James Nesbitt, as detective Tom Brannick, on location at Queen’s Island, Belfast, Northern Ireland
How do you define the noir genre? Is it the hard-bitten dialogue? The inescapable tone of sadness and doom? The mixture of sex and violence? Jed Mercurio says Bloodlands, a dark new four-part drama that he executive-produced, is "Irish noir" — which calls for all of the above, plus the perfect location.
Some of this Acorn TV original takes place in Belfast, but the moody backdrop for the work of police detective Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt), is Strangford Lough. "It's a great setting for a thriller," Mercurio says of the large inlet, which lies in County Down in the east of Northern Ireland. "It's almost Scandinavian-looking, with a fjord. It's fundamentally quite a remote and eerie location. There's a beauty to it. But there's also a ruggedness to the landscape."
Bloodlands, which was created and written by newcomer Chris Brandon, might be the first official commission for Mercurio's production company, HTM Television. But in the U.K., Mercurio is famous as the man behind the BBC's gripping, preposterously twisty dirty-cop procedural Line of Duty, the highest-rated show in Britain in 2019 (it airs in the U.S. on Acorn TV). He's also behind Bodyguard, a political thriller that won a string of awards for Netflix.
Early on in Bloodlands, when a flashy car is hauled out of the sea, national politics becomes a key theme. Brannick realizes there might be a connection between whatever crime has occurred and the disappearance of his wife, an undercover intelligence officer who vanished during the bloody 30-year-long religious conflict known as "the Troubles."
Mercurio believes Bloodlands could have extra resonance in the U.S. because it evokes a time of civil unrest fueled by the desire to create a more equal society.
"We finished filming the series before the tragedy of George Floyd's death," he says, adding that while directing an episode of the sixth season of Line of Duty in Belfast, he noticed that in a city filled with murals commemorating the Catholic community's struggles, one such artwork was devoted to Floyd's image. "An interesting element of the culture here [in Belfast] is that they are inclusive of the struggle of minority groups to achieve equality and civil rights all over the world."
Mercurio is betting that after the U.S. debut of Bloodlands in March, viewers will be ready for more of craggy-faced Tom Brannick, austere Irish shore towns and brooding storylines. "We're currently in talks with the BBC for a season two," he says. "It's a return-able series."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2021