Binge-r #112: Bodyguard + The Letdown
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
This often gripping British thriller is stocked with bombs, beginning with the one worn as a suicide vest by a frightened young woman discovered on a London-bound train by an off-duty police officer. If you’ve heard anything about Bodyguard, which was a huge hit earlier this year on British television, it’s about that opening sequence, an extended, nail-biting assembly where the options for living are outnumbered by those that end with dying. But the biggest projectile is actually the policeman, Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden), a former military veteran turned personal protection office who has never dealt with the damage of serving in Afghanistan.
Creator Jed Mercurio is so deceptively assured with his plotting – there are red herrings, deceptive revelations and a handful of almighty twists – that you’re hurried into David’s slipstream as he’s promoted to protecting Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the hard as nails Home Secretary intent on pushing through stringent new surveillance laws and then toppling the Prime Minister. You’re intrigued as much as you might be alarmed by a protagonist who is struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and whose instincts have turned to disdain for the people – such as Julia – who he believes sent him off to war without a second thought.
Bodyguard is a traditional thriller updated for the 21st century, with as much risk from the rogue security services as there is terrorist cells. It’s hugely outlandish in parts, but skilfully executed so that the post-mortem comes after the six episodes have concluded. The best gambit is old-fashioned in design but updated for a new dynamic – the attraction between a powerful woman and the subordinate male who is nonetheless essential to her safety; David’s Scottish accent finds a great many nuance for the deferential “ma’am” that concludes each of his clipped exchanges with Julia. Once they’ve been at risk together they’re bonded as survivors, which makes their surreptitious contact all the more fraught.
Richard Madden’s character was the righteous target of an infamous killing on Game of Thrones, but here he plays a man whose professionalism is all he has left as his marriage disintegrates and he struggles to relate to others. David isn’t the hero who’s smarter than everyone else, he’s the tool of Julia and other senior figures, such as his superior, Commander Anne Sampson (Gina McKee). His edge comes from an obsessiveness that’s almost nihilistic, which is typical of the strange undertow that runs just beneath the sleek surface of this careening drama. There’s ripe dialogue that could have actually been played up and plenty of implausible moments, yet Bodyguard – like David – knows how to get the job done.
>> Old Show/New Season: Netflix has added the second season of madcap workplace comedy Great News, with executive producer Tina Fey having an extended arc as part of the cast. I recommended season one in August [full review here]. After a long wait, Amazon Prime subscribers have now got the third season of the alternate history thriller The Man in the High Castle. Here’s my take on season two of the show [full review here].
In Brief: The Letdown (Netflix): In the same way that Audrey (Alison Bell) is balanced between wonder and tearful exhaustion when it comes to her three-month-old baby daughter Stevie, the terrific Australian comedy built around her travails sits at a tipping point between farcical humour and painful recrimination. Everything and a little more can go wrong for the new mother: Audrey bombs out at parents’ group, Stevie won’t sleep for long, she feels perpetually judged, her partner Jeremy (Duncan Fellows) has good intentions but will casually remark, “you haven’t been much fun lately”, and breast feeding is a bastard to master; it would be cruel to even start on her mother’s input. Created by Bell and Sarah Scheller, with crisp direction from Trent O’Donnell (No Activity, The Good Place), this ABC series deserves a long second life on Netflix. It leans right into the physical and psychological upheavals that giving birth bring, but it finds empathy in the laughter and allows for a degree of solidarity even as it flits from one excruciating situation to the next. Latch on.
New on Netflix: Directed with menacing wonder by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival (2016, 115 minutes) is compelling and original science-fiction, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as the experts trying to communicate with aliens; The Intern (2015, 121 minutes) sees Nancy Meyers leave the designer kitchen for the modern workplace, with Robert De Niro as the ageing intern who goes to work for Anne Hathaway’s start-up CEO.
New on SBS on Demand: Larry David's comic rhythms meet a deadpan blue-collar milieu in the American independent comedy 7 Chinese Brothers (2015, 72 minutes), with Jason Schwartzman as a charmingly dyspeptic Austin slacker who goes to work in a garage to pursue the unimpressed shift boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). Bob Byington’s movie has misanthropic tendencies, but there’s also tender interest in the making of connections.
New on Stan: There have been some remarkable dramas emerge from the nation of Georgia in recent years, and In Bloom (2013, 98 minutes) is one of them: a fierce coming of age tale from the perspective of a teenage girl who bucks traditional expectations; per Netflix above, Stan also has acquired Arrival (2016, 115 minutes).
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