jaw-dropping final minute we discovered the identities of the three corpses found on the eerie little island of Strangford Lough, and found out more about the Pat Keenan kidnapping and how it may not have been connected to the wider Goliath case after all – it may all have been a ruse orchestrated by someone to get the Goliath case re-examined. Plus there’s collusion between Brannick’s boss DCS Twomey and an IRA widow and a murdered priest’s doctor daughter (Lisa Dwan) growing close to Brannick. Not to mention a car chase, shootouts, a(nother) kidnapping, some rugby and even a couple of rather grotesque owl pendants. It’s all go.

Bloodlands isn’t just entertaining, it’s also informative. We learned all about the ‘ICLVR’, the real-life mouthful formally known as ‘the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains’, informally known as ‘Time Team’, ‘the Time Bandits’ and ‘the History Boys’. They won the jurisdiction battle for the skeletons that seems to be pushing Brannick and his team away from the investigation, much to the boss’s ire.

Viewers were also given a quick lesson in spycraft during the Troubles. Brannick’s wife Emma was, we find out, ‘a spook’. She worked for 14 Intelligence Company, aka ‘the Special Reconnaissance Unit’, a real secret unit that was linked with British Army and Loyalist-backed killings of IRA members.

All in all this was a lively hour of television, albeit one with slight pacing issues. Some scenes were non-stop, packed with action and vital plot information, and over in seconds. Others were long, languid and seemingly got us no closer to any useful information. Which, to be fair, is probably quite similar to how police investigations actually play out.

We’ll have to wait a week to discover if the Goliath-sized twist at the end was all it seemed… We’re guessing it’s not. We’re also guessing Emma Brannick is still alive and has some rather serious explaining to do.

Did you catch Bloodlands episode 2? If so, let us know what you made of the huge curveball they threw our way at the end in the comments below…

Read Steve’s review of Bloodlands episode 3 here.

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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Bloodlands episode 3 review

Spoilers for Bloodlands episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.

After a solid – if generally unspectacular – opening episode, Chris Brandon’s Northern Irish crime thriller Bloodlands exploded into life at the end of part two as DCI Tom Brannick brutally gunned down an innocent man. James Nesbitt’s itchy trigger finger seemingly indicating that it may actually be him, the main character – and lead police officer on the case – who is the mysterious serial kidnapper/killer Goliath.

It may seem a little early for big twists like the one we were served up last Sunday, but given that this Jed Mercurio-produced series is only four hours long, it was actually pretty well timed. Trouble is, with the big showy reveal at the halfway point, where do you go from there…?

Bloodlands episode 3 features frowning. A lot of frowning. Seemingly now simultaneously both the good and bad guy, Brannick is a complicated fella. To communicate that, Nesbitt does a lot of brow furrowing here. In fact, if the former Cold Feet actor were to furrow his brow any further, he’d be liable to trip over it.

To be fair to our star here, it’s not an easy job. He’s playing a no-nonsense copper dad and grieving husband who may (or may not) be the killer in his own investigation. This is fairly nuanced stuff to be portraying. After all, when a character is keeping a secret, they can’t generally talk about it. So frowning suddenly becomes a method of communicating to the audience. It requires a level of subtlety that Nesbitt – as lovable and charismatic as he is – doesn’t really have in spades.

After last week’s shock ending, we had to get back on track here in this third and penultimate part. Brannick had some serious covering up to do: bodies to dispose of, guns to hide, notepads with his DNA on to worry about…

His efforts were in vain, however. Soon, his colleagues had worked it all out. Goliath had to be a police officer, otherwise how would he know that Adam Corry planned Pat Keenan’s elaborate kidnapping? It soon became clear that only three officers currently serving worked on the old Goliath case: Brannick, Michael Smiley’s forensics man ‘Dinger’ Bell and the boss, Jackie Twomey. Redacted files, a revelation about his IRA informant and a PO box key soon put Twomey in the frame.

For all Brannicks’s frowning, shouting and shooting, it’s Lorcan Cranitch’s Jackie Twomey that really intrigues here. The Cracker and Ballykissangel man shines here as the grumpy Detective Chief Superintendent, a man who could either be as corrupt as they come, or the man to help unravel what’s gone on. Equally he could be the weak ‘politician’ policeman his underlings assume he is as he wriggles away like a coward. He’s an interesting character.

If what we were served up here is to be believed – and it so often isn’t with these things – next Sunday night’s big finale will be all about whether or not Brannick can fully frame his old pal and boss or if Twomey can see what’s going on for himself.

In truth, Bloodlands isn’t the most original crime drama you’ll ever see. It has its moments. There are well-drawn characters, flashes of humour in the script and a few genuine moments of excitement and adrenaline. It’s doubtful that it’ll go down as a classic, mind. With its corrupt police plotline, it’ll likely be remembered as ‘that Northern Irish Line of Duty type thing with Jimmy Nesbitt in.’

It might not be on many TV fans’ shows of the year list come December, but we’ll be tuning in for its conclusion next week, eager to see how it resolves itself. We’re expecting another big twist and (possibly) the return of Brannick’s ‘dead’ wife, so there could be fireworks. At the very least we want to see whether Jimmy Nesbitt finally trips over his own eyebrows.

Did you watch Bloodlands episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

4 Comments

    Love this show and I love Steve’s reviews. Just the right tone. Can’t wait to see what happens in the final episode!

    Found this synopsis helpful, but agree there’s too much brow furrowing. ( Not waving but frowning?) Will watch tonight’s episode to find out why the hell Brannick shot Corry if he, Brannick, isn’t Goliath. Does he think Emma was the killer, or helping the IRA? Hardly a motive, if she was two-timing him…Hmm.

    Good. When you think of all the twist and turns in NI this is believable.

    I genuinely thought it was awful and unbelievable in the worst sense. Needed more acting than frowning Gave up after ep 2

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Bloodlands episode 4 review

Spoilers for Bloodlands episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.

It’s safe to say that the British television-watching public has missed Line of Duty. The high-octane corrupt copper drama is pure watercooler TV – at least it was when its fifth series aired back in March 2019, a lifetime ago. When its latest run airs very soon, fans might not be able to gather together in the corner of the office to discuss the latest AC-12 developments over a flimsy plastic cup of brain-freezingly cold water, but you can bet that social media will be absolutely buzzing.

Seemingly to get us all revved up for the return of Line of Duty, BBC One served us up a four course taster menu over the past month. Bloodlands may come from a different writer’s keyboard, but it has Line of Duty head honcho Jed Mercurio’s DNA all over it. Produced by Mercurio, this Northern Irish thriller has filled a scheduling gap and intrigued its audience these past few weeks, while never truly hitting the heights of its imposing cousin.

We left proceedings last week with the rather dodgy DCI Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt) working with uneasy ally Tori Matthews (Lisa Dwan) in a bid to frame his boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch). The crime(s)? A series of slayings in the late 90s known as the Goliath Murders, which Brannick himself was responsible for.

The first half of this fourth and final episode in the series saw police chief Twomey wriggling around uneasily in an ill-fitting tracksuit, humiliated and defensive. You can see why the unavoidable Line of Duty comparisons are made – mostly, rather unashamedly, by us…

This last episode was at its strongest in these interrogation scenes. Cranitch, guarded and shifty, his interviewer pressing and testing. For anyone also watching the latest series of Unforgotten at the moment, it was kind of disconcerting to see Susan Lynch from it grilling DCS Twomey in what was a powerful cameo.

A fortnight ago, part 2 revealed the true identity of Goliath. Last week’s slice of the pie built on that idea, but going into the finale there was still an outside chance of a final twist… Could Tom be covering up for someone? Might he turn out not to be the bad guy? As the minutes passed here, that possibility ebbed away.

Nesbitt’s character looked to be getting away with it all but for the keen intuition of his DS, Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna). Between her and Tori, Brannick was in for a rough ride as it all came to a close.

Things weren’t exactly turned on their head in the conclusion, but we were at least treated to some motivation for Brannick’s actions. Perhaps, we’re made to ponder, it’s possible to be the bad guy while not being truly bad. Life’s a complicated thing, let’s not forget.

While twists and turns can be thrilling, they can also be a little gimmicky, so it’s sometimes pleasing to see a drama play out in a way that suits the story instead of feel like one long build-up to a tablecloth-pulling trick. That’s mostly how we feel about the conclusion of Bloodlands – yet we couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed by how the final scenes played out.

We learned after the credits rolled that there’s to be a second series of the Northern Irish Noir. With the way things ended, there’s plenty of scope for a follow-up. While it seems unlikely that this police thriller will ever reach the giddy heights of Line of Duty, another four episodes will certainly be a welcome addition to the schedules.

We’re guessing we’ll likely see the return of DCI Brannick in spring 2023. What the world will look like when Bloodlands is back is anyone’s guess.

Did you catch Bloodlands episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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