All-Too-Human Shield: Bodyguard (2018)
At some point, a disturbing notion has to cross the mind of anyone who’s been assigned a bodyguard: who protects me from my protector? If that bodyguard decides he doesn’t like what he learns about his charge, it’s inevitable that he’ll ask himself, why should I protect this person?
These questions and more underlie Bodyguard, a BBC prestige production that was a huge hit in its home country and has now come to America’s shores on Netflix.
Police Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden: Game of Thrones) is a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Royalty and Specialist Protection branch, the British answer to the U.S. Secret Service. He’s a veteran of the latest Afghan War whose PTSD mixes exceedingly poorly with stress. Budd is separated from his pretty wife Vicky (Sophie Rundle: The Bletchley Circle, Episodes), a nurse who’s the mother of his two cute kids and one of many sources of extra stress in his life.
When we first meet Budd, he’s busy preventing the suicide bombing of a London-bound train, trying to talk down both the apparently terrified female bomber and his Met colleagues, who want to terminate her. As a reward for his heroics, Budd is assigned to lead the personal protective detail for Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes: The Casual Vacancy, The Durrells of Corfu). She’s sponsoring in Parliament a highly reviled bill that will, in effect, let the security services eavesdrop on all UK-based internet traffic. And by the way, she’s also a schemer with her eyes set on 10 Downing Street and a full-throated advocate of Britain’s part in the same Afghan War that left Budd physically and emotionally scarred.
Stress? Oh, yes. The end of Budd’s rope, already near at hand at the start of the series, inches ever closer over the course of six hour-long episodes.
Montague’s surrounded by a nest of bickering, backstabbing vipers, all of whom seem to have at least one hidden agenda. A terrorist attack erupts in nearly every episode; the astute among you will quickly be wondering if they’re what they purport to be. Could the Home Secretary be creating the problem her bill is meant to address? Are the police and security services too busy engaging in intramural knife fights to counter the terrorists, or are the attacks a product of the knife-fighting? Is Budd going to protect Montague or assassinate her (or both)? Everybody’s up to something and all things seem possible until a neck-snapping twist in episode three rearranges the game board.
Madden plays Budd as a man wound so tight, his teeth must hurt. He’s a bundle of nerves that become increasingly frayed as work and personal crises pile on top of a psyche no longer prepared to deal with them. This could get tiresome if not for the fact that when he’s allowed to unclench a little, he can be an okay bloke and a loving father still yearning for his almost-lost wife.
Hawes’ Montague is more of a type: the flinty-but-ultimately-brittle Driven Woman who finds a small measure of redemption at the hands of a good man. Hawes—who’s been in the business since she was thirteen—is too good an actress not to make the most of what she’s been given, but there’s only so much she can do with a character you’re meant to hate from the start.
The British are past masters at portraying subterranean political intrigue on the page and screen, a talent that keeps Bodyguard working even in its daffier moments. The ministers, pols, spooks, coppers, aides, and hard men who crowd the screen (the cast is ginormous) all look like the critters they’re supposed to be and say the kinds of things you’ve heard their real-life counterparts say on TV.
That twist I mentioned drastically changes the emphasis of the series, however. The first three episodes play as inside politics mixed with romantic suspense; the last three become a crime thriller that sometimes trips over its own cleverness and misdirection, leading to more than a few “really?” moments.
This isn’t the 1992 Costner/Houston epic with almost the same name; there are no pop divas, concerts, or obsessed stalkers. However, it’s also not a documentary. Regulations and procedure are disregarded freely, everything looks a bit nicer than it probably should (even Budd’s bachelor apartment isn’t the expected plague pit), and some of Budd’s exploits in the last two episodes veer close to superheroics.
But this isn’t supposed to be an Inside the Metropolitan Police special on the History Channel, right? It’s a big-budget political-soap-opera-cum-thriller set in the dark jungles of Whitehall. Ooh, a bomb! Ahh, a kiss! Don’t open that briefcase! That’s what this show is for. Because it’s the BBC, you know it’ll be well-acted, look great, and will hit all its marks. And because it’s on Netflix, you can take as little or as much of it as you want in one go. If all this sounds good to you, by all means add it to your watch list. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have a good time.
*images courtesy of Netflix