Electrifying new drama Blue Lights follows rookie cops in Belfast – the UK’s most dangerous city…It’s like The Bill on STEROIDS
Contrary to popular belief, beat cops in the UK do carry guns – in Northern Ireland, that is.
The ever-present threat of terrorism makes policing there a more dangerous affair than elsewhere in the British Isles, making weapons essential for officers.
Only last month there was an attempt on the life of off-duty DCI John Caldwell in Omagh, who was shot in front of his own son after taking a football practice session.
It’s an issue at the heart of BBC1’s gripping new cop drama Blue Lights, which follows three rookie cops in Belfast as they try to keep the peace in the post-Troubles era.
‘Policing in Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the UK because they’ve got a gun on their hip,’ explains co-writer Declan Lawn. ‘It’s different because the danger doesn’t stop when the shift ends – they’re checking for bombs under their cars every morning.’
Written by the team behind Novichok drama The Salisbury Poisonings, Blue Lights stars Sherlock actress Siân Brooke as Grace, a single mum and ex-social worker who’s decided to switch careers in mid-life. Now a probationary cop, she’s frequently out of her depth and finds herself in unexpected danger.
Written by the team behind The Salisbury Poisonings, BBC1’s gripping new cop drama Blue Lights follows three rookie cops in Belfast as they try to keep the peace in the post-Troubles era
‘I found it intriguing why somebody in their 40s would be mad enough to change career like that,’ Siân says. ‘Grace is a lot braver than I am and a lot more determined. It’s quite inspiring to see a woman like that on screen.’
Siân didn’t have to look far for help in fleshing out her role, as her father was a policeman. ‘I asked my dad a lot about protocols. For example, how you respond on the radio if you’re following a car… he was a sort of shorthand dictionary.’
The other rookies are played by Nathan Braniff as Tommy and Katherine Devlin as Annie, and their Belfast station is a buzzing hub where the newbies get both pranked and helped by their peers, as well as told off by their superiors.
‘What drew me to Annie was the fact that she’s just a girl figuring life out and whether this career is right for her,’ says Katherine. ‘She’s a country girl from the glens of Antrim and I’m a country girl too, from Tyrone, so I related to that.’
They appear alongside bigger stars including Game Of Thrones’s Richard Dormer as experienced policeman Gerry, who partners under-confident Tommy. The Fall’s John Lynch plays their adversary James McIntyre, an organised crime gang leader who’s recruiting local lads, which provides the central storyline of Blue Lights’ six episodes.
The show’s full of police chases and car crashes that make for an adrenaline-fuelled ride, like The Bill on steroids. But the actors reveal that they were only pretending to drive at breakneck speed, when in fact expert stunt drivers on top of their police cars had control of the steering.
‘The speed was hair-raising,’ admits Katherine. ‘I didn’t have to act scared – I was scared!’
The cast also had to learn how to handle the weapons. ‘A lot of the gun scenes were shot in the range where the PSNI practise,’ explains Nathan Braniff.
The other rookies are played by Nathan Braniff as Tommy and Katherine Devlin as Annie (pictured)
Their Belfast station is a buzzing hub where the newbies get both pranked and helped by their peers, as well as told off by their superiors
‘Tommy’s not a great shot and Gerry helps him, so they spend a lot of time there. We were there with real cops, going through how to get your gun out and holster it, which was cool.’
Blue Lights feels like a fresh take on the genre because it portrays the difficulties of policing an area where peace is still fragile. The Caldwell shooting makes it feel more relevant than ever, says co-writer Adam Patterson.
‘You can’t ignore the fact that there’s still a threat for these people who lay themselves on the line to uphold their civic duty. And that’s why we love the police.’
- Blue Lights, Monday, 9pm, BBC1, then all episodes on BBC iPlayer.