This review contains spoilers for Bloodlands series one.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why and where the BBC detective drama Bloodlands falls apart. The adequate components of this Northern Ireland-based series – exec-produced by Jed Mercurio and starring James Nesbitt – should work together to result in a broadly entertaining experience. You have a gruff DCI, a fractured community, an underseen context, and a violent past that spills into the present.
This year, The Troubles have featured a decent amount on screen: in Kenneth Branagh’s nostalgically poetic Belfast and the warm conclusion to Lisa McKee’s 90s comedy Derry Girls. In the case of Chris Brandon’s Bloodlands, the bulk of the action takes place in the modern day. The collective trauma from the conflict hangs heavy on the residents, especially on the cracked face of DCI Tom Brannick (Nesbitt).
But despite the intrigue of the setting, the series still fails as a drab and dreary procedural – stuffed with enough noir-y clichés to dissolve the severity of the past.
James Nesbitt as young Tom Brannick. Photo: BBC
That’s not to mention the wildly complicated plot, which may require rewinding and subtitles to properly absorb. In the first series, Tom was revealed to have been a reluctant assassin (codenamed ‘Goliath’) at the tail end of The Troubles: shooting two people during a weapons shipment. In the opening to series two, Brandon recreates this important backstory with a young Tom (a de-aged Nesbitt) recovering the weapons and discovering gold bars in the cases.
The murder of a dodgy accountant, kickstarting this second series, prompts Tom to search for the hidden bullion. On top of investigating a murdered man and covering every track that would lead to Tom's killings from the 90s, he's also greedy for gold.
Victoria Smurfit, James Nesbitt and Charlene McKenna as Olivia, Tom, and Niamh. Photo: BBC
Nesbitt looks chiselled out of mountainous rock. When he scowls, you think he’ll breathe fire. If he smiles, it’s never for long. He’s not utterly convincing in the role, a shame considering the double-life disparity of the character. Even with Tom’s more affable aspects – well, just the one: he’s a loving father – it’s not enough to care what happens to him. His sins have gone too far to be forgiven.
Yet Brandon expects you to care, and maybe even to dread the day of Tom's potential arrest. This critic would happily watch Tom waste away in a cell, occasionally visited by his annoying zoomer daughter Izzy (sweetly played by Lola Pettigrew). If that does happen (only three episodes were available to review), the series would at least conclude somewhere sensible. But that’s probably wishful thinking.
With a neverending cycle of shoehorned silliness and formulaic procedures involving cover-ups, interview rooms and comically unsuccessful car chases, Bloodlands turns into lethargic television.
A small saving grace is the lovely (if basic) C-story between Izzy and the awkward detective Birdy (Chris Walley), deserving of its own romcom spin-off. This schmaltzy subplot becomes more entertaining than the series’ primary interests in gold, murder and duplicity. Making the latter into a tedious exercise is an achievement in itself.
Bloodlands series 2 airs on Sunday 18 September at 9pm on BBC One
|What||Bloodlands series 2, BBC One review|
18 Sep 22 – 18 Sep 23, ON BBC ONE
|Website||Click here for more information|