The words “Channel 5” and “drama” go together like “cheese” and “ballpoint pen”. Unless, of course, you’ve seen the impressive semi-improved cop drama Suspects, which ran for five seasons from 2014. Now, you can add Blood to the list of growing evidence that the broadcaster can do drama too – and what an impressive mini-series it is.
Stripped across five nights, all parts of the drama are now available on-demand, and they reward binge-watching like soup on a cold night – this is the kind of TV you want to curl up with on the sofa, with a blanket to protect you from the chill coming off the screen. That chill is thanks to Adrian Dunbar, of Line of Duty fame. Dunbar plays Jim, patriarch of the Hogan family and a widower to the late Mary, who died suddenly, apparently from a fall. But estranged Daughter Cat (Carolina Main) isn’t so sure about his telling of events – not least because of a half-remembered violent encounter she witnessed as a daughter. And so the stage is set for a homecoming that’s as icy and awkward as it is gripping.
Family secrets, past betrayals, power battles and a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else’s gossip? These are bread-and-butter staples of TV drama, but writer Sophie Petzal has cooked up a fantastic broth to dunk them in, fusing the age-old family feuds with a fresh, raw pain. Within minutes of Cat driving towards West Meath and her family estate, she has to stop and throw up by the side of the road – this is a tightly woven tapestry of unresolved anguish that has a gut-wrenching intensity, literally.
After impressing in Unforgotten, Main is remarkable in the lead role, balancing an inquisitive determination with a crushing vulnerability. She’s an unreliable figure at best, and she’s well aware of that fact – so much of the drama lies in the struggle of someone who can’t be trusted trying to convince people of the one truth they know. Dunbar, meanwhile, is wonderfully ambiguous throughout, capable of being kindly and generous as the town’s local GP, but with a quiet creepiness and an unsettling stare, never letting you fully buy into his claims to be a good guy. Watching the pair go head-to-head makes for riveting television, even when it’s just unspoken accusations being fired across the kitchen table, and Petzal smartly anchors the whole drama in that inevitable collision.
Caught in the middle are Michael (Diarmuid Noyes) and Fiona Hogan (Grainne Keenan), who complete our equally believable family unit, full of unwavering support but an uneven loyalty – unity spiked with doubt and dark resentment. Things are left unsaid by each of our characters, but half of the time, it’s only to spare others in the group from being hurt or worrying about something unknown – while their motivations may be gently intended, though, the consequences are no less devastating, and Blood’s thick, coagulating substance gathers weight with every new consequence that comes to light.
The pacing is meticulous, balancing the present day detective work with just the right amount of flashbacks to childhood recollections, teasing what’s to come without becoming frustrating or distracting. Helping flesh out the mystery are Cat’s sympathetic childhood friend, Barry (Cillian O’Gairbhi), who has his own tragic troubles, and Sarah (Shereen Martin), who knows a lot more about Jim than some might expect.
But it’s Jim and Cat who deliver the best scenes, as he appears to gaslight her into questioning her own instincts. Is he really guilty of being involved in his wife’s death? Is he trying to look out for his daughter’s best interests? Is there something else going on entirely? Petzal ties together those questions with a powerful undercurrent about a young woman challenging the man of the house with nothing less than what she considers to be the burning facts. The result is a moving family drama and a compelling detective story that brings Scandi style twists to Irish shores, taking the time to explore each complex relationship and relish the routine deceptions that go with them. It’s claustrophobic, classily acted stuff that proves this broadcaster can do serious drama too. Get out that cheesy ballpoint: Channel 5’s drama wing is officially going on the map.
Blood is available on My5 until 19th December 2018 (Episode 1).