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29 August 2018

Bodyguard is convoluted and preposterous – but it’s impossible not to get caught up in

Just as you think the BBC drama is on the point of quietening a little, up it would ratchet another notch.

By Rachel Cooke

Jed Mercurio’s new series, Bodyguard (9pm, 26 August), is about as preposterous as it’s possible for a supposedly realistic TV drama to be. But crikey, is it exciting. Watching the first scene, which lasted 21 long (and yet very short) minutes, I felt a strong compulsion to smoke, a habit I gave up years ago. Every time things seemed to be on the point of quietening a little – our hero (or is he?) David Budd (Richard Madden) was in the process of convincing a young female suicide bomber to come out of the lavatory of a Euston-bound train – up they would ratchet another notch. Naturally, I prepared for part two by brewing sweet tea and opening a large packet of biscuits. I also lay down, just in case.

The story is convoluted, but what it amounts to is this: Budd, a troubled veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is now a serving police officer, has been assigned, thanks to his success during the aforementioned business in a train loo, to protect the hawkish Home Secretary, Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). Montague is far too posh-sounding to be a member of the current Tory cabinet; Hawes makes her sound like a Mitford who’s swallowed Ayn Rand whole. She’s also too beautiful, too well-dressed, and too ostentatiously nasty. But never mind. Her dastardliness is a turn-on – for us, as for Budd.

A secret sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder who has been known to hang out with the members of an organisation called Veterans for Peace, he dislikes both her voting record and her manner (Montague deploys the phrase “I’m late for a meeting” the way other people deploy their middle finger). However, he can’t, it seems, help fancying her. Sex and death are closely related, as all us cod-Freudians know, and when her car was attacked by a mysterious shooter, it was pretty obvious a frantic tumble in a hotel room was only moments away.

The good news is that this isn’t The Bodyguard; Hawes is no Whitney Houston, and Madden is no Kevin Costner. The bad news is: we do have to endure a certain amount of egregiously phoney fumbling. Montague regards sex the way she regards her red box. Keep it neat; keep it efficient; act normal at your morning press conference no matter what its contents may have revealed to you.

Who’s using whom in this scenario? Is Budd out to get Montague? Will he spy on this “most dangerous” of politicians as requested by his commanding officer? We shall see. This being the work of Mercurio (the writer of Line of Duty), the plot’s trajectory is unlikely to be straightforward; I can’t wait to see what happens next. However, I do wonder about some of the casting. Though Madden can be rather wooden, that doesn’t matter a jot here. He’s a copper with a job to do; emotion is not part of the deal even if the make-up department does occasionally go overboard with the sweat. But how on earth did Gina McKee come to land the role of Anne Sampson, a high ranking anti-terrorism officer? As a lorry driven by suicide bombers careered towards the school attended by Budd’s children, she spoke to her unit with all the urgency of a lollypop lady directing children across a quiet road in a rural village.

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What to say about Drinkers Like Me: Adrian Chiles (9pm, 27 August)? I suppose I should be honest and admit that I found it somewhat chastening. I might not consume his 60-odd units a week – at one point, he was up to 75 – but I do drink pretty much every day; there could very easily be scarring (or worse) on my poor old liver. In his film, Chiles worried about his boozing – a corollary of his anxiety and depression – and sought advice from various experts, all of whom told him to cut down immediately. But you sensed, on his part, a lack of will to change. Wouldn’t life be boring without drink: less enjoyable and a lot more awkward, socially speaking? He felt that it would, and so he continued to cling to what his friend Frank Skinner, a teetotal former alcoholic, called the “handrail” provided by alcohol. “Cheers!” he would say, loudly and merrily, even as the squashy face that has made him rich and famous looked, at moments, so irredeemably sad. 

Bodyguard (BBC One)
Drinkers Like Me: Adrian Chiles (BBC Two)

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This article appears in the 29 Aug 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How politics turned toxic

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