Enter The Bloodlands
Bloodlands is a new BBC drama set in Northern Ireland starring James Nesbit which started last night and here’s its writer Chris Brandon introducing it…
Bloodlands is a thriller about fictional detective Tom Brannick, who is forced to grapple with his past when he is sent on the hunt for a mythical assassin. His journey asks the universal questions of what we will do to protect the ones we love, and how far will we go to achieve that end.
The idea comes from a distinct sense of place.
I spent part of my life growing up in Strangford, a small village at the mouth of a lough in Northern Ireland. It’s a place that always sparked my imagination. The austere beauty of scarred and sodden hillsides, the windswept islands and bouldered shorelines always seemed, in themselves, to hold the memory of stories past.
In 2013, I returned to help a childhood friend make a short film. The film was set in the house next door to where I grew up and my own memories of the land and its people came flooding back. It was then that the idea occurred to me to tell the story of someone whose journey is inextricably linked to that of the land – a kind of allegory, if you will, about the moment Northern Ireland finds itself in now.
It is 23 years since the Good Friday Agreement which signalled the end of the violence of the Troubles, a 30-year period of sustained bloodshed. I was a child of the 80s and 90s, when such violence was part of the day to day. The Northern Ireland we know now is a country that is mostly at peace and one that looks forward with hope.
But the foundations of peace are delicate. The legacy of violence has left indelible scars. How Northern Ireland moves forward depends very much on how it deals with its past. Many feel there may be peace but there is still injustice. Many question how there can be reconciliation without truth.
These struggles exist in Tom Brannick. As a veteran detective he has a foot in both the past and the present. He has hope for the future in the potential of his daughter, but he is stopped from moving forward by the resurrection of an assassin myth; a symbol of police collusion in past violence that holds deeply personal significance.
Tom must cut out the root of this myth in order to have any hope of a peaceful tomorrow. He must confront his past to protect the future he prizes above all.
I knew he would be the character through whom the story of Bloodlands was told.
I wrote a speculative screenplay and was delighted when my agent brought it to the attention of Jed Mercurio. His experience of working in Northern Ireland, while filming Line Of Duty, gave him an intimate knowledge of the place I was writing about. His knowledge of the thriller genre was something I was already aware of as an avid follower of his work, and it has been a great privilege to discuss the intricacies of story with him.
Together with executive producer Mark Redhead, whose own experience of working in Northern Ireland, on projects such as Bloody Sunday, had given him an exhaustive knowledge of the Troubles, we were able to collaborate on building a storyline across four hours that could be both a thrilling and resonant drama.
James Nesbitt’s involvement from early on and his belief in the project marked the coming together of something very special. He is a much loved son of Northern Ireland, and has those rare and timeless qualities of the everyman that allow him to take an audience by the hand and lead us into perilous territory, whilst always maintaining our trust.
It is James’ portrayal of a tormented Tom Brannick that brings the character and this world to life as he balances the visceral and psychological in a mesmerising central performance.