Offering a darkly comedic and exciting perspective on the relationship between an international assassin and the MI5 officer investigating her, Killing Eve offers an array of talent, all of which blends supremely well to offer one of the BBC’s most investing original dramas of recent memory.
The work of first-rate psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) comes to the attention of MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), leading to a continent-wide game of cat-and-mouse, with each woman becoming increasingly more obsessed with the other.
“Who knew that a show that dolls out murder so frequently and so vividly could be so funny?”
And what an obsession it is. Making a welcome return to the BBC, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (best known for her 2016 series Fleabag) adapts the novella series by Luke Jennings to remarkable effect. Who knew that a show that dolls out murder so frequently and so vividly could be so funny? From Villanelle’s quirky and creative instruments of death (you’ll never look at hairpins or perfume in the same way again), to the awkward and matter-of-fact ways in which Eve and her MI5 colleges discuss some of the more intimate details of the assassinations, the comedy never falls flat. It’s absurd, and a difficult line to balance, and each script does so perfectly. It also displays an incredibly progressive form of on-screen feminism – one that does not feel compelled to overstate its credentials.
“sexual, frightening, hateful, and incredibly fascinating to see it develop”
But beyond the espionage and double-crossings, at its heart Killing Eve is a consistently compelling character study of its two leads. Yet Waller-Bridge handles this with immense subtlety. Rather than the action being thick and fast, it’s far more personal and grounded in character, making it all the more rewarding. The connection between Eve and Villanelle is never explicitly explained, but rather develops before us, without the need for dialogue. To say that is was purely one-dimensional would be a dramatic oversight – it’s sexual, frightening, hateful, and incredibly fascinating to see it develop.
Aside from the two leads, the series is also bolstered by a strong supporting cast. David Haig is the perfect foil for Eve as her MI5 partner Bill, and has an immense ability to turn the simplest of phrases into marvellous comedy, and makes all of this seem totally natural. Darren Boyd wonderfully downplays the boss that you love to hate, while Danish actor Kim Bodnia is genuinely menacing as Villanelle’s employer. This is topped by a effortlessly cool and tempered performance by Fiona Shaw as MI6 official Carolyn Martens, who never struggles to be the most powerful person in the room.
“performed with genuine understanding and absolute conviction”
Yet the true class acting is exhibited by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. As Villanelle, Comer steals absolutely every scene she’s in with a wealth of energy and a chilling detachment. She enjoys her work with the gleefulness of a total psychopath, and yet seems to show a genuine affection for Eve – it’s a strange parallel, and is performed with genuine understanding and absolute conviction. As for Eve, while the character doesn’t plaster the screen with her presence in the same way that Villanelle does, she is none the less impressive. Sandra Oh never fails to be endearing and utterly watchable in a understated performance, and some frequent emotional scenes demonstrate her professional credentials (and are no doubt responsible for her recent Emmy nomination).
What is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Killing Eve is how refreshing it is compared to the rest of British television. Unlike many BBC series, the series does not feel compelled to ground itself in the monotony of London, but rather embraces a wide collection of international location shoots – Paris, Berlin, Moscow – to produce a truly grand scale to the action. Yet the show also doesn’t attempt to mirror the formula of recent popular American series. Despite having been released in America nearly 6 months ago, it’s unequivocally British, reflecting everything from 60s spy films to the dark comedy of more recent years. Stylish, sexy and totally compelling, you will not be able to stop watching it. Bring on Series 2.
Featured image courtesy of Sid Gentle Films and BBC America via IMDb.