Blue Lights review: This compelling show is a rare spark in the moribund world of Irish crime television

Television: In its guts, this BBC show is just really good telly – the acting is compelling, and the show’s evocation of Belfast riveting

There are many ways a BBC police procedural set in present-day Belfast could have gone wrong – yet Blue Lights (BBC One, Monday, 9pm) gets almost everything right. Having grown up in the North, writers Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson are all too aware of the schisms running through – but they don’t crank up those tensions into trauma porn, which is how the North is too often portrayed in British TV.

In its guts, it’s just really good telly. Series one of Blue Lights ended with the spectacular takedown of a republican gangland figure who had been in cahoots all along with British intelligence. However, as the action resumes, it’s clear that the mean streets of Belfast aren’t any cleaner just because one more gangster is out of the way. A heroin epidemic has turned much of the city centre into a no-go area while earnest copper Grace (Siân Brooke) continues to discover that, when policing somewhere as complex as Belfast, good intentions aren’t enough.

Blue Lights is two shows in one. On the surface, it’s a gripping portrait of a place where a problematic past coexists with the challenging realities of modern-day gangland crime. But it’s also a soapy profile of life as a working police officer. The coppers are a diverse crew. Grace is a former social worker from Britain for whom police work is a vocation and her way of making sense of a cruel and complex world. She meets her exact opposite in the straight-talking and no-nonsense Annie (Katherine Devlin), introduced as a wet behind-the-ears rookie but has grown into a flinty and battle-hardened officer.

If the new season has a flaw, it is the murky and sometimes plodding plot. Drugs are ravaging Belfast, and it seems a new Mr Big is pulling the strings. So it’s a shame Blue Lights doesn’t just crack on with the story rather than repeatedly thump us over the head with how bad things have become via endless footage of drug users and depressive cityscapes.


The episode also takes place months after the shock death of Richard Dormer’s wise old saw, Gerry Cliff. But while the characters are still coping with the loss of a colleague, the script doesn’t go far enough in shedding light on their pain. They all just seem a bit grumpy.

No matter – the acting is compelling, and the show’s evocation of the present day Belfast riveting. It’s enough to confirm that series one was no flash in the pan. In the moribund world of Irish crime television, Blue Lights is a rare bright point – even if it has taken the BBC to pull it off.