The 50 best TV shows of 2018: No 3 – Bodyguard

The water-cooler hit of the decade was a madcap thriller that hid a frank message behind its gleefully over-the-top facade

The BBC’s biggest ratings hit in a decade was that rarest of things: a pure adrenaline jolt of entertainment. For a few weeks in the autumn this six-part series from Jed Mercurio, the king of the out-of-nowhere twist, dominated conversation to such an extent that no other show stood a chance.

In part that was down to the bravura opening, which introduced us to tormented protagonist David Budd (played by a brooding Richard Madden – who some claim used the role as a James Bond audition), an army veteran with PTSD now working as a police officer, as he attempted to talk a would-be suicide bomber (Anjli Mohindra) out of blowing up a packed train.

Barely giving viewers time to get to get their breath back, Mercurio then dropped us into the meat of the plot as Madden’s bravery on the train saw him assigned to guard the home secretary, Julia Montague. Keeley Hawes, who last worked with Mercurio on Line of Duty, played Montague as an ice queen who dealt in acerbic and expletive-laden put-downs. She was attempting to push through a controversial security policy that was making her as many enemies as friends.

Throw in a disgruntled former soldier with whom David had served, a tangled nest of viperous politicians and civil servants, a series of assassination attempts on Julia, and Budd’s own PTSD – making it unclear which side he was on – and the stage was set for a twisty political thriller of the most enjoyable, if entirely over-the-top kind.

‘An ice queen who dealt in acerbic and often expletive-laden put-downs’ … Keeley Hawes as Julia Montague
Expletive-laden charisma … Keeley Hawes as Julia Montague Photograph: Sophie Mutevelian/BBC/World Productions

Hawes turned in a charismatic performance that allowed us to see Montague’s strengths and her vulnerabilities. We saw her loneliness as a woman in a senior position in a very male world and the political calculations that could convince her to risk a grab for the job of PM. She was so good that the series was almost derailed by the audacious decision to kill her off at the end of the third episode.

Yet that death – and the myriad conspiracy theories it created – was a bold and brilliant move. Bold because in this Game of Thrones era, it takes a lot to shock an audience with a character’s death, and brilliant because even in the world of Bodyguard there have to be consequences.

Was it occasionally a little too pleased with itself? A little too in love with a twist for twist’s sake? Absolutely. The final episode, in which David was forced to walk through London with a bomb strapped to his chest while followed by just about every person he’d come into contact with over the past six episodes was practically daring viewers to laugh. And the final reveal that Nadia, the seemingly naive suicide bomber from the first episode, as the brains behind the attacks infuriated many, and provoked Mercurio into a series of robust defences of his plotting.

Yet amid all the hype and adrenaline, Bodyguard was also a surprisingly thoughtful show. The theme – David’s refusal to tell anyone about his PTSD, and his internal turmoil about his state of mind – was resolved sensitively and with real emotion as we saw him visit a counsellor. The message, that even the strongest and most masculine of men should not be afraid to show their vulnerability, ask for help and talk about their problems demonstrated that even the most adrenaline-driven pieces of entertainment can still have something important and powerful to say.

Contributor

Sarah Hughes

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2018: the full list
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s femme fatale takes the top spot, above political high camp, breakneck drama and the water-cooler hit of the decade

21, Dec, 2018 @11:03 AM

Article image
Bodyguard whodunnit: our guide to the suspects
Was it the neatly coiffed assistant? Did the prime minister have a hand? Or was it poor, gormless David? As fans reel from the twist of the year, we name the likely players

Lucy Mangan

11, Sep, 2018 @5:17 PM

Article image
Bodyguard recap: series one, episode three – there's no way this can end well
Jed Mercurio’s drama continues to race along at nerve-shredding speed, with David entangled deeper than ever in a web of deception

Sarah Hughes

02, Sep, 2018 @9:00 PM

Article image
'Barely credible – but who cares?': your Bodyguard reviews
The Guardian said the BBC drama’s finale was an “ultimately unsophisticated resolution” – now it’s over to you

Guardian readers and Matthew Holmes

24, Sep, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Why I played myself interviewing Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard | Andrew Marr
In the era of fake news should a real political journalist take part in a TV political drama? I have no worries BBC presenter Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr

30, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Jed Mercurio on Bodyguard, jeopardy … and the next Line of Duty
Britain’s most exciting television writer tells why Keeley Hawes is a perfect home secretary in his tense new series

Sarah Hughes

12, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Bodyguard recap: series one, episode four – the stakes just got considerably higher
Jed Mercurio’s drama might be the biggest in a decade but that doesn’t mean it’s afraid to make bold moves such as this week’s staggering revelation

Sarah Hughes

09, Sep, 2018 @9:00 PM

Article image
From Les Misérables to Gentleman Jack: the best BBC dramas coming this autumn
The Beeb has unveiled its slate of shows to debut in September and beyond. Here is our ranking of the most exciting

Stuart Heritage

17, Jul, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Bodyguard creator wanted twist to 'completely alter dynamic'
Jed Mercurio says viewers will have to watch series to end to find out who is ‘plotting harm’

Jim Waterson

10, Sep, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Can BBC Informer finally subvert the Muslim stereotype problem on TV?
From oppressed wives to crazed jihadists, TV’s Islamophobia is rife. Nabhaan Rizwan stars in the new BBC thriller hoping to change the narrative

Stuart Jeffries

16, Oct, 2018 @8:00 AM