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'Bloodlands' Tells Tale Of Troubled Times In Northern Ireland


The luxury car of a crime boss is pulled out of a lake in Belfast, and Detective Tom Brannick recognizes the name of the man who was in the car but now can't be found - Patrick Keenan, who was once a figure in the IRA.


JAMES NESBITT: (As DCI Tom Brannick) Make no mistake. The people Keenan was associated with in the past, the ones he's involved with now, are an unsavory bunch. I shouldn't need to remind you that the lines between gang-related activities and political paramilitaries are blurred at best, so tread carefully.

SIMON: Is the crime scene they uncover that morning connected to a series of disappearances that began in Belfast more than 20 years ago, disappearances that started shortly before the Good Friday peace agreements that were intended to end the long period of religious rivalry and violence still known in Northern Ireland as the Troubles? "Bloodlands" starts streaming Monday on Acorn TV. It stars James Nesbitt and a host of other Irish stars. It is produced by Jed Mercurio and written by Chris Brandon, who joins us now from North London. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRIS BRANDON: Thank you very much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Inevitably, an American watches this and hears some lines which are familiar in our current discourse here, as when the policeman points out, you know, the line between politics and the paramilitary can get blurred...

BRANDON: Yes. Yeah.

SIMON: ...And the Belfast police commander who says, we need to mind what we're walking into because we have a side of our community that considers us the enemy.


SIMON: Were these phrases resonant even when you were shooting?

BRANDON: I'm always conscious of the difficult job the police have to do at any given time in any place, which is marshal different communities who may stand against each other or may stand for different things, more importantly. Yes, it's interesting. The resonances now, to see what's going on all around the world and to see that nature of - I suppose one would call it - identity politics or the emphasis that is on that, more so than it has been in the past. And it can be a more precarious place for somebody who wants to keep the peace and to mete out justice. It can be a more precarious place for them to be.

SIMON: What confronts modern Belfast, a society still recovering from a troubled history?

BRANDON: Still recovering, I think, yes. But it is now a fantastically vibrant and forward-looking city but also has this traumatic past that has to be wrestled with, I think. And the great victory of the Good Friday Agreement and the sort of genius of it - almost unthinkable in a day like today - is the compromise that it achieved. And so keeping that safe is the most important thing. And protecting the peace, I think, is an incredibly important task for us to face as we move forward. And so for a police officer in Northern Ireland to have that duality or that contradiction...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRANDON: ...Within their own role of keeping the peace versus getting justice, obtaining justice, I think, is a very interesting place for a policeman to be in the context of this thriller, I think.

SIMON: I got to tell you. I like Detective Brannick a lot.

BRANDON: Oh, good.

SIMON: And a widower - his wife was apparently an intelligence agent who died in the line of duty. Do - well, I don't want to fill in too much, but does he feel, in a way, left out of the story of her death?

BRANDON: That's a very good question. Interestingly, for me, he has mostly been a forward-looking character, and that has been a compulsion down to having a daughter. And the daughter is manifest representation of the peace that Northern Ireland holds and the potential that Northern Ireland holds. You know, often with drama, you have that question of, why now? To reach this point in the drama - is that confrontation with the clue that suddenly spins that world, that present-looking world of his daughter out of control. And he suddenly is forced to confront the past that he has perhaps kept locked away for all this time.

SIMON: As we know, Jed Mercurio - this is one of his productions. And...


SIMON: ...He is considered, in many ways, the master of the police procedural - "Bodyguard," "Line Of Duty" - series that depict the inner workings and often the rivalries of British police departments and security agents. I guess he also wrote a children's book about penguins, but I'm not...

BRANDON: Did he really? I didn't know that. I'll have to read that.

SIMON: Our research uncovers everything, Mr. Brandon. What can I tell you?

BRANDON: (Laughter).

SIMON: What's it like to work with him?

BRANDON: Fantastic. I think on paper, the idea of it is intimidating, but as soon as I met him, he has been nothing but encouraging and incredibly generous with his time. You know, it was great for me to be on set professionally to learn what everybody does and to learn the implications of your writing. I think the actors would agree that - you know, I had written, they're on an island in the middle of Strangford Lough, which is this very deep-water sea loch in Northern Ireland. And I'd thought, well, that will look great, but I hadn't thought how cold they would be. So I think at one point James Nesbitt got lockjaw he was so cold, so...

SIMON: James Nesbitt getting lockjaw - that's a mighty jaw to have locked, isn't it?

BRANDON: (Laughter) It is, yeah. You're talking epic proportions.

SIMON: Oh, my word. Do you have some hope people will see Northern Ireland differently if they see this series?

BRANDON: Yes, I hope so. And I hope people will see that it is a forward-looking country, that it is a very diverse place. And people get through things with a certain sense of gallows humor, which I think is, you know, an enduring survival mechanism. And they're great people.

SIMON: Chris Brandon is writer and creator of "Bloodlands," streaming Monday, March 15 on Acorn TV. Thank you so much for being with us.

BRANDON: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUTH BARRETT'S "ATTRACTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.