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No One Is Talking About This One Aspect Of BBC's Bodyguard

© BBC Pictures

And that's very much a good thing...

We’re just two episodes in but Bodyguard, the slick new thriller from Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio, has already given us plenty to talk about. Like The Bodyguard transposed into the palace of Westminster but with higher stakes and zero power ballads, it stars Keeley Hawes as a divisive, controversial Home Secretary and Richard Madden as the police officer charged with her safety. In the two hours that were broadcast over the Bank Holiday weekend, we’ve seen two foiled terror attacks, one assassination attempt, and the beginning of an illicit (and ill-advised) affair between the leads. There’s been some grumbling online about whether the equal gender split of the show’s police force is true to life (even if it isn’t, what’s wrong with positive representation?), and one background character – the schoolteacher who held on to her mug of tea while shepherding her pupils to safety in the second attack – has been hailed as the show’s real hero. And amongst all this, I can almost guarantee that viewers won’t have stopped to consider the age gap between the two protagonists.

Age isn’t really discussed in the show (there are other, more important details on which to exchange small talk, like how to best protect yourself from sniper fire), and it’s certainly not alluded to after Julia (Hawes) and David (Madden) have had their requisite ‘tasteful’ BBC sex scene. But as Hawes is 42 and Madden is 32, we can safely assume that their characters are meant to be at similar stages in life, meaning there’ll be a difference of about ten years between them. Of course, these numbers should be unimportant, irrelevant even – so why raise them at all? Because the fact that no one has, so far, made a big deal of this gap is actually a pretty big deal in itself.

For a long time, relationships in which the woman is older than the man have had a stigma attached to them, despite becoming more and more prevalent: last year, a study of European relationships by French statistics bureau Insee found that 16 percent of couples now comprise an older woman and a younger man, as compared to 10 percent back in 1960.It may not be explicit, but it’s there in the cringe-worthy lexus we only use to describe these couples: ‘cougar’ and ‘toyboy’ are a few that spring to mind. Reverse the situation, with an older man and a younger woman, and the relationship would receive far less scrutiny. The age gap between French president Emmanuel Macron, 40, and his wife Brigitte, 65, is the same as that between Donald and Melania Trump, but one gets far more attention than the other; similarly, almost every interview with film director Sam Taylor Johnson tends to spend more time probing her marriage to actor Aaron (23 years her junior) than focusing on her impressive work.

On screen, things are arguably even worse than real life: these negative attitudes, combined with dubious Hollywood hiring practices by (spoiler alert: majority male) studio execs create a cultural landscape where men are allowed to age exponentially but women are only believable love interests until they hit 35. We’ve all surely by now seen the incredibly depressing set of graphs, compiled by US entertainment site Vulture, that plot the ages of actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson against those of their leading men. To pick one example, Lawrence hasn’t had a love interest in their twenties since the last Hunger Games film; she’s been paired up three times with Bradley Cooper, who is 15 years her senior, and this gap is something that’s rarely commented on. Ageing male star plus younger female ingenue is a pattern that’s too ubiquitous to even be called a trend.

Despite this, there’s some evidence that things are changing, at least in terms of what we’re seeing on screen. Last year, rom-com Home Again cast Reese Witherspoon (42) against a bunch of potential love interests in their 20s. This year’s Book Club stars a bunch of women in their 70s and 80s, with the male leads mostly in – shock – their 60s (it’s also proven to be one of the most popular films at the US box office this year). But both examples used these age gaps as a selling point for their majority female audience.

Bodyguard, so far at least, hasn’t had to shout about its own age gap relationship. Perhaps that’s simply because there’s so much else going on: indeed, this gap is hardly the most controversial thing about Julia and David’s affair, given the twisted power dynamic. Perhaps the disparity wasn’t even written into that script, and the BBC just cast the best stars for the roles available (hearteningly, Hawes has also spoken out about how she ensured she’d receive pay parity with Madden before accepting the role). But if the collective shrug with which this on-screen relationship has been received indicates a more enlightened attitude to older women, let's hope the age gap continues to fly under the radar.

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