Bloodlands follows former RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and current PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland) officer Tom Brannick, as a historic and deeply personal case resurfaces, 22 years after the peace process began in Northern Ireland. After more than two decades, will ‘Goliath’ finally be unmasked?
Written by Tresca Mallon
While Bloodlands is pretty melodramatic from the offset, the first couple of episodes do a decent job of establishing the sense of lingering tensions and spectre of historical turmoil. Just as religious and political identities, and their relationship to policing, remain pervasive in most aspects of life in Northern Ireland, so too are they omnipresent in the show. However, the action lagged in episode one as the audience is bombarded with names, relationships and intricate details of the case. Ending episode two with a truly shocking twist (however, clunkily revealed) suggested a promising change of pace, which unfortunately materialised by careering completely off the rails. The sense of gritty realism created in the first episodes is discarded in favour of an outlandish, spiralling narrative.
From the beginning, Bloodlands asks the audience to somewhat suspend reality. The chances an officer would be allowed to work a case in which is wife is a potential victim are slim to none. However, the show offers just enough justification to jump onboard. In episode three, when the audience are asked to believe the same officer could become an active suspect in the case and yet continue to work it, completely beggars belief. Episode four, the finale, leads the entire story into the realm of farce as the story, riddled with plot holes, reaches a crescendo of ridiculousness that could only be described as laughable.
This leads to a huge pitfall of Bloodlands. It is basically devoid of humour! Obviously, the subject matter is not inherently funny, but dark humour, when done correctly, is the life blood of a successful crime drama. Incorporating, some comic relief would have added both a layer of realism and pleasant change of pace from the, at times, monotonous doom and gloom. There are vague attempts throughout at a ‘buddy cop’ type, ribbing humour, but most jokes fall flat. Notable exceptions are the brief appearances of Derry Girl’s star Kathy Keira Clarke as Clare Keenan and crime drama staple Michael Smiley as Dinger. Both actors make solid attempts to bring a comedic edge to the meagre material provided.
James Nesbitt, an actor with a penchant for melodrama, leads as DCI Tom Brannick. This is perhaps Bloodland’s largest flaw. Nesbitt is wholly unbelievable as his character arc dramatically accelerates halfway through the series and he becomes a caricature. Brannick is meant to be a somewhat sympathetic anti-hero, instead he is deeply unlikable. It’s hard to imagine this as a conscious choice on the part of the actor or the writer (Chris Brandon). His daughter Izzy (Lola Petticrew), a character with an infuriating lack of intuition, is used as a plot device in an attempt to humanise the DCI. However, we still get little indication of who Brannick is beyond Nesbitt’s one-note performance and ever-present furrowed brow.
Brannick’s partner, DS Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna), seems to serve the singular narrative function of looking shocked/disturbed at every new revelation. As the camera panned to her trembling chin at the end of every scene, I couldn’t help asking why do we still know nothing about this character? McKenna does what she can with a limited character, but, given her development is completely one-dimensional, she doesn’t get much of a chance to shine.
Lisa Dwan as Tori Matthews picks up the melodrama Nesbitt puts down, and increases it by ten. She shimmies from antagonist to partner in crime to vengeful kidnapper, as the once innocuous character becomes somewhat demented in a flash. While her motivations are established in episode three, her huge and abrupt character shift mirrors Brannick’s.
On the polar opposite side of this theatricality came the muted performance from Young Offenders Chris Walley as Birdy. While early indicators suggested he might have played an antagonistic role to the lead’s agenda in the police station, he soon faded into the background looking perpetually like he didn’t want to be there.
Stand out performances came from Lorcan Cranitch as DCS Jackie Twomey and Ian McElhinney as Adam Corry. Twomey was the single character whose personality and motivations felt developed by the final episode. His interrogation scene in Episode 4 provided a pleasant opportunity for the gripping tension that was promised by the early marketing comparisons to Line of Duty. Unfortunately, this was quickly side-lined as focus returned to Brannick and his patchy narrative. McElhinney delivered a powerhouse performance as the grieving and vengeful brother of a Goliath victim. Despite being given an unfortunately small amount of screen time, his commitment to the character and sheer presence left a large impression on the series.
Despite a valiant attempt to recreate a raw portrayal of a recovering, yet deeply scarred Northern Ireland, Bloodlands fails to develop empathetic characters or a believable narrative. Ending in a minefield of plot holes, the first season of Bloodlands has left a multitude of questions. With the announcement of renewal for a second season it remains to be seen whether audiences will be compelled to return for the answers.