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Bodyguard (BBC) - Series review

Bodyguard

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BBC1’s conspiracy thriller Bodyguard has to rate as pressure cooker TV at its finest… albeit one with flaws.

For six weeks, Jed Mercurio has proven something of a mercurial talent in not only being able to set the Internet ablaze with conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, but also ensuring that the 60 minutes of actual screen-time rated among the most finger-bitingly tense this side of watching an England penalty shootout at the World Cup Finals.

Spoilers ahead…

Sunday’s finale stayed true to form, involving – as it did – a prolonged stand-off in which the series hero found himself wearing a suicide vest with armed police and possible enemies staring him down. It was genuinely gripping stuff.

But once the vest came off, the cracks started to appear. Mercurio’s screenplay showed signs of fallibility. There were elements that either didn’t entirely make sense or felt flimsy at best.

The series began with another suicide bomber (Anjli Mohindra’s Nadiya) being thwarted by an off-duty police Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden). He was then subsequently ‘rewarded’ with being assigned to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), only to find himself tasked with being bodyguard to one of the most dangerous politicians in the UK.

Montague, it turned out, was not only mounting a potential Parliamentary coup, but also a closer liaison with the secret services, giving them more powers in the fight against terrorism and organised crime via the provocative bill Ripa18. This, in turn, made her a target.

To complicate matters, Budd and Montague began an affair. But this was ended when Montague was eventually killed in an explosion, having survived one assassination attempt.

Thus, Bodyguard became a show about finding Julia’s killers and working out whether the PTSD-riddled former soldier Budd was actually involved, or whether the blame lay with organised crime, the secret service, fellow government ministers or – indeed – whether she was, in fact, still alive.

Sunday’s finale answered those without leaving any loose ends. And while it largely succeeded in playing its cards so close to its chest that few could have predicted who was actually to blame (Budd’s boss together with organised criminals), fewer still could have guessed the role that original suicide bomber Nadiya had to play.

And yet as well concealed as these unwitting co-conspirators were, there were elements that struggled to convince, even when casting aside the dramatic licence that the show took with most of its primary characters. It is widely acknowledged, for instance, that a man of Budd’s obvious mental frailty would never have been allowed near the Home Secretary, let alone being allowed to possess a firearm.

While Scotland Yard itself has been forced to make clear that romantic entanglements between bodyguards and those they are protecting are strictly off-limits.

But while both of those can be said to have been sacrificed in the name of entertainment, there remains doubt over Nadiya’s ‘last act reveal’ from apparently unwilling suicide bomber to the criminal mastermind behind most of it all (in terms of how she ruthlessly built and supplied the bombs used throughout the series in the first place). Would a woman of her fierce resolve have ‘bottled it’ earlier on in the series? Would she even have been wearing her own vest? Could it be that most of the plot thereafter hung on a piece of luck?

Bodyguard

Similarly, the lack of any loose ends and an apparently ‘happy ending’ for Budd seemed a little too neat from a writer of Mercurio’s talents, given that he’s also the brains behind the sprawling and complex Line of Duty (now approaching its fifth series).

That being said, Bodyguard still deserves a lot of credit for the way in which it kept us entertained throughout. It was first-rate Sunday night TV for the way in which it continually delivered one tense encounter after another, while harking back to old-school viewing thrills for the way in which it kept viewers guessing from one week to the next rather than dropping the complete box set to binge watch.

This was a show that had people talking. And it genuinely got people excited and looking forward to Sunday night on the sofa, transfixed.

From the opening stand-off in episode one, through to the suicide vest removal scene in episode six, this had so many moments to remember. The first assassination attempt on Julia was incredibly visceral and brutal, as was the nerve-shredding attempt to blow up a school with a lorry of explosives. These were set pieces to rival anything on the big screen.

But the dialogue was great, too – with several exchanges fuelling the conspiracy theories and driving the show’s momentum from episode to episode.

Of note, too, were the performances. Madden, in particular, was terrific, pulling viewers in every direction as they tried to figure out whether he was a Homeland-style killer in waiting or an innocent man being horribly framed. We cared about him throughout.

But everyone from Gina McKee’s police chief to Sophie Rundle’s estranged wife played their part in ensuring that everyone had a significant role to play – and seldom in the way that you may have been expecting.

So, while by no means as water-tight as we may have been expecting come the final revelations, Bodyguard remained a top-notch Sunday night thriller that was well worth becoming embroiled in.

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