TL;DR – This show is a masterpiece of building tension and always keeping you wonder, just who is telling the truth.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Across the internet, I had heard these whispers about the show dropping in the UK called Bodyguard. It was the kind of whispers that instantly makes you wonder, just what kind of show this is going to be, and then it dropped over here on Netflix. So, I thought, hey let’s give this a look, and then those first twenty minutes of the first episode happened and wow, never have I experienced such a tense twenty minutes of television before. From that moment onwards, I knew I had to see all of this as quickly as I could and I am so glad I did, even if it meant some essays might be returned a bit late, so a belated sorry to my students.
So to set the scene, we open on a train taking a long trip back to London. On board is Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) and his children Ella (Bella Padden) and Charlie (Matthew Stagg) coming home from visiting David’s parents. David works in the protection unit in the London Metropolitan Police and was previously a soldier in the UK Army who did tours in Afghanistan that have left their marks both physically and mentally. However, all of his training meant that as he watched a train guard walk up and down the isles he knew something was wrong, and he was right. In the aftermath, David is given a promotion at work, as the lead protection officer for The Right Honourable Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the Home Secretary who is unrepentant about sending soldiers to die in the Middle East and who is moving to increase the police’s ability to search people’s digital lives. This has placed her in the sights of many people, but is one of them David himself? From this point onwards, we will be looking at the series as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
There are two things that make Bodyguard stand out from a lot of the other similar series in this genre and the first is the way it manages tension. Now, as I mentioned the first twenty minutes of the first episode is a really good example of this. First, there is all the tension as you notice him realise that something is wrong, which is elevated because his sleeping children are here. But then there is also the possibility that he is just projecting his past dangerous situation in the military into civilian life, and seeing patterns that are not there. Then we see that he could be right because the train guard tells us there has been a warning sent out, then the threat is real, only for someone to leave the toilet not wearing a bomb. All the breath you didn’t realise you were holding on to is let out in a moment of relief, only for that moment of safety to get ripped out from underneath you as Nadia (Anjli Mohindra) steps out in a full vest. This is when most shows would release the tension, but we are only half way through because we then sit through the whole sequence of him protecting her as the police are forced to remove the vest rather than to take the critical shot. All throughout the series, this tension is built, sometimes with a single conversation, sometimes it is a single musical queue like an odd violin or a rumbling bass. Or indeed it can turn on a dime when a gunshot comes out of nowhere. All of this reinforces the life of someone who has to protect someone from threats coming from all directions, is that briefcase a treat or not, is that minister a threat or not, am I a threat or not.
This leads us into the second strength of the show and that is the ability to craft a puzzle that obscures everything so you don’t know the answer until it gets revealed. Part of this is that we know there is a leak somewhere, but from who because everyone is a suspect. Is it the secret service departments lead by Stephen Hunter-Dunn (Stuart Bowman), Director General of MI5 trying a coup-by-stealth? Is it from the police? Is Commander Anne Sampson (Gina McKee), Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command leaking information to get the Minister out of the way. Is it from within her own party, is the Prime Minister (David Westhead) looking to permanently remove a threat to his job. Is it David himself, is the legacy of Afghanistan still permeating his life. Or is it because he is being pulled in so many different directions that we don’t know whose side he is actually on.
All of this works because the entire cast is giving award-winning performances, in what are at times really difficult roles. Richard Madden has an incredibly difficult job of playing someone whose world is starting to fall apart, and in some cases already has started to fall apart. The depiction of PTSD can be very problematic in media but you feel the pain of not being in control over part of your life in Richard’s acting, and it is fully worked into the story rather just being there for no reason. You also have Keeley Hawes playing a very complex role, someone who is ambitious, playing people off each other to get ahead, yet also at the same time deeply sympathetic. Add to this the story is written in such a way that you have mixed feeling about just about everyone and that only works because of the complex performances from everyone.
For this to work, the way that it does the story had to be tight because the moment you get pulled out of the mystery by going ‘wait what?’ it all falls apart. Now, I watched this over the space of two days, so I don’t know how it will work in a weekly release but for me, everything came together by the end. It was a story that used mirrors, so it started and ended with someone strapped to an explosive belt being surrounded by police. Or how when the mole is revealed it all makes sense with everything that has happened. A lot of this is also how the show decided to frame some scenes. Sometimes this is for narrative reasons like for example, we don’t get to see what was in Tahir Mahmood’s (Shubham Saraf) briefcase, so we don’t know if David is lying or not. Other times it is framing to highlight the horror of what is happening or the beauty. Everything works together to create a compelling narrative.
In the end, do we recommend Bodyguard? Yes, yes of course we do. We are living in the era of prestige TV so there is a lot of shows arming for your time. However, Bodyguard did more in twenty minutes than most shows do in their entire season. It is only six episodes, but each of them is well worth your time, and I highly recommend it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Bodyguard
Directed by – Thomas Vincent & John Strickland
Written by – Jed Mercurio
Created by – Jed Mercurio
Starring – Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White, Stephanie Hyam, Tom Brooke, Matt Stokoe, Pippa Haywood, Nicholas Gleaves, Shubham Saraf, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Richard Riddell, Ash Tandon, Michael Schaeffer, Anjli Mohindra & David Westhead with Bella Padden & Matthew Stagg