Bodyguard s1 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

I sat down to watch this fretting a little: it feels like we’ve only just begun this story, but next week it’s going to end! What will we watch then?! That question hasn’t yet been answered – I might write about the decidedly underwhelming Press another day but, put shortly, it’s definitely not going to fill the gap left by Richard Madden and co – but plenty of others were last night as Bodyguard, as conscious of the limited time it has left as I am, starts to draw together a number of its mysteries and begin to solve them, mostly through the medium of Sgt David Budd actually telling people stuff he knows. Or making other people do the same. It’s good to talk.

All this communication means that Budd and the fundamentally decent, straightforward Raybourn start to trust each other – up to a point, I mean, there’s still the Thornton Circus sniper problem to come out, and that’s going to eff everything right up – with the clear, speedy results of their collaboration bringing even the (understandably) reluctant Sharma on board. And it also means that poor, maligned Tahir is posthumously exonerated using a combination of science, logic and brute force – “It’d be redundant for me to say I know where you live.” (Heh.)

The talking doesn’t end there, either, as Budd – having essentially googled his way to the heart of the conspiracy, which you’d think maybe should have been a teeny bit more difficult but hey-ho – also starts to trust Sampson and Craddock, finally reading them in on the “Kompromat” and, having nudged Nadia into a not entirely reliable identification, setting everyone on the trail of the surprisingly hands-on Longcross. I mean, if I were in his position, I’d be sending different, not-quite-as-identifiable minions, possibly wearing beards and sunglasses, to do my dirty work each time instead of constantly wiping my own face off CCTV, but that’s just me.

So far, so things are going swimmingly(ish) for our hero. But the Security Service isn’t exactly going to roll over and just let itself be caught murdering a cabinet minister, so Longcross does some talking of his own, dishing the dirt on the “intimate unprofessional relationship” between Budd and Julia (who still appears to be dead, sorry Jed) as he, Penhaligon and everyone else tear around looking for the Tablet that Almost Brought Down the PM, rightly surmising that Budd might know exactly where to find it. Oh yeah, and – enter, pursued by a Range Rover! – Chanel is a gangster’s moll/honeytrap and might not be called Chanel at all.

Unlike episodes 13, there’s no immediate, terrifying threat of carnage and mass murder but, like ep 4, this one is no less gripping for it. And, unlike 4, you could almost fool yourself – if you squint, and hope really, really hard – that Budd might come out of this sort-of-ok? Till the man loses the one thing keeping him in check: he’s finally removed from duty (in fairness, he did shoot himself in the head), stops trusting anyone, and – midway through the process of procurement of a PSL, aka a semi-automatic rifle, from a shady fellow in a dark alley for purposes as yet unexplained but likely to be alarming – storms off with the unmistakable scent of “Going Rogue” heavy in the air. This isn’t going to end well for him, is it? But what a fantastic journey it’s been for us thus far – I’m not sure I’m ready yet for it to end at all.

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Public Service Announcement 33 of 2018: Press

Mike “Doctor Foster” Bartlett’s latest showPress is pitched as a “West Wing-style” (it should be so lucky) drama about the newspaper business, with rivalry between a left-leaning broadsheet and a splashy tabloid played out against a background of the rise of digital journalism, the prevalence of “fake news” and every other media-related issue you can think of. It all sounds very well-meaning, but whether it’s any good or not is another matter, of course. Since my previously dormant interest in British drama has recently been re-kindled by Bodyguard, Keeping Faith and The Split, though, I think I’ll try an episode or two to find out. BBC1, 9pm tonight (Thursday) or iPlayer shortly thereafter if you want to join me.

Bodyguard s1 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

We hadn’t intended to review every ep of Bodyguard but since it’s turned out to be something of a unicorn in tv terms – not only are both Jed and I watching it,  but so is most of the country – it seems daft not to throw in our tuppence-worth. I mean, I did sort-of-comment on the second episode last week but let me expand on that quickly, just for the sake of completeness: I was a bit taken aback at how quickly two really attractive people, working super-closely together, in an incredibly intense, high-pressure environment, having just barely escaped with their lives due to one of them being a (hot, damaged, and did I mention hot?) superhero, jumped into bed with each other. Then I read that sentence again.

Anyway, the car/sniper sequence was electrifying. Which means episode 2 is now neck and neck with episode 1 in the Best Way to Give CJ a Heart Attack Award stakes. (One for the end of year poll?)

With all these absolutely thrilling extended set-pieces in the first two instalments, however, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that episode 3 takes its foot off the accelerator in terms of breathless action of that kind and concentrates mostly on breathless action of other kinds instead. By which I mean there’s a lot of sex, mostly as a means of control – the, er, “trouser” scene was a bit much for me. But at least Julia and David seem to be enjoying themselves. (Till she tries to surprise him in his sleep, that is. Bad. Plan.)

Personally, I could have done with more shooting and less snogging, but that’s no reflection on Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden (and the gratuitous shot of his butt) who make it work. It’s interesting at least – and brave, given this is traditional prime-time BBC1, not HBO – to have a woman in the unapologetically, matter-of-factly dominant, more powerful role for a change. And in fairness, although the audience (ok, I) may be slightly distracted by the sex, the show isn’t: everybody (including and especially our two leads) is manipulating everybody else, and as Julia, her aides, that fellow Mike(?), the Secret Service and the police all try and screw each other over (in less carnal fashion than Julia and David) the question isn’t whether it will end badly, it’s more whether there’s anyone at all for whom it won’t.

All this intrigue, sexual or otherwise, just isn’t quite as visceral or as gripping as episodes 1 and 2, though, so it’s just as well that, when I begin to get restless, and in need of yet another one of those heart-in-my-boots action sequences, the show obliges. It’s obvious from the moment Shifty Rob pulls out of Julia’s St Matthews appearance that he’s setting Tahir up, and that something terrible is going to happen there. And so it does. Who’s dead? I don’t know. Who’s responsible? I have no idea. But I really want to find out. This third episode may not have been as good as the previous two, but the acting and the last ten minutes mean it’s the most exciting thing on the box right now. I’m hooked.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2018: Vanity Fair

On one view, a new adaptation of Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair with its unapologetically ruthless female lead refusing to let class, poverty and gender get in the way of what she wants, sounds very timely – for a 19th-century novel, Becky Sharp is a very 21st-century anti-heroine. As far as I’m concerned, though, ITV1’s latest version (beginning tonight, Sunday, 9pm with episode 2 tomorrow) comes too late, for a couple of reasons. The first being wholly personal: I watched the BBC version with Natasha Little years ago, I made it two-thirds of the way through the book before I couldn’t take it any more, and I deliberately avoided the Mira Nair film on the basis that, although it looked very promising, I’d had enough of this particular story which I didn’t really like in the first place. In short, I really don’t need any more versions of Vanity Fair in my life. The second reason is a bit more practical: Bodyguard started last Sunday, so a large chunk of the available audience (including me) already has Richard Madden/Keeley Hawes-related plans for tonight’s 9pm slot, thanks.

Having said all that, though, Vanity Fair boasts an impressive cast including Suranne Jones, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Palin, with Olivia Cooke (who was excellent in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) as the irrepressible Becky herself, and production company Mammoth‘s recent run of successes (including Poldark, Victoria and Parade’s End) shows they know their way around a period drama. So if you’re in the market for a lavishly-costumed social satire with a very sharp (sorry) edge, dive on in. This water’s got a lot of bite.

Bodyguard s1 ep 1

At a time when Muslim women and how some of them choose to dress are the subject of particularly vicious scrutiny and prejudice from a lot of people, politicians and press who should know better, it’s not ideal that a lady in a hijab is the potential villain in the first episode of Bodyguard. In fairness to the show and the writing however, Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard isn’t interested in pandering to prejudice – it’s looking to find its real villains in the corridors of power, and although some people will undoubtedly come away from the show still secure in their own prejudices, they’re very much choosing to miss the point.

As are the people who seem to be complaining about the number of women in the show, period. WTF is wrong with them? Trying to answer that will get me nowhere though, so time to get off my soapbox and get reviewing: Bodyguard opens with perhaps the most nerve-shredding, terrifying twenty-five minutes I’ve seen on TV since Game of Thrones. I don’t want to spoil too much of the train sequence but it is magnificently executed and almost unbearably tense, and I may have come close to having some sort of cardiac event during it. My GOD.

If every other second of the ep were terrible, it would still have been worth it to see that twenty-five minutes, but the rest of Bodyguard is also excellent, with a different kind of tension and unease pulsing throughout. Richard Madden is brilliant cop and army veteran David Budd, scarred by his experiences in Afghanistan, suffering PTSD, and just about managing to suppress those feelings in order to protect hawkish Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). For now. It’s a career-making performance from Madden: even in the middle of acts of extreme heroism, his Budd is never less than visibly, desperately human, with compassion, determination and gut-wrenching fear all playing out across his face at once. Hawes’s Julia is much more closed-off, however, as befits her character, and it’s never entirely clear which way their relationship is going to go. There are some lovely moments between them – the apology, the shirt moment (you’ll know it when you see it), the summary dispatch of the Chief Whip – but there’s also the abiding, unshakeable feeling that David is about to go very wrong, very soon. I hope he doesn’t – one ep in, and I already really, really care about this character – but either way, this is a superb start to the series and an excellent way to kick off the BBC’s autumn drama season. I’m not planning to review every ep but I’ll maybe do a round-up at the end and we can see if the rest of Bodyguard lived up to its terrific first ep.

Public Service Announcement 31 of 2018: Bodyguard, The Bodyguard

BBC1’s big new Sunday night drama Bodyguard, with Keeley Hawes and Richard “Robb Stark” Madden, comes with some high expectations. Writer Jed Mercurio’s impressive body of controversial, big-ticket work includes not only recent mega-hit Line of Duty but also Cardiac Arrest, Bodies, and, er, Strike Back season 1 (I was surprised too), so his latest take on the political action thriller should be interesting, at the very least, and ideally more complex and nuanced in its politics than your standard shoot’em up fare. One very clear thread running through Mercurio’s work (even those four episodes of Strike Back, if you squint a bit) is his determination not to idealise authority or the establishment – he’s always trying to look behind the façade to the murkiness beneath – and this tale of a police officer assigned to protect an ambitious politician from the very types of danger it suits her agenda to magnify looks like it might well be in the same mould. So if it somehow turns out to be a right-wing reactionary fantasy instead, I’ll be somewhat annoyed, but there’s only one way to find out. First episode is 9pm tonight (Sunday) and I’ll review as soon as I can.

Those looking for a bit more of a nostalgic take on the theme meanwhile, might want to switch to Channel Five tonight at 10pm, ie just when ep 1 of Bodyguard finishes, since, in a frankly genius move, they’re showing the Whitney Houston/ Kevin Costner classic – don’t even bother arguing with me on this – The Bodyguard. What a night for fans of the bodyguard/ hate-to-love romance genres! (Yes, I mean me.) Sadly, it finishes after midnight and I have to get up annoyingly early for work in the morning so I’ll have to give it a miss, but since I haven’t seen it since I was about 15 and I’ve become significantly more cynical since then, it might be just as well. This way it can remain pristine and beloved in my memory instead. All together now, “If I should stay, I would only be in your way…..”

Burden of Truth s1 eps 1&2

On the strength of the trailer, the fact that we were kicking off with a double bill and I was tired after a long day at work, I went into Burden of Proof expecting to be unimpressed. That probably wasn’t fair. Unfortunately, though, it was also entirely realistic.

Episode 1 takes forever to get to the places we know it’s going to go. The cold open could have been short and shocking, but instead it dawdles around for what feels like ages at the football match – for the record, my lack of enthusiasm for football is entirely unrelated to the gender of the players; I’m just not into it – before we get to the big moment at the end. Poor Taylor’s collapse is well-executed and upsetting, but we’ve been waiting too long for it by then and that turns into something of a theme for the whole episode. A bunch of scenes where Kristen Kreuk’s Joanna firstly has to explain the entire case (and the first half of the plot) to her boyfriend who’s supposed to be the high-powered legal eagle dealing with it although he’s plainly the worst lawyer in the world, then has to step in and rescue him when he flubs the meeting with the client, then has to persuade her weirdly clingy father/managing partner to let her go back to her old small town home and sort the case – I mean, a) the client wants her to, b) it’s plainly obvious the boyfriend will just mess it up and c) FFS we know she’s going to go, it’s the whole premise of the thing, would you just get on with it?!?! – are awkward and flabby, and things only start to move, although still not that fast, when she actually gets to Millwood.

Joanna herself is a walking trope – “No filter, no conscience, God made you the perfect lawyer” says her loving father, except there’s plainly a soft heart underneath that sharp-suited exterior, just waiting to be touched – and she’s not the only one. There’s her estranged best friend Diane (I think her name was Diane, but if it wasn’t, it totally should have been), now the school guidance counsellor, divorced and probably amenable to a relationship with the very suspicious police chief. There’s the said police chief himself who does a lot of staring at Joanna because of the Secret Bad Thing her father did that got them run out of town. And there’s Billy Crawford himself, who seems to have been some sort of bad boy in school (and maybe Joanna’s ex? I don’t know if we know that yet, but there’s a definite vibe between them. And she seems to have a type in that he looks very like her stupid current boyfriend but with less bouffant, more small-town hair) but is now the town lawyer and patron of hopeless causes.

The biggest trope of all is of course the basis of the series since Taylor reads the tough, heartless lady lawyer the Riot Act, awakens her conscience and recruits her to the side of the angels/ girls who have been poisoned by Big Somebody by the end of episode 1. Episode 2 is significantly better and more interesting since the story’s actually started to move by then, but it suffers a little from forgetting bits of episode 1. For a start, Joanna tells the stupid boyfriend that he’s “the best lawyer that firm’s got” which is either a lie or a sign of terrible amnesia given the first half of episode 1. Warming to her theme, Joanna also tells her dad that Billy is a “talented” lawyer, which is something of a surprise since Billy has spent most of his screen time demonstrating that he’s a good guy with absolutely no idea of even the most basic questions a lawyer should be asking in a case where the ground zero of the girls’ illness seems kind of obvious from the start. And just for good measure, Joanna, who by contrast has demonstrated an encyclopaedic, almost infuriating knowledge of everything tort and toxic chemical-related by then, and Billy essentially swap roles/ brains when she suddenly asks him “What’s benzene?” and he knows.

Pointing all this out is incredibly petty of me, I know, but in a tv landscape where there are lots of shows clamouring for time I don’t have, and when we get a drama like this one which, as Jed said, is stitched together from pieces of other (better) ones, it’s going to be this type of thing that stands out. Burden of Truth’s premise is fine, but its execution is incredibly clunky and the characters (including Joanna the superbrain) are consistently several miles behind the audience in coming to some pretty obvious conclusions. In its favour, though, it’s significantly less flashy and fond of itself than fellow legal newbie For the People; Anwen O’Driscoll and Sara Thompson are great as victims Taylor and Molly, respectively; and I could easily get into shipping Joanna and Billy. I don’t see myself reviewing the show again, but I’m interested enough in finding out what happened to the girls – who, unusually for me, are significantly more compelling than the adults – to keep watching for now.