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.
NOW READ: The TV Shows You Can't Miss This Autumn
The Little Drummer Girl
Two years after The Night Manager served as Tom Hiddleston's extended Bond audition, another John Le Carré novel, 1983's The Little Drummer Girl, is getting the big-budget miniseries treatment. The magnetic Florence Pugh gets a long-overdue lead TV role as Charlie, a young actress who gets caught up in a high stakes espionage plot when she becomes involved with an Israeli intelligence officer (played by Big Little Lies' Alexander Skarsgard).
BBC One; expected later this autumn
Black Earth Rising
Expect big things from Black Earth Rising. A cinematic thriller with a labyrinthine plot that explores the legacy of international war crimes and the West's relationship with Africa, it also marks the first partnership between the BBC and Netflix. Chewing Gum's Michaela Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman who was rescued from the Rwandan genocide as a child and adopted by a hotshot British barrister. When Kate's mother (The Crown's Harriet Walter) takes on a case involving an African militia leader, she becomes embroiled in a deeply person - and potentially perilous - quest for justice.
BBC Two; expected later this autumn
Whatever the current mania for re-making the entire '90s entertainment back catalogue might have you thinking, BBC's Bodyguard has nothing to do with the Whitney Houston movie. Rather, it's the latest series from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio, a stylish thriller which stars Keeley Hawes as a divisive Home Secretary and Game of Thrones's Richard Madden as the war veteran assigned as her new protection officer, despite his distaste for her political beliefs.
BBC One; August 26th
A flurry of eye-brow raising headlines branding Wanderlust the 'most controversial' and 'most explicit' BBC drama to date has surely only served to raise anticipation for this new six-part series. Toni Collette stars as Joy, a therapist struggling to keep the spark alive in her marriage after an accident causes her to reassess the relationship. Potentially Ofcom-bothering sex scenes aside, it looks set to explore big questions about family, love and monogamy.
BBC One; expected later this autumn
Hold the rousing rendition of One Day More: the BBC's new version of Victor Hugo's sprawling epic tale has been adapted (by Andrew 'Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice,' Davies, no less) straight from the book, meaning there'll be no singing the songs of angry men. What the series will have in common with the recent movie musical, though, is an impressive cast. Lily Collins will play struggling single mother Fantine, The Affair's Dominic West is troubled hero Jean Valjean and David Oyelowo is his nemesis Inspector Javert. Plus, a handful of The Crown's new royals will be joining in, too: Olivia Colman plays the villainous Madame Thernardier and Josh O'Connor (the show's new Prince Charles) takes the Eddie Redmayne role as student revolutionary Marius.
BBC One; expected later this winter
Emma Stone's Netflix debut also doubles up as a Superbad reunion. In Maniac, which has been adapted from a hit Norwegian series and directed by True Detective's Cary Fukunaga, she re-unites with her former co-star Jonah Hill. This time, the pair play strangers who take part in a pharmaceutical trial, testing out a wonder drug which promises to repair the mind entirely, be it from mental illness or heartbreak – until the side effects kick in, dragging participants into another dimension entirely.
Netflix; September 21st
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
If there's currently a Riverdale shaped hole in your viewing schedule (no judgement here), steel yourself for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Netflix's reboot of the '90s teen classic. Don't expect much of the cosy comedy and talking cats that characterized the Melissa Joan Hart show, though: it's been reimagined as a dark coming of age story, with horror classics like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist cited as influences. Didn't see that coming, did you? Kiernan Shipka (aka Mad Men's Sally Draper) stars, plus it's set in the town along from Archie and co, leaving the door open for a crossover episode further down the line…
Netflix; October 26th
How could Phoebe Waller Bridge top a hit like 2016's Fleabag? By stepping behind the camera to direct and produce Killing Eve, a new series that marries the pitch black humour of her debut with all the pacy, high-octane thrills of a spy drama. Based on a series of novels by Luke Jennings, it stars Grey's Anatomy's Sandra Oh as Eve, a bored, deskbound MI5 analyst who is suddenly tasked with bringing down Villanelle, a vicious but undeniably glamorous Russian assassin played by Jodie Comer. Soon, the two very different women are locked in mutual obsession, taking turns to trap one another in cat and mouse mind games.
BBC One and BBC Three; expected in September
Autumn wouldn't be autumn without the promise of a new period drama to schedule our Sunday evenings around. Stepping up to fill the old Downton slot is ITV's lavish new adaptation of Vanity Fair, Thackeray's sweeping satirical novel. The seven-part series follows the machinations of devious social climber Becky Sharp (played by rising star Olivia Cooke), a brash anti-heroine who's an anomaly in the ranks of simpering bonnet-clad women that tend to populate classic novels.
ITV; expected September
Ever had an inkling that you're a bit… different? Special, maybe? Potentially a long-lost member of Russia's royal dynasty? While we try to confine our own royal wish fulfillment to repeat viewings of The Princess Diaries, Amazon's intriguing new anthology series The Romanoffs tells the stories of people scattered around the world who have one deeply-held conviction in common: that they're the descendants of Russia's ill-fated Romanov dynasty. With showrunner Matthew Weiner at the helm, the show's cast has become a mini Mad Men reunion, featuring Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and costume designer Janie Bryant.
Amazon Prime; October 12th