Line of Duty showrunner Jed Mercurio’s tense new BBC drama is set at the heart of British government as bodyguard David Budd (Richard Madden) is assigned to protect the Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) from danger.
But just how realistic is this story? How true-to-life is what we seen on screen?
Here’s what Mercurio and the stars of Bodyguard had to say:
Is Bodyguard based on a real-life situation?
Bodyguard is not based on a true story – but it is set in a world which very much exists. Ambitious politicians like Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) do become Home Secretary, and ex-military men like David Budd (Richard Madden) do become Personal Protection Officers in the actual Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch (RaSP).
And in 2018, we do face the threat of domestic terrorism in the UK, which is something that we see in Bodyguard. We deal with the legacies of fighting wars in the Middle East, and we deal with heightened surveillance as a reality.
“I think that the most important thing is to try and draw on events in the real world,” showrunner Jed Mercurio said at a preview screening at the BFI in London. “I’m trying to create something that is social realist. And therefore it’s helpful if you can draw on real-world correlates of the action and the events in the series.
“So although it’s not based on any specific events, we can look at those events in general and use them to model the way in which the drama works.
“A lot of drama, or some drama, is actually set – although very successful in a drama, is set in worlds that don’t exist. Things like amateur sleuths don’t exist in the real world, but that doesn’t stop drama about amateur sleuths being hugely successful.
“In our case, we have a real specialist protection group, we have a real government, we have a real plausible threat that’s based on the kind of things that happen in the real world, and that’s the approach, and I suppose the intention there is to heighten the credibility of what we’re doing.”
Did real bodyguards work as advisors on the show?
Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio is nothing if not a meticulous researcher, and so he assembled a team of bodyguard advisors and police advisors and political advisors and military advisors and pretty much every advisor you can name.
“One of our advisors was a bodyguard, we had other temporary advisors who were bodyguards, so we had lots of conversations about the role and about the procedure,” he said.
But there was one problem, as Richard Madden explained: “I think the nature of the job, their character, is they give very little away. And we had these wonderful advisors throughout, and they gave away very little. So I had very little to go on…”
Still, speaking after a day of filming at a mocked-up Home Office set in Uxbridge, he revealed all the little tips that have helped.
“We’ve got some great military advisors, we’ve have numerous different ones, people that have been acting serving PPOs as well, to just guide us through,” he said. “And they’ve been doing that for royalty and dignitaries and politicians, so they’re there to assist me on exactly what I’d be doing, what I’m going to be getting in my ear, the little things that are hopefully going to texture it, because when they switch from one channel to another on the radio – they can be talking about anything actually, because they’re in a private little loop between three or four of the protection team.”
While most of the story is told from the perspective of the police, this is a thriller that takes place within the political world – so Mercurio recruited a political advisor and ex senior civil servant called Celine Lewis who was “incredibly helpful in giving us the authentic detail.”
What does a bodyguard actually do?
A bodyguard is meant to keep their “principal” safe from all danger including assassination, theft, kidnapping, violence, harassment. But in the UK they rarely have to put their life on the line.
“I think if you look at how rare those incidents are, it’s hard to determine what happens,” Mercurio said at the screening Q&A. “I think that maybe on the American side they have much more experience of that kind of thing. Over here we’ve been very lucky that we’ve had very few incidents where specialist protection officers have been involved at close quarters with people trying to do harm.
“We’ve certainly had specialist protection officers at close quarters to people, trying to give the Prime Minister P45s! That’s about as far as it’s gone.”
Is Home Secretary Julia Montague a Conservative?
Yes, Julia Montague MP is specifically a Tory politician. But she’s not a part of this particular Conservative government, and this is a drama which will NOT cover Brexit – even though she’s the Home Secretary.
“I think the audience kind of knows that there are established big political parties, and it’s very hard to do a political thriller without invoking that,” Mercurio explained.
“I think if we’d invented a party but just never mentioned it, I think it would just feel a bit peculiar and inauthentic. So all through the period of writing, the Conservatives were in government, and we know that it looks like they’ll at least be in government until this has gone out. So it felt like a safe choice and also, potentially, just fit with the world we’re in now.
“We want it to feel real, but it’s set a few months in the future. The events are entirely fictionalised in terms of who the key political figures of the day are, and what the key political issues are.”
Is Richard Madden dressed like a real-life bodyguard?
The production team decided to go for the full-on bodyguard outfit, down to the vest.
“I’m wearing a full actual bulletproof vest, so that kind of was like a corset, and it just corrects my posture and keeps me like that all the time,” Madden told us. He’s also hauling around a bunch of useful objects: “Guns and hats and extra bullets and that sort of thing.”
Playing David Budd also gave the Game of Thrones actor the opportunity for some action scenes. “I’ve done quite a lot of firearm training before, but we’ve got some amazing firearms guys here so I’ve been working with them,” he said.
We can expect a lot of “brilliant” action shots, and while he won’t give much away, he did tease: “There might be some stuff on rooftops…”