Is ‘Bloodlands’ the Next ‘Bodyguard’? The Making of a Nail-biter

The past is neither dead nor buried for Northern Ireland police detective Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt). In the intricately plotted, four-part thriller Bloodlands — streaming on Acorn TV starting March 15 — a submerged car, a possible suicide note and a missing person with previous IRA connections persuade law enforcement that a brutal assassin known as Goliath has reemerged after more than 20 years. (For an exclusive sneak peek, watch the clip above.)

Before he went dormant in 1998, in the weeks leading up to the signing of a historic peace treaty that put an end to the country’s most violent days, Goliath was believed to be responsible for the disappearance of four people — including Brannick’s wife.

For series creator and writer Chris Brandon, the setting was crucial to the story he wanted to tell. Brandon was born in England, where his mother is from, but spent time growing up in N.I. in the 1980s and ’90s, where his father hails from and where Bloodlands was shot.

“I wanted to construct a thriller that could also encapsulate the questions facing Northern Ireland and its future, in the tribulations of one character,” Brandon tells TV Insider. “This was also the biggest challenge. Endeavoring to speak to universal themes through specificity was a constant process.”

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He didn’t do it alone. Brandon’s original script caught the attention of Jed Mercurio, the creator and writer behind Bodyguard and Line of Duty, two of the U.K.’s most popular TV shows. Mercurio signed on as an executive producer, and Brandon credits him as being crucial to the development of the series.

“It has been a really enjoyable collaboration of how best to make the story work,” he says. “To have Jed’s mind in that room as well as his expertise, and the expertise of executive producer Mark Redhead, has been an invaluable dynamic.”

The weather presented its own challenges during filming. Much of the series was shot on location in the rural area around Strangford Lough and the Mourne Mountains in the middle of winter. “The actors and crew powered on with tea-fueled vigor and quality thermals,” Brandon reports.

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He also praises the multilayered work of his leading man, Nesbitt, who American audiences know for his excellent portrayal of another tormented character, this one on a quest to find his lost son, in the 2014 Starz series The Missing.

“His devotion to the part [of Brannick] from the moment he read the script is there for all to see in a brilliantly wrought performance,” the writer says. “The dexterity with which he moves from the complex to the honest and back again makes me lean forward in wonder.”

Bloodlands, Series Premiere, Monday, March 15, Acorn TV