Bodyguard has finally put powerful female characters front and centre – who cares if it’s “unrealistic”?

From Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard to Jodie Comer's assassin in Killing Eve, TV has finally discovered the benefits of "gender-blind casting"

Keeley Hawes BBC Bodyguard

I wish I lived in a world where everybody was required to address me as “ma’am”.

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Bodyguard’s Keeley Hawes as Home Secretary Julia Montague (SPOILERS) made it to the end of episode three before she was assassinated. But before she died in a bomb blast, everybody had always called her “ma’am”. Not just her booty-call bodyguard David Budd, but her staff, strangers, everyone.

I’d like that. Recently I stayed at a posh hotel where a waiter called me “my lady”, which I thought was pushing it a bit as he wasn’t Parker and I wasn’t Lady Penelope. But “ma’am”, yes. Respectful and deferential without being “let-me-lay-down-my-coat-for-you-to-walk-on”. (Though secretly, I’d like that, too.)

Nearly all of the women in Bodyguard are addressed as “ma’am” because they are doing big, important jobs. This has troubled a lot of people, including our Viewpoint writer Rohit Kachroo, the ITV News security editor, in a recent issue of Radio Times. “Counter-terrorism is largely a man’s world… many of the specialist areas shown in this programme are still dominated by men.”

I’ve had arguments I really never expected to have with friends and colleagues about this aspect of Bodyguard, and there’s been a bit of a faff about it, inevitably, on social media, where no scab ever goes unpicked.

Oh no! Really important pretend women characters in a pretend world in a television drama ARE WOMEN and people are upset about it! What are we to do? We can’t go giving women ideas above their stations. Fluffy, muddleheaded ladies should be at home knitting cushions with cat hair or learning to play the harp. If you depict them running important political and police departments or defusing explosives they might (gasp) want to do it in real life!

Then where would we be? There’d be bombs going off all over the place because the women in charge would be too busy with their curling tongs or texting photos of cute labrador puppies to their friends.

Tahir Mahmood in Bodyguard, BBC Pictures

Come on, please, give us something. I’m sure Jed Mercurio knows that women anti-terrorists, police and bomb-disposal bosses are thin on the ground, but he’s always put women front and centre in his dramas. Bodies, Line of Duty, now Bodyguard. People talk about colour-blind casting – this is gender-blind casting and it’s about time.

What, I wonder, will people say about the bonkers but oddly alluring Killing Eve, where a top assassin is a woman, as is the MI5 operative who tries to hunt her down (Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh are both brilliant).

Will they say, “Ooh, this is so unrealistic, paid assassins are usually men, they go to assassination school and are all called Vladimir”? Comer, who sometimes floats around in pretty dresses and adopts whoopsy girly voices, couldn’t be more terrifying if she were an eight-foot-tall tattooed brickie with upper arms the size of poodles. And boy, she can shin up a drainpipe, no problem. Impressive.

The point to all of this is that we have to let go of our ideas of what is “right”, that men should be in charge of absolutely everything important and any dramatised hint of an alteration to the status quo is somehow dishonest. How else can change happen?


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Killing Eve starts on BBC1 on Saturday 15th September at 9.15pm and will then be available as a box set on BBC iPlayer