TV Review: Bodyguard

...what made this show stand out is that it never portrayed PTSD as something that cannot be overcome.

BBC’s Bodyguard has been widely acclaimed since it came out in late 2018, with male lead Richard Madden picking up the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama Series for his performance. The show follows Police Sergeant David Budd, who is the Principal Protection Officer (PPO) for controversial political figure Julia Montague, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom.

I started watching this show on a whim when I was bored over the weekend, because Netflix kept recommending it to me. Since it was only six episodes, I figured I had nothing to lose. To my surprise, I found the series to be not only riveting and intense, but also a surprisingly moving and nuanced portrayal of mental illness.

PS Budd is an Afghanistan war veteran who returned to serve on the police force. After thwarting an attempted suicide bomb attack on a London-bound train, he is promoted to become Julia Montague’s PPO. At first, Budd has mixed feelings about the position, as Montague is unabashedly in favor of military operations in the Middle East and has made many controversial statements about her stance on the war. However, as Budd works to thwart multiple assassination attempts and terror attacks, his feelings evolve and he develops a unique bond with the Home Secretary.

Although I don’t want to give too much away regarding the plot (which has many twists and turns and is quite unpredictable), I will say this: I found Bodyguard’s portrayal of PS Budd’s struggle with PTSD to be incredibly moving and surprisingly nuanced. Oftentimes when PTSD is portrayed in movies and television, it is limited to the depiction of nightmares and flashbacks, the most commonly known symptoms of the disorder. Furthermore, for many characters, it becomes the defining characteristic of their personality, turning people with PTSD into one-dimensional characters who have no other qualities. Other times, the disorder’s significance is understated, and it comes up once or twice but is not given significant attention. In Bodyguard, however, Budd’s PTSD is neither overstated nor understated. In fact, early on in the series, some viewers may not even be aware of the fact that Budd is struggling with it. Over time, you begin to see how it colors his everyday life: his work often puts him in dangerous situations that trigger his PTSD, and you can see how the trauma of the war has put a strain on his relationship with his wife and kids. The symptoms of his disorder are present, but they are not exaggerated for dramatic effect and the fact that he has PTSD does not overshadow the other dimensions of his personality.

Furthermore, while Budd’s PTSD certainly plays a role in the unfolding of the story, it is not the sole focus of the show, which helps to reduce the sensationalism that we so often see with portrayals of mental illness. By weaving PTSD into the storyline more naturally, Bodyguard avoids overly dramatizing the illness and recognizes it as something that many people experience. PTSD is just one part of Budd’s life–it doesn’t define him.

And while the portrayal of PTSD is not overstated, Bodyguard does not shy away from the serious consequences and implications of the disorder. It is clear that Budd needs help, yet he is not receiving any treatment. In this way, the show stays true to reality: there are so many war veterans (and other people living with PTSD) who never receive treatment for their condition. What made this show stand out, however, was its commitment to showing the importance of help-seeking and community support: Budd’s family, co-workers, and even the Home Secretary herself encouraged him to seek treatment for his PTSD. Bodyguard portrayed the harsh realities of PTSD unapologetically; however, what made this show stand out is that it never portrayed PTSD as something that cannot be overcome. In the last episode, Budd finally agrees to seek treatment for his PTSD, and the series provides a message of hope to its viewers. I found the storyline of Budd’s struggles with the disorder and his ultimate acceptance of treatment to be deeply moving. So often, television portrays mental illness as something that destroys lives, and fails to show viewers that mental illness is something that can be treated. By depicting treatment and recovery, the media can help fight stigma and provide hope to viewers. In my opinion, Bodyguard’s moving depiction of Budd’s journey toward recovery does exactly that.