Bloodlands episode one review: James Nesbitt shines in slow-burn drama

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Sunday night dramas don’t get more slate grey and slow-burning than BBC One’s Bloodlands – the latest James Nesbitt vehicle, set against a beautifully bleak Northern Ireland haunted by ghosts of the Troubles.

Two decades since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, there’s unrest on the streets of Belfast. When a former senior member of the IRA’s car is found at the bottom of Strangford Lough, James’s DCI Tom Brannick is forced to revisit his search for ‘Goliath’ – the ‘man on the inside’ he suspects of killing a string of victims in politically motivated attacks years previously.

The outcome of the case threatens to spark ‘all out war’. One of the victims also happens to be Tom’s wife, whose death he and his daughter are still grieving.

Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio acts as executive producer on Bloodlands, which is the first project from actor-turned-writer Chris Brandon. If Line of Duty is the Rolls Royce of British cop procedurals, though, Bloodlands is lacking a little horsepower by comparison.

The first episode is a slow starter but not without intrigue, held together thanks to Nesbitt who gives his most compelling TV performance since 2014’s The Missing.

The logistics of the plot itself are nothing new – detectives have battled personal demons and the threat of internal corruption before, and they’ll do it again – but the political edge of the drama keeps things fresh, while the characterisation of Nesbitt’s Tom Brannick manages to avoid cliché.

James Nesbitt stars as Tom Brannick in Bloodlands (Picture: BBC)

Nesbitt knows the ropes more than most, and he leads the cast with crumpled charisma. That’s no surprise. What is unexpected, though, is that DCI Tom Brannick seems like a genuinely nice bloke – an uncommon trait among TV detectives. There’s no ubiquitous drinking problem or crippling character flaw, at least as far as we can tell so far, and he interacts with people warmly and with good humour.

For someone who lost his wife in such terrible circumstances, he seems to be doing remarkably well too. He’s even refreshingly bad at his job, getting caught out snooping around a restricted office in the first 10 minutes of episode one.

Aren’t these the kinds of people we want to see solving mysteries on telly? Forget the insufferable maverick types – this reviewer for one wants more characters solving mysteries like Tom who seem like they’d be a laugh in the pub afterwards.

The case threatens to spark conflict in Northern Ireland in the drama (Picture: BBC)

Nesbitt is so impressive, in fact, it’s a shame that most of the supporting cast of Bloodlands are drawn paper-thin. Charlene McKenna is given a thankless task as Tom’s partner DS Niamh McGovern, whose only motivation seems to be getting Tom to spout exposition.

The lack of chemistry between Nesbitt and McKenna doesn’t help either, making some early scenes comparable to reading the ‘personal life’ section of Tom’s Wikipedia page as his backstory is revealed.

Lorcan Cranitch as DCS Jackie Toomey, though, is wonderfully grumpy and untrustworthy, and there’ll be more time for character development in the remaining three episodes.



Key Moments:

  • The search for ‘Goliath’ begins, with the cold case threatening peace on the streets of Belfast.
  • Old friendships are strained – could DCS Jackie Toomey be hiding more than he’s letting on?
  • Old graves are opened. How will the final reveal impact DCI Tom Brannick’s involvement in the case?

Verdict:

There’s enough there to suggest a strong series could be coming our way over the next month.

The first 55 minutes of the opening episode might have ticked along at a restrained pace, but the last five rollick along and set up episode two in tantalising style. And by creating a likeable, believable protagonist in Nesbitt’s DCI Tom Brannick, the show already as the hardest part of the case cracked.

Bloodlands continues on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One

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MORE : James Nesbitt stars in Bloodlands first trailer from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio


MORE : James Nesbitt stars in Bloodlands first trailer from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio