Bodyguard — recently released on Netflix — was absolutely huge in the UK. Basically, the only thing on TV seen more than the Bodyguard finale was the Royal Wedding and the World Cup, and no scripted television has fared as well in the UK since the first season of Downton Abbey. The last time the BBC had a comparable audience was the Doctor Who Christmas special in 2008.
After watching the entire series in one six-hour sitting, I get it. It made my heart race. It made me sweaty. I felt at times flush and lightheaded. And that was just Keeley Hawes.
The rest of the series is pretty great, too. Hannah wrote a review of the series after it aired in the UK, and if you haven’t watched Bodyguard yet, start with that review (it also sits at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Here I’m going to spoil the series, as we talk about some of the twists along the way, so if you haven’t watched it yet, be gone. Get yourself to the nearest Netflix account and plug it straight into your veins.
— I think Bodyguard was probably better suited to weekly viewings than the binge model, if only because it might have allowed my heart rate to slow down in between episodes. It also would have been fun to speculate about upcoming plot turns because I don’t think anyone could have predicted where the series was headed from the Muslim suicide bomber trope in the first 20 minutes.
— Unless, of course, you watch a lot of British cop shows. I’ve talked about this before, but if you’re watching a British cop show, no matter who dies, it almost always invariably involves a government conspiracy. I don’t know what it says about British politics, but if someone dies — even if it’s just the pizza guy — it’s part of a deep-state cover-up and it probably involves a politician or a candidate proposing legislation that would erode privacy rights, although judging by the amount of CCTV footage in British cop shows, no one has a lick of privacy over there anyway. The Brits, at least, seem to limit their conspiracy theories to television, while we in America mainstream them into our politics (or in some cases, those conspiracy theories are real).
— Maybe it’s just the British shows that make it over here, but it’s also interesting how often Muslim terrorists are used as red herrings, and even when Muslim terrorists are involved, it’s often the white guys at the higher levels of government who are pulling the strings. That’s done to particularly good effect here, where the abused suicide bomber being manipulated by her husband at the outset proves to be Kaiser Soze! I love the way that creator Jed Mercurio plays with the assumptions — he offers up the conservative stereotype about Muslim suicide bombers, then he plays upon liberal sympathies by painting Nadia as the victim of an abusive husband and/or the puppet of a government conspiracy, and then he pulls the rug out from underneath everyone when Nadia is like, “I played ALL your asses.”
— As soon as Keeley Hawes’ Julia Montague is introduced, I knew immediately that she’d be hooking up with Richard Madden’s David Budd and in my mind, I fought against that happening … for about 90 seconds, and then all of my mental faculties broke down. I went from, “Oh come on, show! This is stupid. You can’t let that happen. He’s her bodyguard!” to “You MUST make this happen immediately” in the span of about three scenes. There was enough chemistry between the two to warm the Earth’s temperature by another two degrees, and I fell deeply, madly insanely in love with Montague when she said to Budd, “Please don’t turn out to be another bloke who can’t accept a woman having more power.”
I’ve been hugely fond of Hawes dating back to MI:5 and later Ashes to Ashes, and I know she must be recognizable to everyone who lives in the UK, but it’s remarkable how little she is known stateside, although her husband Matthew Macfadyen is fairly recognizable over here (and absolutely phenomenal in HBO’s Succession). Hawes is dreamy, and absolutely perfect in this role — as believable a Home Secretary as she is the object of David Budd’s affection, and she alternates brilliantly between a domineering pro-military politician and domineering lover, only showing vulnerability when she’s being repeatedly shot at and on the occasional moment when it seems that her fondness for Budd is more than sexual in nature (“I want you to protect me not because it’s your job, but because you want to.”)
— It’s also why the back half of Bodyguard isn’t quite as good as the first three episodes. When the Home Secretary and co-lead of a series is killed off halfway through, it’s hard not to believe that there’s some fake-death conspiracy afoot. But then again, Brits were been killing off major characters early on long before Game of Thrones came to HBO (in MI:5, for instance, a character played by a well-known British actress, Lisa Faulkner, was brutally murdered in the second episode of the series).
In either respect, Hawes’ presence raised the character stakes dramatically, and although Budd was still investigating her murder and trying to stop various bomb attempts, Montague’s death let some of the air out of the tension, which had to be picked up by Budd’s ex-wife, Vicky (Sophie Rundle, Ada in Peaky Blinders), who is very good, but her character wasn’t written as well. Also, a lot of tension arose out of the fact that David might have been in on the plot to kill his own lover for political reasons. That was also defused by Montague’s death. More detrimental is the fact that Hawes now won’t appear in the second season.
— I should also note that Richard Madden, i.e., Robb Stark, is very good here, even putting the thrill of his nudity aside. He plays former military veteran with PTSD who blames politicians like Montague for putting him in a war in Iraq where he doesn’t feel he belonged. There’s a lot of resentment in this series over that, which is not a theme we often see here in America. Anyway, Madden plays sort of the British version of Martin Riggs, which is to say: He’s deeply troubled and suicidal, but also very reserved about it. “Sorry I’m just gonna pop out for a cuppa and to blow my brian out, be back in a jif!” But he’s also very good at mixing both intensity and vulnerability, as he does when he’s trying to talk his way out of a suicide vest after he’s been framed by … basically everyone.
— I will giveThe Bodyguard a demerit in one regard: By the end, almost everyone, it seems, was in on the conspiracy, and while those revelations are fun, it doesn’t do a bang-up job of explaining how all of the conspirators came together and hatched their plot or really fully explain all of their motives. There were several different agendas at play here, and they all seem to miraculously converge around David Budd being the fall guy. But it’s forgivable and mostly easy to forget, what with being distracted by a suicide bomb on David’s chest and the knowledge that this show had no problem killing one lead, so it could very well kill off another.
In short, it’s a brilliant thriller, and I wish our cop shows were as intense and meticulously plotted.
Header Image Source: Netflix