If you’ve here expecting a balanced review of the BBC’s new acquisition, Killing Eve, I should tell you now that I LOVE this show so much and will be using my time here to convince you that your life would be better off with Killing Eve within it.
The original brainchild of Luke Jennings who wrote the Villanelle novellas, this eight-part drama/comedy adapted by Pheobe Waller-Bridge has already aired on BBC America in the states and has garnered critical praise across the board. The series stars Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) as the brilliantly awkward and driven Eve Polastri. Eve works for MI5 but isn’t the stereotypical spy figure TV and film has perhaps conditioned us to expect. She’s confined to her desk, only hearing about the juicy things going on when her boss (played equally brilliantly by the superb David Haig) chairs meetings. When we meet Eve in the first episode she has been out with her boss Bill Pargrave (Haig) to celebrate his birthday. Feeling a little worse for wear the pair sit opposite Bill’s boss, Frank Haleton (the brilliantly twitchy Darren Boyd) as he introduces them to the Head of the Russian Desk, Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw) who informs them of an assassination in Vienna that claimed the life of a high profile Russian politician. Martens relays the fact that the assassin managed to slice the victim’s femoral artery without him or his girlfriend noticing in such a way that you imagine it’s something she comes across every day. Eve’s reaction to the man’s death is equally entertaining as she exclaims ‘cool’ before remembering where she is.
Eve is immediately convinced that the man was killed by a woman. Citing the politician’s past as a misogynist and sex trafficker. Her theory strikes a chord with Carolyn Martens but is dismissed by Bill who dismisses her thoughts and won’t allow Eve to meet with the only witness to the murder. Eve and Bill have an interesting relationship. He may be her boss but the pair have an interesting and instantly believable dynamic as friends who bounce off of one another. Eve sticks to her guns utterly convinced they should be focusing on finding the woman responsible.
The action moves to Paris where we meet the villain of the piece, Villanelle portrayed with great relish by Jodie Comer. You may recognise Comer from her role as the mistress in the BBC blockbuster Doctor Foster or, as I first came to know her, Rae’s somewhat self-obsessed best mate in E4’s My Mad Fat Diary. Comer is transformative in this role. Such is the buzz surrounding the series in the US that Sandra Oh is nominated for an Emmy, an accolade I would argue Comer should also be in the running for. In lesser hands, Villanelle could come off as silly and over the top, but Comer plays her perfectly. She is clearly a dangerous woman, capable of anything and, at least in this superb opener it isn’t clear what she gets out of her role of assassin but Comer makes this complex character feel as real as Eve. Waller-Bridge’s scripts ask a lot of Comer, mastering different languages, facial expressions and to almost slapstick-style comedy, but Comer handles it all with ease and turns this vicious, heartless killer into a truly likeable character who casts a spell over the audience.
Villanelle’s relationship with her boss, the mysterious Konstantin Vasiliev (A welcome return to our screens for Martin Rhode actor Kim Bodnia) mirrors that of Bill and Eve. Her handler may be Villanelle’s only friend. He is the person who gives her targets, arranges her flights across the world and generally tries to keep this wild thing under some semblance of control. Who he takes his orders from and why Villanelle is needed isn’t fully explained in this opener, but is explored as the series develops.
The show is almost two shows in one. There’s the MI5 side with Eve, Bill and their colleagues and then there’s the Villanelle side where we follow her around the globe killing people in the most exciting ways imaginable. The fact that the two separate stories work so well in the same show is down to Pheobe Waller-Bridges’ script which gives her two leads equally interesting screentime. The two worlds that these two characters inhabit are instantly intriguing. Waller-Bridge has a keen ear for language and her script strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama. When Eve goes behind Bill’s back and interviews the witness to the first murder she discovers that the killer was ‘flat-chested’ which spurs Eve on further in her belief that a woman is to blame. By the end of the first episode, Waller-Bridge has set up a completely believable world and an exhilarating cat and mouse chase between these two powerful women.
Executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle admits they never even thought about it. “I don’t think we had a single conversation about gender,” she says. “Actually we tweaked quite a lot of how much Villanelle used her sexuality and that was quite a conscious thing of her not to do, to not sex people to death.”That’s not what she does. She just really likes killing cleverly and she also doesn’t get off on it in a sexual way, she’s just interested to know what happens!”
It is a show that wins you over without even trying. The central performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are instantly compelling. As a viewer, you instantly care about them and want to know more about them. The supporting cast David Haig, Darren Boyd, Fiona Shaw, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and later on Sean Delaney are just as brilliant and help to create a world I was desperate to stay in. I normally yawn at the BBC’s idea of placing an entire series on the iPlayer. Their reasoning for it isn’t always clear but with this, I think they’ve got it just right. I have already seen all eight episodes. This show is the TV equivalent to Pringles, once you watch one you just can’t stop. The pace is as a snappy as the dialogue, it’s a world we’ve not seen before, full of characters we’ve not seen before, going in a direction you’ll never be able to predict and I RUDDY LOVED IT!!
I don’t often use my platform as a place to beg – but PLEASE tell everyone you know to watch Killing Eve. This is not just one of my favourite shows this year, but one of my favourites for a long long time. If you’re after something completely immersive that will make you laugh and keep you on the edge of your seat Killing Eve is the show for you. Please watch – don’t be a dick swab (a phrase that is key in the first episode and one that Pheobe Waller-Bridge created to get around those tricky people in the US that like to censor language).
Killing Eve Starts Saturday 15th September with the entire series available to binge from that night on the iPlayer.