Blood is a new crime film (with an all-star British cast), in which the investigation of a murder goes horribly awry for the officers involved.
The film’s a solid, very watchable thriller in its own right, but for Merseysiders there’s the added bonus of spotting the many local locations. Occasionally this can be a serious distraction: sequences of dialogue can slip past unnoticed as you rack your brains trying to identify somewhere that looks irritatingly familiar. It’s mostly filmed on the Wirral, and is full of atmospheric coastal shots. The setting though is never actually mentioned and the characters generally have London/Thames Estuary accents. Hilbre Island, which features prominently, is – perhaps with a nod to Little Eye – always referred to as ‘the islands’.
There are several scenes set at different points on the West Wirral shoreline (including Leasowe lighthouse), and Wallasey Town Hall is used for external shots of the police station where the brothers work, with Birkenhead Town Hall used for the interior scenes. Wallasey’s St Hilary’s Church also features, together with a few Liverpool locations, including the Vines pub and the Olympia, which becomes a disused cinema.
Hilbre Island may be a glorious place to visit on a warm summer’s day, but it’s the brooding beauty it has when the skies are leaden that’s emphasised here. There are repeated glimpses of it in the background, and as the film unfolds it takes on an increasingly sinister quality, as a place that’s not only cut off physically from the mainland, but where the usual constraints of the law do not apply. Director Nick Murphy has said he’s amazed filmmakers haven’t made use of the island before, and I can see what he means (though there’s a scene at the beginning of Fifties thriller These Dangerous Years that has always reminded me of Hilbre…).
Nick Murphy grew up in West Kirby and it was his decision to shoot the film on Merseyside. The script’s by Bill Gallagher, who has adapted it from his own television series Conviction, made by the BBC in 2004 with a less starry cast.
In the cinema version Brian Cox plays Lenny Fairburn, a retired old school police detective, now suffering from dementia but once a man who instilled fear in criminals and colleagues alike – and also, we imagine, in his two sons (Paul Bettany and Liverpool’s Stephen Graham), who have followed him into the force. When a 12-year old girl is murdered, suspicion quickly falls on a local misfit. Frustrated that there’s not enough evidence to prosecute, the brothers recklessly take the law into their own hands. But have they identified the real culprit, and can they evade the watchful eye of one of their fellow detectives?
The cast is exceptionally strong and the film is a memorable example of British character acting at its best. Brian Cox is compelling as an old man who despite his mental frailty still has a commanding presence, while Stephen Graham, in a role that contrasts with his usual ‘hard case’ persona, demonstrates his versatility in convincingly portraying the weaker of the two brothers. Mark Strong excels as their thoughtful, principled colleague, and Adrian Edmondson has an interesting cameo role as an OCD sufferer who lives next door to St Hilary’s Church and witnesses something the brothers wish he hadn’t.
Despite its name, Blood is not an especially violent film. The title suggests more the blood ties that both unite and destroy the Fairburn family, the questionable moral attitudes the sons have inherited from their father, and the inevitability of retribution. The way the film traces the disintegration of a family has echoes of Shakespearean tragedy, making it in turn a little reminiscent of My Kingdom, the 2001 film that starred Richard Harris as a Liverpool crime boss. For a contemporary thriller, in many ways it’s refreshingly old-fashioned, and the absence of high energy action sequences and computer-generated special effects is something of a relief – though I suspect it may not set the box office on fire. The plot has a few holes and the concluding sequences are a bit disjointed, but overall it’s well worth seeking out.
I saw Blood, very appropriately, at the excellent Light cinema in New Brighton, just minutes away from where much of the film was shot. It’s a BBC Films project, so before too long should also be on TV. It can be highly recommended, but be warned: that long walk out to Hilbre Island may never feel the same again. To visit the Light cinema website, click here.
Coming soon to this website: a special feature on classic Liverpool films. Gumshoe, Violent Playground, Ferry Cross The Mersey, Waterfront, The Reckoning, Beyond This Place…