Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Nina Toussaint-White, Sophie Rundle, Ash Tandon, Gina McKee, Pippa Haywood, Stuart Bowman
When the Bodyguard sets its mind to it, it was world class TV. Its most memorable and gut-wrenching moment was actually its first (a fact that is both the reason for the hype surrounding the Bodyguard and perhaps its biggest failure). Richard Madden’s ex-soldier, now a Police Protection Command officer is riding a train back home with his family. After a few tell-tale signs that let the audience know that the hero of this show is an observant, sharp individual, Budd begins to suspect something is up on the train. The line of thought leads to him finding a Muslim woman with a bomb strapped to her chest in the bathroom. The scene instantly put The Bodyguard on the map. Not only is it a very current phobia, but The Bodyguard seems unafraid to cross the culturally sensitive lines that have stopped other shows for being so blatant with this. As the first season comes to a close, we are already having complaints of stereotyping and lumping Muslims into a negative box, but the writing is actually largely blameless. What this first scene does is play on something very real in the heart of Londoners right now, which gives this entire show, especially this key moment, an extra jolt of suspense. The writers aren’t afraid to do the usual TV thing and hurry a moment along to keep to their tight hour deadline. If a scene in Bodyguard could do with stretching out, the writers and directors allow it to play out to its natural end. This first scene is a key example of not quite unfolding how you would expect. It could have been written a lot tighter, Budd swooping in and saving the day in heroic record timing. But the threat is gradually monitored, until it comes to a close. It is a dangerous, but ultimately show-saving, move. This suspenseful, thrilling scene is played out a few more times. Episode Two manages that spine-tingling terror once again in a sniper attack that has you on the edge of your seat. The final episode doubles the patience-testing, but definitely nail-biting atmosphere, taking it to new extremes. Some might prefer an intense shoot-out, but The Bodyguard’s choice of finale showdown has a certain level of excitement that cannot be ignored.
Sadly, while the Bodyguard is capable of being that impactful show, it spends a frustrating amount of time, not being that show. Halfway through the season, it becomes a slow, pondering mystery show. Just when the BBC had pulled themselves out of their niche box, they seem to panic and dive right back into the realms of political thriller. Sadly, it’s not quite interesting. Because the mystery angle has taken us completely by surprise, the hunt for the insider fails to grip. We haven’t got to know the potential suspects well enough. All the grey-haired, suspicious politicians bleed into one another. The focus spends too long fixating on the two leads, so the supporting cast never break out of the role of expositional figureheads. As the show moves away from the excitement of the sniper attack or train bomb scare, you feel the Bodyguard slowly slipping away from the series you wanted it to be. There is the odd jolt that keeps you glued to the television set (Episode 4 delivers brutal shocks hard and fast), but on the whole, we are treated to a very dialogue-heavy whodunnit. Thank god for the performances. The directing team seem to have a way of pushing their leads into new directions. For example, Keeley Hawes is usually bleeding charisma, her charm so offensive she makes a sniper attack look like child’s play. But here, her steely politician who David Budd is tasked with protecting, is so devoid of likeable qualities that Hawes is almost unrecognisable. She is a character astonishingly comfortable with being hated, shrugging off insults and projectiles hurled at her in the street, like they are nothing more than the wind. In fact, Hawes does well to provide an endearing element to the cold politician character, somehow – not quite likeable, but relatable – due to her willingness to proceed through her infamy, because she truly believes she is doing the right thing. Richard Madden too, shows surprising depth. As he gets a nod for Bond, probably the safest bet of the stars lined up for the 007 role, it would have been easy for the actor to simply use this role as an audition for the bigger part. Tough guy cop unprofessionally close to the woman he is told to protect, kicking down doors and stopping terrorists. But Madden adds a beating heart to David Budd, essentially not being afraid to look ugly on camera. Madden is a hero suffering with PTSD, but not the sexy Hollywood PTSD, where flashbacks conveniently echo personal struggles and add tension at key moments. Budd is unable to form lasting relationships and is liable to turn sides or blow his own brains out, rather than save the day. He is a very shaky hero to support. As the character breaks down into tears, during the tense showdown, it is hard to imagine other heroes doing the same.
Final Verdict: The Bodyguard may not deserve the cult status it is getting, but it surely deserves attention for being a solid TV drama.