Are you hooked on Bloodlands? (Sundays 9 p.m. BBC 1, iPlayer top slot). If you haven’t it seen it yet I won’t spoil the Goliath reference. Jimmy Nesbitt is a grizzled PSNI detective Tom Brannick bridging a Disappeared angle with an Ulster Line of Duty. It’s the latest in the product line of creator Jed Mecurio’s love affair with making gripping TV series in Northern Ireland. Not quite as gripping as Line of Duty yet or as menacing and sophisticated as the Fall. No harm to Jimmy who carries much of the weight of the show. He hasn’t quite the smouldering allure of Gillian Anderson but he nearly makes up for it in pathos. His personal as well as professional agony is for a wife either long murdered or still missing.
Natives’ nose for inauthenticity will be twitching when Nesbitt aka. CH Tom Brannick acts as if the peace process was about to collapse when a car belonging to an ex IRA leader turned shady business man is fished out of Strangford Lough. Dead or kidnapped? No body to start with. Nasty certainly but surely the real PSNI became used to containing feuds long ago, basically letting them burn themselves out; or am I being unfair? Aha, you say when it appears Brannick’s superior reeks of cover up. This we recognise or think we do . Is collusion at work or is this a false trail? A casualty consultant is shaping up as the potential sex interest with a few knowing looks at Jimmy in a Royal corridor, but again – maybe not. His come on couldn’t be cheesier: “Where’s the way out?”
Here’s a sample of the professional reviews .
Ed Power Irish Times the most savvy, no surprise
... the comparison that comes to mind in a glum and convoluted opening episode is Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty… It’s grim as anything and not the best advertisement for a weekend break to Belfast (remember weekend breaks?
What follows is essentially I Can’t Believe It’s Not Line of Duty, with an Ulster fry dished up on the side.
Bloodlands is going out as BBC’s prime-time Sunday night drama and so is made with a British rather than an Irish audience in mind. This becomes obvious pretty quickly. We’re told, for instance, that “Catholics” don’t trust the police, with the missing ex-IRA man’s wife (Kathy Kiera Clarke) carrying on as if she’s beamed in from Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father. If the brush-strokes were any broader you could use them to hop from Larne to Stranraer.
The dialogue was less impressive, with Brannick laying on the exposition for his partner (Charlene McKenna); their problem-solving was also done in leaps and bounds (blurred vision, ladies’ man, Viagra…).
Director of photography Árni Filippusson is a veteran of Nordic crime dramas, and it shows – everything is washed in a cold, grey light. Apparently a local landowner refused the film-makers permission to use his land as a location because he didn’t want an influx of tourists, but unless you like particularly bleak holidays I don’t think you’ll be booking your ferry ticket.
Writer Chris Brandon clearly thinks the Troubles need a bit of contextualising for any millennials watching this series. Not in the sense of providing any deep historical background to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. It’s just that when Pat Keenan disappears — the boss of a haulage firm with a paramilitary past — police chief Jackie Twomey spells it out as though his colleague might be suffering from memory loss. If people find out that an ex-IRA man has gone missing, Twomey opines, “all hell could break loose”.
Nesbitt in real life is involved with Belfast’s Wave Trauma Centre which, among other things, campaigns on behalf of the families of the “Disappeared” – 16 people, mostly civilians, who were kidnapped, killed and deposited in unmarked graves by republican paramilitary groups during the Troubles. Their fates are inescapably evoked here, and make ( his character Tom) Brannick emblematic of contemporary Northern Ireland itself.
Photograph: Steffan Hill/BBC/HTM Television
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London