Why you should catch up with Bloodlands
Ivan | On 17, Sep 2022
James Nesbitt is one of those actors who’s always fun to watch. Whether he’s smiling and larger-than-life, turning on his slightly manic charm, or whether he’s brooding and downbeat, he’s the kind of screen presence who naturally holds your attention. His best roles let him do a bit of both, and so it is with Bloodlands, BBC One’s intense crime drama that lets Nesbitt play charismatic hero in the role of DCI Tom Brannick – while forever threatening to teeter into something sinister.
Tom, we soon learn, has a slightly chequered past, something that becomes clear when a cold case awakens in Northern Ireland that also revives the ghost of Goliath, a legendary killer who was reputed to be a former police officer. Goliath went missing 20 years ago but, with Tom’s wife among Goliath’s victims, the killer’s shadow looms large and long.
And so we find ourselves in dark and serious territory, something you can tell by the way that Nesbitt spends an increasing amount of time frowning. The more he frowns, the more gripping things become, as the twisting plot takes us from a missing IRA member to spies and informants, via red herrings, shocking revelations and tense interrogations that leave us wondering who to root for. These are complicated waters, and the shades of grey ripple through everyone’s morals and loyalties. The strong ensemble really sink their teeth into the material, from Susan Lynch as DCI Heather Pentland and Charlene McKenna as DS Niamh McGovern to Michael Smiley as forensics expert Dinger and Lorcan Crannitch as their conflicted boss, Jackie Twomey.
Outside of the station, there are grudges, ties and heartfelt confessions to be found among old friends and close family, with Lola Petticrew stealing scenes as Tom’s daughter, Izzy, Victoria Smurfit excelling as widow Olivia, Ian McElhinney bringing weary grief to the role of Adam, the brother of one of Goliath’s victim, and Lisa Dwan delivering a heartfelt turn as Tori, Izzy’s teacher.
The result is a polished but darkly grim four-parter that, thanks to writer Chris Brandon, keeps its scale small despite large historical and emotional scope. There’s fun in the unpredictable plotting, but it’s the rich character work that resonates as the past plays out consequences in the present – and, at the heart of it, a raw and understated performance by Nesbitt as a man whose judgement is compromised and questioned not least of all by himself.