In the 1992 smash hit film The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner has to fight his feelings to stay professional while assigned to look after and protect a very famous woman. Going by an almost identical name some 26 years later, the bound-to-be smash-hit BBC TV series Bodyguard has a very similar premise. Except here, the feelings that professional security detail Richard Madden has for the very famous woman he has to protect are much, much darker…
There are no long, lingering looks, slow dances to old country songs or cosy lakeside snogs on the cards here in this new Sunday night thriller, though. It looks as though the main dilemma facing Sgt David Budd, an ex-soldier trying his best to mask his worsening Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is whether to actually keep Julia Montague, the Home Secretary, safe at all.
Only you see, Montague, played with the kind of icy aloofness that Spooks and The Missing’s Keeley Hawes does so effortlessly, isn’t hugely likeable. She’s rude, uncooperative and described at one point (actually at two points) by her aide as ‘a sociopath’. Fiercely ambitious, Montague has her eyes on the top prize, like so many sly cabinet members. Throw into the mix that she takes a particularly pro-war stance and she’s a walking target that the battle-fatigued and disillusioned David is less than enthusiastic about keeping safe.
So why is he even in the job? Well, his boss assigned him the position of being a ‘personal protection officer’ as a reward for his bravery. We start Bodyguard with a quite incredible scene that creates some of the most taut and exciting drama we’ve seen on television – or even in the cinema – for a long, long time. It’s an opening twenty minutes (yup, that’s a good third of the entire maiden episode – confident or what?) that glues you to your seat and slowly ratchets up the tension to almost dangerous levels. Seriously, this opener isn’t recommended for anyone with high blood pressure.
In it, we find David Budd and his children heading to London on an oddly comfortable-looking and on-time train service. The man’s so sharp and observant that even while dozing he spots suspicious activity, steps in and eventually foils a terrorist plot to blow the train up. Showing extreme bravery, he puts his life on the line to save the female suicide bomber. He’s just as desperate to see her walk out alive as he is to have the bomb deactivated. He’s a veteran of Afghanistan and has, he explains, seen enough people die ‘for stupid causes and politicians’.
So you can see the irony in his promotion. His quandary is ours too. We’re asked to consider the predicament along with him. What would we do if we were tasked with putting our life on the life to protect someone we hated…?
Of course, you don’t need us to tell you that there’s a wider subtext here. There may have never been a bigger chasm in the ‘us vs them’ mentality between the public and our elected officials. How we deal with the way we’re governed by people that many of us distrust or even despise is an interesting idea to weave into a drama like this. And if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio.
Budd, we discover, is struggling in his personal life too. He may be the hero of the hour, but he’s estranged from his wife and children and his PTSD isn’t helping. This is a TV drama, so obviously he’s battling a wee problem with the bottle too. But that’s where the cliches end. The man seems, at least in this first hour, to be a fascinating character.
He’s an emotional fellow, still in love with the mother of his children who’s slowly backing away from him. He’s razor sharp at work, as tough as he is brave and smart. He navigates situations with an assuredness and adeptness that’s wonderfully illustrated in a scene where he needs to engineer an abrupt end to a conversation between Montague and an aggressive Chief Whip, who ignores his suggestion that the pair move inside a building where it’s safer. “Call off your monkey,” the Whip barks at Julia. “I’m mixed race,” fires back Budd. Which instantly ends the conversation. “Are you really biracial?” Montague later asks him. “No…”
He’s also a man on the edge. Scarred – physically and emotionally – he’s a ticking time bomb. Is he going to be the hero or the villain of the piece? In this debut hour, it’s all but impossible to tell and we can thank not only Mercurio’s writing but Madden’s excellent central performance.
Strap yourselves in, folks. We’re in for a ride here. It’s only an episode in and we’re already pretty sure that we will always love Bodyguard.
Did you tune in for Bodyguard episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!