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Where was ‘Blue Lights’ filmed? Inside the filming locations for season 2 of BBC’s police thriller

Season 2 of ‘Blue Lights’ has just landed on the BBC. With it comes another tense, visceral and meticulously crafted slab of Belfast-set police drama as the cops at Blackthorn police station tackle a new loyalist threat. The handiwork of two Northern Irish journalists-turned-showrunners, Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, both once of BBC investigative news programme ‘Panorama’, it marries characters with depth – fraught, hard-pressed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers, as well as criminals driven by greed or ideology – and real-world city backdrops that lend authenticity and cultural edge.

As Patterson tells Time Out, Belfast is the show’s secret sauce. ‘You do a lot of location shooting in shows like this and it was really important to us to find the real places,’ he says. ‘We’re made a concerted effort to make the city a proper character in the show.’

The first season was set in nationalist West Belfast. The second run moves across the city to loyalist East Belfast. ‘Nobody’s really shown loyalism with this amount of depth before,’ says Patterson. ‘Sometimes it’s positive and heartwarming; sometimes it’s dark and dangerous, but that is the world of Northern Ireland.’ Here’s how it came together on screen.

Blue Lights season 2
Photograph: Adam PattersonBelfast’s Netherleigh House doubled as Blackthorn Station in ‘Blue Lights’ season 2

Blackthorn police station

Filmed at: Netherleigh House, Belfast

You may not even notice it but ‘Blue Lights’ police station, Blackthorn, has a new home. ‘The station in season 1 worked fine,’ says Patterson, ‘but it was only a few corridors and you couldn’t really shoot in a 360 way.’ An ideal new location presented itself: the city’s Old Department for the Economy Building. ‘Our production designer, Ashleigh Jeffers, described it as a “LEGO house” because we could break corridors down, shoot with a lot more depth, and follow characters around like in “The West Wing”. We don’t really mention that they’ve moved in the show. We wanted to avoid boring exposition and keep everything propulsive.’

Blue Lights season 2
Photograph: Adam PattersonEast Belfast’s The Cock & Hen pub was turned into The Loyal in season 2

The Loyal Pub

Filmed at: The Cock & Hen pub, East Belfast

Co-owned by new antagonist Lee Thompson, The Loyal pub is a likely epicentre for the trouble ahead in season 2. The production team was determined to avoid recreating it on a studio soundstage and instead found and redressed a real boozer in East Belfast called The Cock & Hen. ‘It had to be the real deal,’ says Patterson. ‘We found a pub called The Cock & Hen in East Belfast, and struck a deal to close it down for filming. We didn’t have to do too much inside: it wreaked of history and atmosphere.’ In 2018, the pub was raided by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, a reminder of how closely ‘Blue Lights’ sticks to real life events.

Blue Lights season 2
Photograph: Adam PattersonThe opening of episode 1 was filmed at Gilford Mill outside Belfast

The riot training scene

Filmed at: Gilford Mill, Craigavon

Episode 1 opens with a nail biting bait-and-switch as the show’s central cop characters get trapped in their Land Rover Tangi as a riot escalates around them. Only, it turns out to be a police exercise. The scene was filmed at an old working mill called Gilford Mill about 30 minutes outside Belfast. ‘We wanted a place that had stone work and was a bit overgrown so we could sell it as a real-world location for the action,’ says Patterson. ‘I was worried that an old mill might be a bit of a directors’ fantasy for a police training exercise but our police advisors said: “No, no, it’s exactly right.”’

Blue Lights season 2
Photograph: Two Cities Television

The loyalist march

Filmed at: Tullycarnet, East Belfast

There’s real jeopardy when ‘Blue Lights’ stressed-out PSNI officers are faced with a loyalist march – filmed at a loyalist housing estate called Tullycarnet. The stakes were high for the showrunners too. ‘These are massively inflammatory issues,’ says Patterson. ‘We went to local politicians who spoke to the community, and then answered their questions. It’s a long process but it’s the only way to do it. You have to be honest and say, “Listen, it’s not always going to be pretty but your world isn’t always pretty.” Most people understand that; they just want to be respected.’

They were so successful in that, they were offered Tullycarnet’s own marching band to use. ‘You can’t get into that,’ says Patterson, who instead brought in a marching band from outside of Belfast.  

Blue Lights season 2
Photograph: Two Cities Television

The anti-drugs mural

Filmed at: Tullycarnet, East Belfast

This anti-drugs mural, located in Tullycarnet, is a rare piece of wall-based messaging to feature in ‘Blue Lights’. ‘We were okay to shoot it because it’s not a paramilitary mural,’ says Patterson, ‘but we weren’t going to show paramilitary murals. We chose locations that didn’t have them.’ 

Blue Lights
Photograph: Christopher Barr/Two Cities Television

The Harland & Wolff works

The distinctive yellow cranes of the Harland & Wolff shipyards pop up in ‘Blue Lights’ for good reason. ‘A lot of the dockworkers that built the Titanic and those big ships came from the east of the city, so it was really important to show that industrial area,’ says Patterson. ‘It’s part historical and part modernised, which makes it a very interesting city visually.’

 

How to watch season 2 of Blue Lights

The new season airs on BBC One on Mondays at 9pm, beginning on Monday April 15. To binge the whole thing, head to BBC iPlayer now.

‘Blue Lights’ season 2: everything you need to know about the Belfast response thriller.

Find out where ‘Blue Lights’ season 1 ranks on our list of 2023’s best TV series.

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