TV REVIEW – Killing Eve: A British espionage thriller worthy of the women who star in it and watch it

Presenting: my favourite show of 2018. For those who haven’t heard me gush on radio or on Twitter, here is what you need to know. Currently completing series 1, Killing Eve is airing Sunday nights on BBC America. It’s based on a series of novels adapted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with a cast dominated by amazing women, hence its perfection for my first post on Screen Queens.

The premise: Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is a pen-pusher for MI5 and attends a briefing by the infamous Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw). She becomes enthralled by the work of a political assassin who has murdered a Russian sex trafficker. Eve bets “twenty quid says it’s a woman” elaborating to her formidable boss that the victim would have been too misogynistic to suspect his killer. Simultaneously, you meet her opponent: Villanelle (Jodie Comer) who from a memorable entrance is a psychopath, capable of replicating emotion but cruel for fun.

Atmospherically, the locations of the show contrast Eve’s domestic quiet life in London to Villanelle’s cosmopolitan assignments all over Europe; the first episode alone moves between scenes in Vienna, Tuscany and Paris. Based in London with an Asian-American protagonist and her Polish-British husband, diversity is rightly placed at the heart of the show without compromising on its dry British humour. The unlikelihood of an Asian woman playing the main character was not lost, even on Sandra Oh, who when given the script “didn’t even assume that [she] would be one of the central story tellers”. After decades of playing side characters, most famously Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy, this is the role Oh deserves. Far from a Mary Sue, from her first scene, Eve while making an impression of her intuitive thinking, is also late to the briefing and bickers over a croissant with her colleagues, making her instantly likeable and honestly, relatable to my attitude to work. The other members of the team are British: Elena gives a straight-forward Northern contrast to the uncomfortable resident tech genius Kenny. Bill, Eve’s old boss (David Haig) who struggles to adjust to following her orders and Fiona Shaw makes up for my childhood hatred of Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia as a no-nonsense boss – overall a great ensemble to fulfil the spy genre quota for the M, Moneypenny and Q if you will.

The psychological exploration is fascinating, whenever there is a discovery that could humanise Villanelle, she laughs and disproves it, often rather gruesomely. This back-and-forth makes you really wonder whether Eve will ever understand her motives and how far she will go. Within a genre saturated with dozens of male murderers of the conventional profile: “white male, 40s, spurned and emasculated by women” I’ve come recite along with the analysts in Criminal Minds, this femme fatale is captivating. Villanelle’s playful approach to killing within the masquerade of various accents, fashions, and personalities makes her very fun to watch and Jodie Comer’s range all the more admirable. Intriguingly, her over-the-top modus operandi builds up curiosity surrounding her employers and why she is clearly confident she cannot be caught despite biological evidence. Her handler is impressed but wary of her, holding her at a distance for secrecy and arguably his own safety.

As their worlds collide, it’s clear Eve is being given her moment to shine as an agent with a puzzle to match her stubborn intelligence. The chemistry between the two is incredible, with the mutual admiration intertwined with the competition of Villanelle’s self-assurance and Eve’s frustration, a dynamic utterly incomprehensible to the men around them. Often her appreciation supersedes her disgust, implying her motives aren’t entirely altruistic, driven rather by a dangerous fixation. However, it is refreshing to have such a flawed female protagonist, and with the ensemble following suit you can both relate to and mistrust everyone, keeping the plot moving and twisting. To an excellent soundtrack the story moves quickly and unpredictably without agonising illogical suspense and midway through season 1, it just keeps getting better.

Critical reception so far has been phenomenal and rightly so, with ratings going up as the show progresses. Previews clearly went well as series 2 was ordered even before the pilot had aired, so support the show but no need to panic about cliff-hangers and cancellation just yet. If you’re in the UK, it isn’t yet available to stream but considering the speedy upload of other BBCA classics like Dirk Gently I imagine it’ll be reaching your Netflix soon.

See also:

Orphan Black for well-written women everywhere, most of whom played by the endlessly talented Tatiana Maslany. A similar, witty but gory thriller with an ensemble dynamic to kill for. About clones who discover each other, uncover the science that made them and fight for their freedom. Helena is a messier Ukrainian murderer to Villanelle’s Russian manic pixie dream assassin and equally as magnetic to watch.

Good Behavior (yes, I spelt that right, it’s American) if you enjoy the aspects of Villanelle as a costume changing chameleon and a flawed, female anti-hero then Letty Raines (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) is a potent combination. A grifter who struggles with addiction, trying to get her life together for her son but too often allured by a challenging mark and the opportunity for fun outfit, complete with wig. The story follows her unconventional romance with a hit-man, operating on different sets of principles, whether they guide or break the other’s moral compass remains to be seen. Like Villanelle, the character is based on a series of novellas.

Fleabag written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who I’m now inclined to trust. Started off as a one-woman show in Edinburgh Fringe Festival it has become a sensation a touring stage version and a 6-episode mini-series with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Series 2 has been ordered for 2019.

 

by Fatima Sheriff

Fatima is a second year biomed at the University of Sheffield. For insight into her personality, her favourite films are: Bright Star, Paddington 2, Taare Zameen Par and Pride & Prejudice and in 2017 she listened mostly to the Hidden Figures soundtrack. Mainly she is an avid TV watcher, particularly shows with original concepts, witty writing and diverse casting. Examples include Legion, Gravity Falls, The Hour, Gilmore Girls, Sense8... and for more, her Twitter and TVShowTime are both @lafatimayette.

Categories: Reviews, TV

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3 replies »

  1. I can’t wait to watch this after all the good things you’ve been saying about it! This was great I can’t wait to read more of your stuff 💕💕💕💕

    Like

  2. This is such a great review! Loved the part about how Sandra Oh got the script and how she assumed she wouldn’t be playing a lead. I also recently wrote a quick review on Killing Eve. It’s focuses on the portrayal of women, the fashion and why the two stars Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh deserve Emmy noms! would love it if you could read: https://throughthecolouredlens.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/killing-eve-review-the-importance-of-framing-all-aspects-of-womanhood-from-good-to-bad/

    Like

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