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…
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…