Crazily implausible? Yes. Gripping? YES!
After the first two episodes of Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard it had you just where any dramatist would wish to have you: desperate to know what will happen next. Will David Budd assassinate Julia Montague? Or not? The two ended up in bed together, rather inevitably, because it just had to get messy in that way, but whose side is he on? Really? My nerves are shredded just thinking about it, so it absolutely works as a thriller (if he doesn’t kill her, will he bring her eggs the way she likes them?) even if it’s also a bit wanting at times.
Unlike Mercurio’s previous shows (most notably Cardiac Arrest and everyone’s favourite adrenaline ride, Line Of Duty) this did feel slightly familiar; did feel slightly like Homeland (with its enemy-within scenario) coupled with a full-out Hollywood action film. Here’s Detective Sergeant Budd talking down a suicide bomber, here’s DS Budd swerving a car though a London street, here’s DS Budd racing up to the rooftop of a building to see off a sniper. So he’s Bruce Willis, and will plainly die hard if the job demands it, for now, but he’s also a Damian Lewis/Brody, deep down.
Budd (Richard Madden) is a former soliderturned-personal protection officer who has been assigned to protect Julia Montague (a terrific Keeley Hawes), the Home Secretary. She is a piece of work, you might say, possibly because she’s a woman, whereas a man would just be ‘ambitious’. But either way, she bullies her staff – Chanel is not going to go away, is she? – plays the police against the security services and is using the threat of terrorism to shore up her own political power and introduce draconian snooping laws. Plus, she has always voted pro-war, whereas Budd is most decidedly not of that mind.
Budd saw active service in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffers from PTSD, although why no one else has ever noticed this remains a mystery.* Deep down he is angry and bitter and blames the PTSD for the breakdown of his marriage. There is turmoil beneath the surface, in other words, yet I don’t know if I bought it that much. It was quite clumsily spelled out. He meets up with Andy (Tom Brooke), a fellow soldier from their active service days, who says, ‘You said in Helmand that if you were ever beside one of those bastards that put us out here you’d close your eyes and just pull the trigger.’ Later, Andy, who has a badly scarred face, will say, ‘Who suffers? Her kind? I can’t believe you are protecting her. They’re in it for themselves and couldn’t give a s**t about a bloke like you who suffers the consequences.’ Budd’s emotional state isn’t weaved into his character but laid out before us, which makes this a much blunter instrument than Homeland. But as with Brodie, we do want to find out which way Budd is going to turn.
And it is nerve-shredding. That scene with the suicide bomber. That scene where the van nearly rammed the school playground. And the assassination attempt on Montague’s life which led to her crouched down and screaming in the back of the car, splattered in blood from her driver, who’d had his head blown off in effect, while Budd took command. But as he located the sniper (it was Andy, also rather inevitably) and swerved the car and raced to the rooftop you did think: does Budd have to do everything around here? Are there no other protection officers? No rota or anything?
So there are implausibilities and they did start to mount. If Budd has himself become a terrorist target he wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Home Office, surely. And if he’s a terrorist target, why does he visit his family in their safe house so blithely. Wouldn’t he fear being followed? And if, as an MP, Montague voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was previously a criminal barrister, wouldn’t she be considerably older then she is now?
Meanwhile, on Twitter and elsewhere, some have complained about the number of female characters in top jobs. The explosives expert was a woman. The firearms officer who led the raid on the train was a woman. The chief commissioner of the Met is a woman. Budd’s boss is a woman. It’s PC gone mad, they are saying, but if you noticed (I didn’t) and this jarred, I’d just like to say: this is your problem, not the show’s. Now please go away.
But even though Bodyguard is sometimes wanting, you can’t much argue with the power and tension of the central relationship. She is vulnerable and lonely at heart – ‘I’m not the Queen. You can touch me’ – unless she is somehow playing him. Is she? Or does she imagine she has discovered the one person she can truly trust. If so, can she? You will just have to keep coming back for more. No question. *Unless they do know, and he’s been assigned to the Home Secretary in the hope he will go rogue, or is that too far-fetched?
Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard