After its premier on the BBC, Bodyguard recently arrived on Netflix with the same promise as political thrillers like The Honourable Woman and The Night Manager.
The plot picks up as PTSD-riddled Iraq War veteran David Budd (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones fame) is assigned to be the personal bodyguard of Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes and a clear stand in for Theresa May). It’s clear straight away that pacifist Budd’s personal politics are at odds with the person whose life he is now responsible for. Montague, who is jostling to become Prime Minister, has been politically defined by her support of curbing civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism, and has been accused of worsening the situation to give credibility to government actions – I told you she’s meant to be May. Despite the schism, Budd forms an affinity towards her after witnessing her more human side.
From here Bodyguard sets itself up with lots and lots to handle – terrorism, politics, intrigue, assassinations and conspiracies – and the question becomes how well can it actually handle all of this. Seemingly everything that could happen, does happen, and while this gives a rollicking rollercoaster experience, it does take an enormous share of liberties to allow this all to fit in the same plot.
“this works for a platform like Netflix, where the viewer can pause their stream for a quiet moment”
As the show about political intrigue turns into an espionage thriller, a murder mystery develops with more twists than it can handle. But can I complain too much, since it still kept me guessing at who did what even through all the contrivances?
In fact, despite its shortcomings, Bodyguard keeps you watching through its action. It develops at an alarming pace and doesn’t pause to take any breath. As an aside, this works for a platform like Netflix, where the viewer can pause their stream for a quiet moment. And as for the world of Bodyguard it serves to enforce the breaking pace that the story is unfolding at.
The pacing works to keep it all together – like a hurricane spinning and colliding umpteen plot points, not slowing down to allow them to fall to the ground with an understated thud. As absurd as the plot is, you want to figure out the mystery with the same frustrated vigour as the unhinged Budd. It keeps you guessing and, despite the reveal of clues being contrived, their deployment is paced well (that is until the final 15-or-so minutes of the series).
The ending is not only rushed, with a ridiculous amount of details being revealed in short time, its climax is insincere, underwhelming, and in fact annoying. It offers closure when none was deserved and gives (without giving too much away) an insulting expository monologue where the evil mastermind explains their whole plan all along.
Bodyguard could have been so much more – it could have been more politically tactful; its characters could have been less archetypal; it could made a more believable conspiracy which relates to actual-world goings-on. It already managed to pull so much of the hard stuff off. If its plot gave (or rather gave up) a bit more then it may have been one of the best political thrillers British television has produced.