Is the Line of Duty creator's new project Bloodlands a hit?

Abby Robinson
·4-min read
Photo credit: HTM Televison /Steffan Hill - BBC
Photo credit: HTM Televison /Steffan Hill - BBC

From Digital Spy

Note: Only the first episode was made available for review.

With The Serpent done and dusted, it's time to depart the so-called Hippie Trail and head to present day Northern Ireland, where a storm is brewing.

Crowd favourite James Nesbitt (The Missing, Cold Feet) plays Tom Brannick, a police detective who skips his morning toast and coffee to investigate a vehicle that has been recovered from the bed of Strangford Lough.

It belongs to the owner of a local businessman, who also happened to be a senior member of the IRA. But a piece of evidence found at the scene confirms that this isn't a run-of-the-mill paramilitary revenge hit.

The missing man is linked to Goliath, a possible assassin within the force itself who previously targeted individuals who were a threat to the peace process, one of which was Tom's wife.

That information was kept out of the public domain to protect the Good Friday Agreement,
but this development risks lighting that spark once again.

Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill
Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill

Bloodlands is the first piece of work from actor-turned-writer Chris Brandon, with Line of Duty and Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio exec-producing. But you won't find any of Ted Hastings' colloquialisms here.

Unlike Mercurio's writing, which employs high drama that spills over into the improbable and, at times, pantomime – brilliantly, we should add – this is rooted significantly more in reality.

That will appeal to some, while others might be disappointed that you don't get the equivalent of Jason Watkins in overalls and latex gloves taking a chainsaw to Thandie Newton's face.

That's not to say there isn't action. A police car is petrol-bombed in the first episode. But Brandon is setting a very specific scene and the series requires heavy exposition in places, which does make it a little too slow-burn on occasion. The fear of a return to the dark days is palpable, the air thick with tension, which is a credit to Brandon's writing. But there are moments when it needs to kick on rather than sit back and settle in.

Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill
Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill

Related: Line of Duty boss' new thriller show shares special connection with BBC cop series

That attention to detail where atmosphere is concerned is to be expected given Brandon's emotional connection to this world.

"It's so close to home, to the people and places of my formative years," he said of living in County Down until the age of 13 (via The Telegraph). "I grew up with a constant sense of danger."

Striking the right tone is not only essential to this story, but Brandon will undoubtedly feel that he has a duty to paint an accurate portrait, taking pains to avoid caricatures or underselling the pressure-cooker environment.

The premise, too, is a compelling one, and with the hand-held camera approach and use of actors native to the region, a move that The Pembrokeshire Murders was recently praised for, it does feel authentic.

But it's heavily plot-driven, which comes at the expense of character development. We know that Tom is still rocked by the death of his wife and has a close relationship with his daughter, but that's about it. You like to know who you're dealing with, if they take milk in their coffee or they drink it black. But there's nothing to really grab onto in that department and you might find yourself uninvested in him as a result.

With a further three episodes to go, there's certainly space for that to shift.

Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill
Photo credit: BBC / HTM Televison / Steffan Hill

The unrelenting grey, grimness of Bloodlands might be just what you're in the market for at the moment, a welcome distraction from the world outside your front door.

But it also might bring you crashing back down to earth, particularly for those who experienced The Troubles for themselves, and following conversations about a return to old ways after the result of the Brexit vote.

If you choose to engage, what you will get is a perfectly solid, watchable BBC crime thriller guaranteed to spice up your Sunday nights, which might not be saying much at the moment. But after a decent series-opener with the promise of much more to come, we'll be sticking with this one.

Bloodlands airs Sunday 21 Feb on BBC One at 9pm.

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