Blood, Channel 5

Faced with an onslaught of high-quality Autumn dramas on the terrestrial and satellite channels – sci-fi series, spy thrillers, police procedurals, costume dramas and whatever category you’d drop Killing Eve into – it’s easy for viewers to forget about Channel 5. Very easy. The home of overblown Aussie soaps, every CSI variant under the sun and, until this month, the study in vacuity that was Big Brother and its celebrity spin-off, Channel 5 isn’t known for cutting-edge drama.

That may have changed with Blood. Running across five nights last week it signalled a deliberate change of direction for the channel, now owned by US film and TV giant Viacom after years in publisher Richard Desmond’s portfolio of low-brow delights.

Already a hit in the Republic of Ireland, where it’s set and where it screened last month, Blood took a handful of familiar plot devices – a family with secrets, a suspicious death, a shambolic and troubled central character, hazy flashbacks to some half-remembered childhood trauma, a very particular rural setting and a supporting cast of sleazeballs and oddballs – and turned it into something fresh, nuanced, dark and compelling, and with more than a whiff of the political about it. This was, in part, a story about the imposition of male authority and what happens when women try to challenge that authority.

The script and the direction take much of the credit. British screenwriter Sophie Petzal provided the first, Lisa Mulcahy and Hannah Quinn took charge of the second. But the casting was crucial too. Line Of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar as rural GP Jim Hogan and Unforgotten’s Carolina Main as his semi-estranged daughter Cat became the competing forces in an increasingly bitter family feud and it was the intensity of their sparring that made Blood so compelling a watch.

Cat had returned to the ramshackle family home in County Meath from her life in Dublin after her mother Mary, ill with motor neurone disease, had died from a fall. She reconnected with childhood friend Barry (Cillian O’Gairbhi), tried to reconnect with siblings Michael and Fiona (Diarmuid Noyes and Grainne Keenan) and pretty quickly gave up trying to reconnect with her father. In fact, she all but accused him of having something to do with her mother’s death, a lingering suspicion fuelled by her vague memories of other violent events in her past.

Petzal loaded the script with questions – was Jim really as awful as Cat imagined? Was the local cop well-meaning or well iffy? Can memories and instincts always be trusted? – and let her characters loose to try to find their way through the resulting thicket of mistruths and misdirections. Secrets and lies are common currency in psychological thrillers, but in this slice of Irish Noir, Petzal and Co. minted something of real value.