Bloodlands review: An unpredictable thriller with all the hallmarks of a Jed Mercurio drama

While this James Nesbitt-starring detective drama is a slow-burner to start with, viewers are taken on a surprising ride full of gripping twist and turns.

James Nesbitt in Bloodlands
4.0 out of 5 star rating

In a TV landscape densely populated by detective dramas, it can be difficult for brand-new series to stand out. From Marcella and Strike, to The Bay and Bulletproof, there are so many – and yet few manage to captivate audiences to the same degree as Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, a show often hailed as the gold-standard of British crime thrillers.

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Enter Bloodlands – BBC One’s upcoming drama executive produced by the Bodyguard creator, with Cold Feet’s James Nesbitt starring as a Belfast-based detective who finds himself back on the hunt for a notorious serial killer 20 years after the case initially went cold.

Whilst promoting the series, Nesbitt promised fans that they’d be getting a “classic Jed Mercurio thriller” with Bloodlands and he certainly wasn’t wrong there. Police-focused, hints of corruption, links to organised crime, a Northern-Irish lead detective – all that’s missing from our Mercurio bingo cards is a highly quotable catchphrase.

However, Bloodlands stands out from the rest of its genre with its complex political backdrop and a slow-burning script from new writer Chris Brandon, who drip-feeds us information throughout the first episode as we approach unforeseen twists and turns in the storyline.

The series opens by introducing Tom Brannick (Nesbitt), a DCI with the Police Service of Northern Ireland attending the birthday party of his medical student daughter Izzy (Lola Petticrew). When he’s called into work to investigate a case however, we watch him lock and load his handgun before heading to the crime scene, where a car registered to Patrick Keenan, a senior member of the IRA, has been found in a nearby river.

While the evidence seems to point towards a kidnapping, Brannick’s blood runs cold when, at the scene, he spots a familiar photo – the calling card of a serial killer named Goliath, who two decades prior, murdered four people including Brannick’s wife and was suspected to have been someone within the police force.

What follows is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse chase as Brannick attempts to track down Goliath whilst dealing with his boss Jackie (Lorcan Cranitch), who believes dredging up the past could risk a return to “all-out war”, and threats from Keenan’s organised crime links.

Nesbitt is on top form as tortured detective Brannick – stoic whilst on the job but with hints of emotional vulnerability as he’s forced to revisit the traumatic loss of his wife. Meanwhile Charlene McKenna impresses as no-nonsense DS Niamh McGovern, who hounds Brannick for details about the previous killings, which took place in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement and affected both sides of the conflict.

Lola Petticrew and James Nesbitt in Bloodlands
Lola Petticrew and James Nesbitt in Bloodlands
BBC

Rounding out the Bloodlands cast are a number of stars from Channel 4’s Derry Girls – although in very different roles to the ones you’re used to seeing them play. Kathy Kiera Clarke, who is best known for portraying the ditzy Aunt Sarah in the sitcom, appears in Bloodlands as Keenan’s glamorous, foul-mouthed and uncooperative wife, while Ian McElhinney (Grandad Joe) is the aggrieved brother of a victim who provides Brannick with vital information on Goliath.

While Bloodlands maintains a tense, somewhat sober tone throughout, the series surprises with injections of humour in places where it’s least expected – from Keenan’s hostile wife sarcastically quipping, “No, we s**t in our hands” when Brannick asks if she has a toilet he can use, to Jackie’s expletive-heavy rant as he struggles to exit a rubber dingy whilst scolding Brannick for disobeying his orders.

In fact, the series is unpredictable in a number of ways – unfolding slowly in the premiere episode’s first act before shocking viewers with exploding police cars, startling betrayals and gripping bomb defusals, most of which are filmed with what appears to be a shaky handheld camera, giving viewers the impression that they’ve tagged along for the incredibly stressful ride.

Bloodlands is a detective drama with ever-changing pace, excellent performances from its stellar cast, scenic Belfast backdrops and a multi-layered plot that’ll leave you counting down the days until the next episode airs.

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Bloodlands continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One – check out our full TV Guide or our Drama hub for all the latest news