Bodyguard: thrills viewers and divides critics

Danger: Richard Madden’s character is tasked with protecting the home secretary (Keeley Hawes).

Does Bodyguard teach us anything about the world? The hit BBC show has become Britain’s most watched TV drama in over a decade — several different theories try to explain its success.

*Fear not, this article contains no spoilers.

A conspiracy striking deep at the heart of government. Assassins loose on the streets on London. A traumatised war veteran is the bodyguard caught in the middle — desperately following (or perhaps orchestrating?) every deadly twist and turn.

Plot lines like this can be found in many spy capers, but their particular combination in the BBC’s Bodyguard has caused a sensation. It has been hailed the “drama of the decade”, with over 10 million of us tuning in every week.

But why is the show so popular?

“What makes Bodyguard so unsettling is that it’s grounded in reality,” argues Sarah Deen: “events that take place could happen.” In the wake of last year’s London Bridge attack and truck attacks in Europe, the show’s hair-raising depiction of terror attacks has certainly struck a chord with viewers.

It has sparked debate on contemporary cultural issues too. While the character of a female Muslim suicide bomber prompted accusations of Islamophobia, its wider cast of strong female characters made one critic declare it the “most feminist TV show” of 2018.

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams also thinks Bodyguard conjures a realistic world, albeit one 10 years before the present. This is a world before Brexit, fake news and the dominant sense that “nobody knows where anything is headed.”

Instead, the drama presents dangers which are “within the scope of human ingenuity to avert.” In other words: we like it because we think a hero can save the day.

But for all this talk of realism, many think the show is good because it is totally implausible. A poll by i News asked viewers if they think Bodyguard is great drama or the silliest thing on TV — 62% of people said it was both.

One thing most agree on is how effectively its plot twists and cliff hangers have kept viewers guessing.

Buzzfeed’s Scott Bryan specifically praises the ambiguous characterisations: “you’re not entirely sure if they’re good or evil,” he writes: “you constantly question, on both sides, their intentions and whether they are all good or bad.”

Does Bodyguard teach us anything about the real world?

For show

Of course not, some argue. In the world it creates, danger lurks around every corner, shady conspirators rule the nation, and everyone is either a hero or a villain. Unfortunately, reality is much more humdrum. The show is fun to watch, but we should not let it distort our view of what is around us.

Not so fast, others respond. Just like in the real world, things that happen in Bodyguard are not always what they seem. A series like this teaches us to be aware of small details, question our assumptions and think outside the box. All these skills are useful in life.

You Decide

  1. Do TV shows count as art?
  2. Is popularity always a good thing?


  1. Imagine you have been asked to write a new hit TV drama. It can be set in any time and any place, but it must have suspense and drama. Write a script for the opening five minutes of its first episode. Don’t forget to give your show a title.
  2. Watch the opening clip of Bodyguard episode one by following the link in Become An Expert. Based on that clip write a television review. What works well? What do you think of the characters? How could it be better?

Some People Say...

“I find TV very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book.”

Groucho Marx

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The first episode of Bodyguard attracted 10.4 million viewers. Out of these viewers, 6.8 million tuned in to BBC One for the original broadcast and the rest watched the programme later in the week on iPlayer. The figures are extrapolated from a sample of 5,000 households.
What do we not know?
After four episodes there are still many mysteries for viewers to solve. For example, we do not know for sure if the bodyguard, David Budd, is a hero or a villain — some think that he is behind some of the assassination attempts on the home secretary.

Word Watch

A secret plan by a group to do something harmful or illegal.
10 million
The first episode of the series attracted 10.4 million viewers. This is the highest launch figure for any new drama across all UK channels since 2006.
London Bridge attack
The terrorist incident happened on June 3, 2017, and involved both stabbing and vehicle attacks. Eight people were killed and 48 were injured.
Truck attacks
Last year, 13 people were killed and 130 were injured when a terrorist drove a van into a crowded street in Barcelona. The year before, 86 people were killed in a similar attack in Nice, France.
Follow the Stylist link in Become An Expert for more.
Not reasonable or probable, and failing to convince.
Plot twists
Bodyguard was written by Jed Mercurio. He also wrote Line of Duty.
Open to more than one interpretation.

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