When a suicide note is discovered in an empty car pulled from the sea, veteran detective Tom Brannick draws a link to an infamous case about a series of mysterious disappearances whose trail went cold years before. As he wages an obsessive campaign to solve it, he becomes embroiled in an investigation that leads him deep into his own dark past and the troubled history of his country.
“Bloodlands” stars James Nesbitt (“The Missing,” “Cold Feet”) in a drama that shows how the traumas of the past continue to reverberate in the present. The BBC One four-part series is the first commission for Hat Trick Mercurio Television, the production company set up by “Line of Duty” and “Bodyguard” creator Jed Mercurio along with the Jimmy Mulville-run indie Hat Trick Productions (“Have I Got News For You,” “Episodes”). The series was selected to take part in this week’s MipTV Drama Buyers Summit.
The central mystery in “Bloodlands” leads back to The Troubles, the period of sectarian violence that rattled Northern Ireland for 30 years. In the lead-up to the 1998 peace accord, a number of controversial figures from both sides of the struggle vanished without a trace, allegedly at the hands of a shadowy assassin known only as Goliath. But those disappearances were left unsolved, as the country’s leaders were determined not to upset the delicate peace process.
“What’s very specific about the series ‘Bloodlands’ is that it takes place within a recognizable political reality that exists in Northern Ireland, but one that also will be recognizable the world over,” Mercurio tells Variety. “At times there are political considerations which are put forward as being for the greater good to maintain peace and reconciliation. It’s not just in Northern Ireland that we’ve seen that.”
Brannick has a personal stake in unraveling the mystery, convinced that his own wife was one of Goliath’s victims. That vendetta drives his increasingly desperate search for the truth, and allows the creators to tap into what Mercurio describes as a “universal idea of justice” that will resonate with global audiences.
“I think that that’s something that is recognized the world over,” he says. “A serious crime has been committed, and there are victims, then [for] those victims and their families—is there some kind of recourse to justice?”
“Bloodlands” was shot in Belfast and Strangford Lough, a remote area whose moody landscape and distinctive lighting lend a tone that Mercurio and the production team dubbed “Irish Noir.” “It’s quite barren, it’s eerie, it’s quite spectacularly beautiful as well,” he says. “It gave the piece an atmosphere that you don’t normally get in U.K. thriller series. We really embraced that.”
Season one of “Bloodlands” is in post-production, with principal photography having wrapped just days before the coronavirus pandemic shut down production across the U.K. (Mercurio’s “Line of Duty” suspended production on season six after four weeks of shooting.)
The series is executive produced by Mercurio and Mark Redhead (“The Secret,” “Bloody Sunday”) and directed by Pete Travis (“Fearless,” “Omagh”). It was commissioned by Piers Wenger for BBC One and is distributed by Hat Trick International.
Writer and creator Chris Brandon is best known for his work on TV3’s Irish police drama “Red Rock.” Though it’s the first time he’s being handed the reins of his own series, Mercurio says he was impressed by Brandon’s writing, which “jumped off the page,” and his willingness to engage in a collaborative work environment.
“He’s actually much further along as a writer than I was, at the same stage of getting his first show,” says Mercurio. “Chris is one of those writers who really embraces collaboration, who understands the exigencies of production.”
He continues: “With my experience as a writer, I was very fortunate to get a break early in my career. People got behind my work even though I hadn’t gotten any experience of writing for TV. I kind of feel that I can pass that on.”