This BBC thriller, now available on Netflix, is gripping, fast moving, throws a few curve balls your way and keeps you guessing. It drops you straight into a swirl of current day concerns: a fear of domestic terrorist activity; the threat of organised crime; the unethical and perhaps criminal activity of politicians; the corruption of officials; and the alienation of war veterans. And throughout, Bodyguard constantly reminds you it is being played out in one of the world’s most monitored cities. Here, CCTV and other tracking technology are omniprescent, for good or for ill.
It’s a heady mix and it may seem like an overwhelmingly ambitious project. But writer Jed Mercurio has decided, quite rightly, that the only to negotiate a path through such a landscape is to focus on one stoic, grim faced protagonist.
That character is David Budd (Richard Madden), a soldier left physically and psychologically scarred from his service in Afghanistan, now finding a new life as a police sergeant in London. He is estranged from his wife Vicky (Sophie Randle) who can no longer cope with her husband’s post traumatic stress.
Budd’s bravery in the series’ seat-of-the-pants opening sequence leads him to a promotion – a job as bodyguard to Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). From here, Bodyguard leads us through a labyrinth of infidelity and double dealing, leaving us unsure who to trust, be it a host of other characters, or even David Budd himself. The series contains several well constructed action sequences, one of these sequences delivering a genuine shock I did not see coming.
It’s hard to find a weakness in the performances, but certainly most attention will focus on Madden and Hawes in the roles of the protector and the protected. They play off each other very well, and they give the drama real edge, and, it has to be said, sizzle. What adds to the tension is that of course both must keep their cards close. One is the professional politician ever concerned of public appearances; the other a professional law enforcement officer, not one to display emotion even though inside he is in turmoil.
Madden will be most well known to audiences here from his role as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. Occasionally through Bodyguard it felt like he was too granite faced, but as the drama proceeds we see the façade start to erode. In the end I was convinced. Could Madden be a contender for the next James Bond?
The only concern for me was whether there was simply too much packed into the story. Were there too many interlinked plot lines, perhaps leaving an audience wondering if this was all just too far fetched? That thought crossed my mind here and there, but, as discussed in the review of Hunter Killer a few days ago, is there anything a writer could come up with these days that could be more incredible than what we see unfold in the real world. Events in the Saudi consulate in Turkey a few weeks ago are a case in point.
Bodyguard was reportedly a big hit in the UK, and there, rather than being made available online – to allow binge watching – it went out week by week. As reported by The Guardian, this took audiences back to the old days of watching television, where each week’s episode became a topic of conversation around the water cooler. Fair enough, but I must say once I got into this series, I was glad of the opportunity to watch it rather more quickly than over six weeks. Highly recommended.