Jed Mercurio essentially got tenure with the BBC drama department with the hit series Line of Duty, a show about the shades of grey surrounding police policing other police, in which Keeley Hawes turned in a masterful performance as D.I. Lindsay Denton. As a Keeley fan I eagerly awaited Bodyguard once I heard she was once again going to be coming back to the BBC via the pen of Mercurio. Richard Madden is no slouch either of course. The young man (he's my age and I consider myself young ok?) more than holds his own as the co-lead alongside Hawes, not that that should be surprising seeing as he more than made his bones in Game of Thrones some seven years ago now.
The premise of Bodyguard is simple on paper, complex in its execution, such as people are complex in their beliefs. Madden plays David Budd, a war veteran turned bodyguard to the Keeley Hawes's Rt. Hon. Julia Montague. She is the Home Secretary who pushed and indeed voted for the military action that sent Budd and his friends off to fight and die, all the while pushing for more powers at home against threats of terrorism, both perceived or otherwise.
As such, the question at the heart of Bodyguard is; can someone who is essentially meant to put aside his or her own safety, beliefs and even their own life, do so to protect someone that who they fundamentally don't and can't even bring themselves to believe in? Going into this show I don't think it's inappropriate of me to suggest Bodyguard's hook is simply, Can this man “take a bullet” for this woman?
Hawes is (unsurprisingly) mesmerising as Montague being all at once somewhere between, well Louisa Durrell to use a lazy comparison when she's in a more tender mood. She has genuine banter with Madden from time to time, even going so far as to show real human vulnerability, to leaving a nasty taste in my mouth as did (dare I say it) Dolores Umbridge.
Her socially acceptable facade slipping for just a few moments here and there to show the callousness behind the headlines and carefully arranged TV appearances, is all designed to achieve her goal or further her career. So inexorably tied together are the two that I honestly don't believe it's that important of a question of someone in that position as to whether or not they believe what they're espousing when they have the power to affect real change, the results creating consequences to thousands of lives.
Madden as Budd, plays his role in this tale brilliantly. Completely compartmentalising his personal beliefs and acting totally professional at work, he is the model of what a former soldier turned diplomatic protection officer should look like, especially when at the side of an ambitious politician aiming to have the best “optics” possible around her. But in his private life he's barely holding it together. Whilst believing his relationship with his wife as being in some sort of stasis whilst he sorted himself out, he's hit with one of the bigger gut punches of the episode upon discovering she's moved on and is seeing someone else. Convincing her not to get a divorce just yet, because if anything were to happen to him she'd still get the full pension (foreshadowing much?), Budd retreats into the bottle, pondering the point of his continuing service to people who don't seem to care about him beyond how he can serve them. The thing is, he's actually a really good at what he does.
There's even an interesting parallel made in Bodyguard between the frontline in the war on terror, both soldiers and police, and those convinced by extremists to carry out acts of terrorism, citing that maybe they are both just pawns in someone else's game of geo-political chess, someone not willing to risk their own skin or get their own hands dirty. One of Budd's follow veterans even hosts a group where they talk about trying to deescalate the hatred, pointing out that UK military action overseas has wrought more violence in retaliation than it ever prevented. That violence simple begets more violence and maybe its not the way to go. That instead of living in fear and seeing foreigners, Muslims and the other as the enemy, see them as people who have their own struggle first.
Which brings me to the episode's opening 20 minutes. We're all pretty well versed in the imagery of terror threat situations, being as they have been everywhere in the media for the last 17 years in one form of another. The enclosed environment, in this case a train. People acting suspiciously. Staff acting more suspiciously as they try to ascertain the nature of the threat without alerting people. An alert individual with a specific skill set, probably from a past or current profession, which allows him to perceive all of this. Lingering shots of children within this environment to remind us of the stakes. Whilst all these tropes are ticked off, those opening 20 minutes were some of, if not THE tensest television I've ever seen.
Though it will come across hyperbolic, I'd put it up there with anything Christopher Nolan has produced on the big screen. Even when the full nature of the situation is revealed, things only escalate and the mere idea of plot or character armour melts away at the unfolding drama. After it's resolution, when you're finally allowed to breath, you may then realise what you've just witnessed was 1/3 of the entire first episode, which makes me wonder what Mercurio has up his sleeve for an finale it that was his opener.
Seeds sown for side plots such as Budd being privy to certain aspects of Montague's private life that I imagine she'd like to stay private life (all implied, never explicitly stated, but there for those who have the eyes to see). There is a vengeful former employee of Montague's looking to drag her through the mud somehow, refreshingly being turned down by a journalist for simply not being a story if there's no proof of her claims. We're left with multiple threads to follow around the core premise. And I will be, as should you be, watching this to see how if (ha! More like WHEN) that question at the heart of Bodyguard is answered.