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.


Sarah Hughes

The GuardianTramp

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