TV Review: Bodyguards

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The Independent Culture
"When you start this job, you never think you're going to get bored," said one of the lumpy-jacketed characters in Bodyguards (ITV). It was a remark that might have been designed to extract a moan of sympathy from television reviewers, coming, as it did, halfway through this dim and derivative thriller, one of those professionals-with-guns series that give a distinguished theatrical actor the opportunity to look steely and say "shit" . In this case, the man in question is John Shrapnel, taking the role of the sternly parental head of a police protection unit. His charges are played by Louise Lombard and Sean Pertwee, as well as disposable cannon-fodder who can be dispatched relatively early in the story to demonstrate that theirs is not just a nine-to-five job. In last night's episode, they were assigned to protect a businessman, back in England to give evidence before a select committee about a dodgy arms deal. Cue tough jargon ("Red One. Position set. Principal landed. 11.04") and a pretty standard plot involving conspiracy in high places.

The credits note that Tony Geraghty, the author of several books about the SAS, acts as a consultant for the series, so far be it from me to question its authenticity (I don't want a man in a black balaclava throwing a stun grenade through my bedroom window at four in the morning). But I was a little surprised to find that a man who had already narrowly survived one assassination attempt should be guarded by only two officers when he was being moved to a safe house, an economy which made things pretty easy for the opposition. It seemed odd, too, that immediately after hacking into the DTI's computer, the man responsible for keeping him safe should put the address of his hiding place onto the office database (despite suspecting that the assassins are being given information by someone in the intelligence services).

Such gaping implausibilities are par for the course. But what's really so frustrating about such things is that they can't even see the opportunities lying under their noses. There is, for example, a running current of sexual possibility between Lombard's character and Pertwee's - amplified in this episode by the cocky flirtation of the man they are protecting. But when the two bodyguards discover that the house has been bugged, and retire to the bathroom for an urgent strategy review, they take the meagre precaution of turning the taps on and then talk in normal voices. The potential of such a scene vastly exceeds what is done with it. Why not have them whisper, so that they have to touch each other and bring cheek close to cheek? Why not inject something inappropriate into this ritual moment of professional expertise? Anything, frankly, that might knock the viewer off balance a bit.

But Bodyguards isn't in the business of surprising its audience - in fact, the filming of the first assassination attempt was a textbook illustration of the predictable components of such a sequence - the slow Steadicam advance up the stairs, the open bedroom door with the sound of running water, the medium shot of steam-fogged shower glass, the close-up of a black gloved hand pushing open the door. To be fair, there was a mild surprise in finding out who was actually inside the shower - but one instantly absorbed by the practised viewer - you pretty much knew it couldn't be the businessman because you were less than halfway through the episode and if he'd been spectacularly riddled (blood against white porcelain is always a treat for a director), the stars would have had no one to guard for the next 30 minutes. In any case, plot surprises are no surprise - such twists being virtually a contractual obligation in genre television. The real skill lies in startling the viewer with the most mundane of details. Unfortunately, Bodyguards is as glossy and unlived-in as the show-flat in which the final shoot- out takes place.