'Bodyguard' is a topsy-turvy but thrilling journey

Sunday, October 28, 2018 - 8:15pm

"Bodyguard"

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Netflix

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for stylish British-political-conspiracy thrillers. From Bond to BBC’s adaptation of John le Carré’s “The Night Manager,” even the most over-the-top and ridiculous plots are polished with those damned accents and impeccably dressed agents. BBC’s “Bodyguard” is another familiar addition to this canon, and while it is not groundbreaking, its nearly flawless execution makes the miniseries a worthwhile watch.

Over the pond, “Bodyguard” has broken records one after the other. Its finale was the most watched episode in UK television history, seen by over 17 million viewers. An easily bingeable six-episode thriller, it stars Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) as Sgt. David Budd, a police officer and Afghanistan veteran who gains notoriety after preventing a deadly terrorist attack in a train through a combination of diplomatic skill and compassion to the unwilling bomber. He ends up being promoted to the role of main security officer for Home Secretary (the British equivalent of Secretary of State) Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes, “The Missing”), an ambitious, hawkish conservative politician whose views are completely at odds with Budd’s own.

The opening 20 minutes of the first episode are the show at its strongest. Tension slowly escalates as Budd hunts for the suspect, while trying to protect the train’s passengers, including his own children. Budd is the familiar stoic, steely-eyed agent for most of the series, but his solo scenes are effective in showing the kinks in his armor. Madden, while not quite given free rein to showcase his range as much as he could, delivers a nuanced, understated performance that meshes well with Hawes’s portrayal of Montague, a fierce politician not afraid of making enemies in her own cabinet. Both are difficult to completely pin down in terms of personality. Montague in particular straddles a line of seeming genuine and seeming like an extremely skilled manipulator. Even Budd is shrouded under a veil of mystery, which gives hints to explain his present PTSD but prevents viewers from fully being able to empathize with him.

While some cliché turns, such as Budd and Montague’s eventual romance, don’t add much to the story’s development, they don’t hamper its breakneck pace, either. From the second episode onward, “Bodyguard” seems determined to keep viewers on their toes. Perceptions of characters can change within the space of five minutes, multiple times within one episode, in a manner which at times can feel disorienting. Nonetheless, this aspect was probably the most powerful in terms of keeping viewers hooked when it first aired. The turns require more and more suspension of disbelief, but the series never devolves into the tackiness that plagues so many American imitations. 

“Bodyguard” sometimes veers into the territory of being too convoluted for its own good, but for the most part, it is easy to see why it attracted so much attention. Impeccably produced, brilliantly acted and effectively paced, “Bodyguard” is a perfect quick, yet engaging watch.