Blue Lights (Season 2) – Review

Worth seeing: for another round of compelling police drama, let down only slightly by some narrative liberties
Featuring:Katherine Devlin, Martin McCann, Nathan Braniff, Sian Brooke, Alfie Lawless, Andi Osho, Andrea Irvine, Craig McGinlay, Dearbháile McKinney, Derek Thompson, Desmond Eastwood, Frank Blake, Hannah McClean, Joanne Crawford, Jonathan Harden, Paddy Jenkins, Seamus O'Hara, Seána Kerslake
Key crew:Adam Patterson, Declan Lawn, Jack Casey, Amanda Black, Bronagh Taggart, Noel McCann
Channel:BBC iPlayer, BBC1
Length:59 minutes
Broadcast date:15th April 2024


A year after we first met the new recruits at Blackthorn police station in Belfast, we catch up with them again as they’re fully up to speed.

A loyalist feud is brewing – rival gangs use drugs to control residents and hold the enemy at bay – until first an arson and then a gun attack turn the area on its head.

A local pub owner, Lee Thompson (Seamus O’Hara) rises from the ashes and begins to take over the estate and force out all rivals.

A paramilitary policing expert, DS Murray Canning (Desmond Eastwood) is called in to try to build up intelligence. He recruits constables Tommy (Nathan Branniff) and Shane (Frank Blake) to go undercover to gather information.

Tommy is unsure of Canning’s unconventional methods, being more used to “response policing” – and his mind is a little occupied with his new girlfriend.

Shane also takes a shine to another officer, Annie (Katherine Devlin), but their relationship appears to hit the buffers almost before it’s started.

And fellow constable Grace (Sian Ellis) is worried that personal feelings for her partner Stevie (Martin McCann) might be getting in the way of their working relationship.

While they’re trying to put their private lives aside long enough to bring down the new loyalist kingpin, a former colleague, Jen (Hannah McClean), has switched from law enforcement to being a lawyer since we last met her. She’s now trying to help someone who lost relatives during The Troubles to come to terms with his past by persuading a long-since retired handler (Derek Thompson) of an IRA informant to come clean about keeping quiet about an upcoming bombing to protect his source – and save dozens of lives in the future.


With most of the characters already familiar to anyone who saw the first series of this compelling Belfast-set police drama, they’re able to dive straight in with the thrills; the very first scene involves an ambush featuring petrol bombs and there’s very little down-time from then on.

Last time we explored the depths of the Republican underworld, while this time, we spend rather more time than we might like with the loyalists.

We quickly meet Lee Thompson, a new-look loyalist, who’s perfectly happy to be dealing drugs and running the estate – but wants to do it in a more gentle, nurturing way that doesn’t create as much misery for those he leads – but as the police close in, that turns out to be easier said than done.

While series 2 is every bit as full of thrills and spills as series 1, there are times when the narrative feels a little cynical; emboldened by the success of series 1, so confident are the writers after they hit on such a successful formula last time that they push their luck a little on their second outing. Almost every major character has a romantic storyline – and many of the characters, particularly among the loyalists, seem to be swayed too easily, almost presenting them as mice who’d follow the first person to skip past with a flute. There’s one particular element, where the story is driven by a social media post, which seems initially powerful and hugely relevant to the modern world – but it just doesn’t hang together under scrutiny.

And while most of the plot is a high-octane, action-filled head-to-head, between the police and the loyalists – apart from a handful of romantic interludes – there’s an entire side-bar that seems to exist largely to give you a few moments to take a breath. Involving a character from series 1 who left the police, it comprises almost exclusively introspective conversations that try to get to the bottom of the guilt of police officers who allowed bombings to happen during the Troubles to protect their IRA sources; it’s a fascinating aside and tugs at the heart-strings, but it’s an aside and feels like it exists outside the main story – perhaps stemming from regret at having written out a character in series 1 and looking for an excuse to bring her back.

Perhaps one profound opportunity provided by this tangent is that the unorthodox methods of the police in the past contrast with the way that such methods are no longer tolerated – or are they? One particular character seems to get away with operating outside the rules – when he provides the goods – and it’s only when his efforts aren’t as fruitful that his methods are frowned upon.

These elements – taken together – make this crime drama feel somewhat politically one-sided; the modern-day villains are the loyalists and a maverick police officer, the villains of the past were police officers protecting their informants – it’s about the tensions of policing in Northern Ireland and there’s not a republican in sight.

But thought-provoking as it is, it’s perhaps best to enjoy it without thinking too much. That way, it remains a well-paced, exciting drama that follows a group of officers we grow to care about and despite some cynical box-ticking and over-confidence, taking a few too many narrative liberties, it’ll hold you on the edge of your seat and it’s likely to be one of the more impressive works to be seen on the small screen this year.