The coastal expanse of Northern Ireland seems to be waiting for a tough murder mystery.
Now it has one. “Bloodlands” (shown here) opens Monday (March 15), for a four-week run on the Acorn streaming service.
“The idea came from that very distinct sense of place,” writer Chris Brandon told the Television Critics Association. He wanted “a story that really used the landscape of Northern Ireland.”
That’s where James Nesbitt, who stars, grew up. He said “Bloodlands” uses his homeland’s “kind of airiness and dark past, the beauty of the place.”
Yes, that “dark past” is a key. For three decades, Northern Ireland was shaken by “The Troubles,” an oft-deadly fight over whether it would rejoin Ireland or remain part of the United Kingdom.
That ended with a 1998 agreement, but Brandon’s story imagines a current twist: A car is pulled from the water, with no body, but an apparent suicide note. An assassin from that era may be back.
For Detective Chief Inspector Tom Brannick (Nesbitt), this is personal. His wife, a British agent, vanished back then; for 22 years, he’s raised their daughter (now a medical resident) alone.
It’s a dark story, filled with jolts. (A big one is coming at the end of the second episode, March 22.) And all of that seems to fit the setting. Brandon says he was influenced by what “‘The Killing’ was doing in Denmark and what ‘True Detective,’ I think, was doing in Louisiana, (plus)the films of Taylor Sheridan – that kind of idea of neglected frontiers.”
Sheridan set “Wind River” in a Wyoming reservation. Like Kenneth Branagh’s “Wallander” films (shot in Sweden), it captured the brooding beauty of vast, empty spaces.
That’s the emotional space occupied by “Bloodlands.” Right now, Brandon said, Northern Ireland is “thriving and really booming to move forward – but also carrying the profoundly tragic memories of a violent past.” That creates “a conflict I wanted to centralize in James’ character.”
Its a role Nesbitt could jump into. “Northern Ireland has always been the backdrop of my life,” he said.
In his early years, he lived alongside the country school where his dad taught 32 students – including Nesbitt and his three sisters. Those sisters all became teachers, but Nesbitt went on to drama school, lots of theater roles and TV stardom.
Much of that has been confined to British networks, but some of it reached the U.S. “Jekyll” (2008) even brought him a Golden Globe nomination in 2008. “That was just a showoff-y role,” he said.
He’s done a few international projects – including the “Hobbit” films, as Bofur – and lots of British ones. Now “Bloodlands” takes him back to his homeland.
The mini-series is produced by Jed Mercurio, who has filmed five seasons of “Line of Duty” in Northern Ireland – pretending the story is in England.
“We spend a lot of time and energy and money, sometimes, attempting to disguise the location in ‘Line of Duty,’” Mercurio said. By comparison, “Bloodlands” can savor its setting.