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More twists lead to more questions in Bodyguard

Spoiler alert: BBC1’s drama enthrals with yet another episode of superb tension, the best of its kind in years 

Will Sergeant David Budd’s secrets finally be uncovered?
(BBC)

Bodyguard

★★★★☆

So, it really is true, then. They’ve killed off the home secretary. Over the past five weeks, Bodyguard has gripped our national consciousness so strongly that its fake news bulletins – featuring the likes of John Pienaar, Laura Kuenssberg amd Justin Webb – almost feel real.

Julia Montague! Dead! Who is responsible? What is the prime minister going to do about it? Or did he actually plot the assassination? What are the police not telling us? Are the rumours about Montague’s private life true? Who fired from the grassy knoll?

Maybe it will turn out that the death of Montague was deliberate disinformation – like the (real) recent incident when the Ukrainians falsely announced the death of an anti-Kremlin journalist in order to trick and catch the Russians who were actually out to kill him.

Erm, anyways... are we going a bit bonkers about Bodyguard?

Well, not really, and given everything happening in the real world, a little national distraction about fictional terror and the disintegration of civil order can be forgiven.

Forgiven, then, and still utterly enthralling, thanks to the tensile strength of Jed Mercurio’s script and the cast’s outstanding performances. Mercurio, once again, brilliantly and wickedly toys with dramatic conventions, and our expectations.

Audiences have been conditioned to believe that a main character cannot exit too early. That’s just the way it works. The stars are paid far too much to skive off, and the viewers would miss the “big name”. So Mercurio just went ahead and blew up Julia Montague at the end of the previous week’s episode, and gave us a double shock – her death, and the death of an established rule of drama. Hence, I think, the minor moral panic that has ensued.

Not content with that, the latest episode has the most violent plot twist since our eponymous bodyguard Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) executed a high speed handbrake turn in Montague’s ministerial limo in an earlier emergency. Having been led to believe that the police wanted Montague dead, and that the security services were intent on protecting her, we now realise that it might be the other way around.

Now, I have to say that the role reversal between these two arms of the state is a bit untidy. Even in the hands of Gina McKee as the (previously) malign police chief Anne Sampson, and Vincent Franklin as Montague’s scheming junior minister Mike Travis (now acting home secretary), there are creaks.

There are just a few snatches of dialogue between Budd, Sampson and Travis that try to support the weight of all this, and they only just about manage. Once again, there is so much else going on, and we are so dazed by the death of “Julia” (as Budd revealingly and affectionately refers to her), that we hardly notice.

We are bombed-out by revelations. We learn that Budd’s sexual relationship with Montague is already well known to his bosses; that the drug-taking sex maniac mysteriously referred to in material sent to Montague by spies is indeed the prime minister; that her Muslim-heritage special adviser did not kill her; and that her current, creepy, special adviser didn’t kill her either.

Montague’s sacked former special adviser Chanel, absent since the first half of episode one, turns up again, “accidentally” bumping into Budd and asking him out for a drink. Hunk though he is, he knows she is up to something ulterior, not least because she makes off in a chauffeur-driven Range Rover. But what?

Other questions remain to be answered. When will Budd’s army service in Helmand, with a mate who tried to shoot Montague dead, be discovered? How is he linked to Islamists who try to blow up a train? And who replaced the bullets in his gun with blanks (thus saving his life when, grief stricken over Julia, he decides to blow his brains out)?

After five hours of superb tension, the best of its kind in years, we crave more, and in traditional instalments doses rather than bingeing on the BBC iPlayer. There are new questions, more material to discover. We are intrigued by the intrigues.

At the end of this latest episode, Budd guesses, correctly, that Julia will have hidden the computer file with the “kompromat” about the prime minster in the frame of a photograph – one showing her at the Tory conference with David Cameron. Are “they” trying to tell us that Theresa May wanted to kill Cameron? Or he her? Or that both of them would have liked to see the back of Boris Johnson, who may or may not have been having an affair with a young special adviser, about which his wife and personal protection team might or might have known about? Outlandish, all these conspiracy theories.