TV Critic Eleaner Cross checks out Netflix's latest show Sex Education, which doesn't shy away from topics usually left unspokenWritten by Eleaner Cross on 18th February 2019
Why Bodyguard Has Taken the UK By Storm
The UK was missing a gripping television drama, and Jed Mercurio certainly delivered one this Autumn, with Bodyguard pulling in record-breaking audiences for BBC One’s Sunday evening slot
Its debut was the largest audience for a drama since 2006. Since its first episode, this show has had everyone talking and articles quickly began to appear throughout the media which presented discussion and debate surrounding different elements of the series. It may be over now, but there’s still so much to talk about.
“The drama has fuelled discussion about whether use of a female jihadi is eye-opening or simply despairing
This wasn’t just a high-paced police drama, and the steamy sex scenes between Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes weren’t its only controversy, despite the great level of attention they received. Bodyguard explored some extremely weighty issues in a ground-breaking manner. These included terrorism; a complex relationship between Madden’s character, David Budd, and the politician he is assigned to as Police Protection Officer (PPO); as well as mental health, which Budd suffered issues with as a result of his time at war. The drama has also fuelled discussion about whether the use of a female jihadi is eye-opening or simply despairing. This, I believe, is why Bodyguard has taken the UK by storm. It is a police drama which not only set the nation on edge, but presented the population with significant scope for debate on contemporary issues.
The threat that terrorism presents to Western culture was immediately introduced as a central theme in the first episode, as Budd travels home with his two children and subsequently acts as a key officer in preventing a suicide bombing on the train. It’s an incredibly tense scene, and has been described as a ‘familiar message’ considering the UK’s current terror threat level. Yet, the use of a female jihadi has raised concerns from many, with Jed Mercurio being accused of Islamophobia. He rejects these claims, stating that the fact Bodyguard is set in the present is the reason for his decision. Indeed, he claimed that if the show was set just a few years ago, it may have been Irish Republicans carrying out these attacks. It can be argued that Mercurio is guilty of racial stereotyping, having chosen a Muslim woman as a victim of her jihadi husband’s controlling nature. However, we learn that this isn’t the case. Nadia was never really controlled by her husband; she made the bombs and she had planned her own suicide bombing meticulously. Though it was never carried out, her character was far from an innocent victim of her husband’s terror plans. This characterisation comes soon after the UK’s first all-female terror cell was jailed, and with hundreds of women having travelled to Islamic State territories since 2014, some television critics have claimed that Nadia’s character in fact shows the danger of underestimating female jihadis.
However, is it right to present a female Muslim as first a victim, and then a villain? As levels of hate crime against Muslims accelerate, Bodyguard is a narrative that could certainly fuel this increase. Journalists and television critics have argued that Muslim women are more than simply victims or terrorists; there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, after all. I don’t feel that a debate about whether Bodyguard depicted Muslim women in the wrong way is one that I can comment on, though I have observed a heightened level of discussion surrounding terror threats and an increased assessment of how Muslims are presented across the media and television, which is clearly something the UK needed. This has occurred simply because of a high-profile television series, and is another reason why I feel Bodyguard deserves acclaim.
“It has incited debate from many different people across the UK
Another equally integral theme of the series is mental health, as viewers become more aware of Budd’s severe mental health struggles throughout. These struggles eventually culminate in his attempted suicide, though at the end of the series he does seek treatment from a professional. Bodyguard has heightened awareness of the symptoms and struggles associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as Budd grapples with separation from his wife and heavy drinking whilst attempting to maintain normality through his work. Whilst PTSD is a generally well-recognised condition, what was significant to me was Budd’s acknowledgement that he needed help. This storyline comes as charities such as ‘Mind’ aim to increase the number of men choosing to open up about their mental health. Television is an incredibly important, and current, discourse within our society, and I have nothing but praise for the way that Mercurio chose to tackle the issue. Coming at the very end of the final episode, Budd entering the occupational health office was a poignant way to culminate such a fast-paced series. It seemed to leave viewers with a statement about how important it is to recognise and seek treatment for mental health struggles. Bodyguard’s ending deviated from the norm, and I think it’s time that more media began to acknowledge contemporary issues in the same way. After all, high-profile shows such as this can make a huge impact on the mindset of a population.
Not only has Jed Mercurio produced another exhilarating police drama in just six episodes, but the series has explored a multitude of pressing contemporary issues and has incited debate from many different people across the UK. Interestingly, hits on the anti-terror police recruitment site have dramatically increased, with police chiefs taking advantage of the show’s popularity in order to attract a younger interest base. From this, I think it’s safe to say that Bodyguard has taken the UK completely by storm, and if you haven’t seen it yet, then it’s a must-watch.