How the Editor of 'Bodyguard' Heightened Tension in That Nail-Biting Train Sequence

"We wanted the viewer to understand that there were untold issues with David Budd," says Steve Singleton.
Sophie Mutevelian/World Productions/Netflix

For editor Steve Singleton, Bodyguard writer/creator Jed Mercurio’s “master stroke” was to skip a conventional opening and start the series with a nail-biting scene during which police sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) is traveling with his kids on a London-bound train when he discovers a suicide bomber.

“The viewer was immediately taken down a tense and dangerous path with an unknown person and discovered much about his character and personality issues along the way,” Singleton says of the BBC series, available in the U.S. on Netflix.

To cut the scene, Singleton says he and director Thomas Vincent started by sifting through the dailies to find the right performances. “From the beginning we wanted the viewer to understand that there were untold issues with David Budd, and so we opened the episode on a black screen with audio only of distant gunfire and war sounds which we were then able to segue into the sound of the train wheels over the tracks and then the crashing sound of the train as it enters a tunnel, which enabled us to waken David Budd sharply from what was a dream or thoughts in his head.”

As Budd becomes aware of the danger, Singleton wanted to show heightened emotions from the characters. “With David, it was a case of exploring as much as we could with not only his professionalism and quick thinking, but also his anguish and concern for his children and other passengers,” he explains, adding that he also emphasized the train guard’s shock at the sudden danger as well as the police marksman’s frustration in his inability to find his target.

“Whenever David Budd was standing between train carriages, we used the dynamic sound of the train as it entered and exited a tunnel to dramatically increase the tension upon him, and in the same way we ended his phone call to the train guard abruptly again to ratchet up the tension even more.”

Next, Budd opens the washroom door and discovers a woman named Nadia (Anjli Mohindra) with explosives strapped to her body. “We deliberately cut close and fast again to heighten the tension, but also to create an almost stifling, breathless will-she-won’t-she moment with big close-ups between David, Nadia and her trigger finger,” Singleton says of this reaction. “We then deliberately slow the pace of the scene in order for David to calm the situation down and talk to Nadia in the hope of disarming her. This was achieved by opening the scene up to see surrounding carriages with other passengers and to reduce the use of big, close shots between David and Nadia and sifting thru the material again and again to find even the tiniest moments of understanding and trust between them.”

The tension again rises with the introduction of the marksmen. “From then on in we tried to craft it in an almost dance-like fashion, cutting between David, Nadia and the police, increasing the pace and continuously building it to the climactic, frenetic and immensely tense moment where David and Nadia step away from the door,” the editor says.

This sequence runs for roughly 20 minutes of episode one.