ENTERTAINMENT
15/09/2018 07:00 BST | Updated 15/09/2018 07:00 BST

'Killing Eve': Why The BBC's New Drama Is The Feminist Spy Thriller You Shouldn't Miss

It's nothing like your average cat-and-mouse tale.

 

“I think about you all the time. I think about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. I think about what you eat before you work...what shampoo you use.”

On first hearing, the words from the trailer of ‘Killing Eve’ sound like they might either be said to a lover or partner, or perhaps, on the flipside, something darker, and more twisted. But rom-com fans should brace themselves, because the BBC’s new addictive spy drama, falls squarely into the latter category.

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MI5 officer Eve Polastri is played by 'Grey's Anatomy' star Sandra Oh (front) who is assigned to track down assassin Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer.

Hailed as a feminist show that’s queering true crime, the surprise-hit series, which has already captured TV-lovers across the US where it debuted, is finally coming to UK screens on Saturday.

Based on Luke Jennings’ ‘Codename Villanelle’ novella series, and adapted by ‘Fleabag’ creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the story follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), a bored, low-level MI5 officer on her hunt to track down an expert, seamless psychopathic assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

As Villanelle goes about her day, on various killing quests, Eve is on her tail putting the pieces together. But as the series progresses, both women become obsessed with each other to a degree that resembles something close, almost implicitly romantic.

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'Killing Eve' was written by 'Fleabag' star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

‘Murdering people on telly’ is not an area of gender inequality we’re in the habit of thinking much about as feminist viewers; in terms of our agenda for liberation, it’s not necessarily on the top of the priorities list.

But ‘Killing Eve’ is thought-provoking and implicitly feminist because it rewrites the script of what we’re afforded to see women doing on TV: we see them powerful, controlled and stony, through the lens of murder and villainy. The show shirks clichés in a way that hasn’t been done since the ‘Kill Bill’ girl power era of the early noughties, with women both as the revenge-seeking heroes and the bloodthirsty antagonists.

Since Eve and Villanelle’s attraction to each other, which Jodie described as “both animal and intellectual,” has been read as canonically queer, it’s ignited a huge LGBT+ fanbase.

Luke Jennings wrote in the Observer: “Fans of the show began to contact me on Twitter. Most were women, and almost all were LGBT. Their messages were passionate and moving. They claimed the show as their own, they told me.”

This represents some of the beauty of putting out a new creation in 2018, regardless of whether the author planned it, theories and plotlines take on a life of their own and enter into the hands of social media fandoms. 

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Jodie Comer

Women seem to see a bit of themselves in Eve. Our titular character is not Hollywood – she’s been described by both Luke and Sandra as “fashion-blind”. She’s all of us in her everyday mannerisms. She takes off her makeup at night and doesn’t put the wipes in the bin until her husband tells her to; and even when she does, she’s going to throw it from the bed instead of getting up.

She’s also obsessive and nerdy for true crime, which, depending on the situation, can be both frustrating and loveable. The sadistic nature of the killer is usually the primary focus of crime dramas, but we often get a look into Eve’s bloodlust of her own, in the form of that morbid curiosity that many true crime consumers are familiar with. When she hears the description of the first “kill” of the series, she remarks “cool,” before realising that she failed to read the room.

Villanelle is the multifaceted version of the femme-fatale we’ve always wanted to see. She has what’s alluded to as an adventurous sex life, as well as a thick Russian accent that she can shed in a second. She also steals the tampons, razors and wigs of her kills. Luxury and indulgence threads through her life – Jodie noted that she’d never eaten so much on camera for a part.

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“I think about what you feel when you kill someone,” Eve completes her longing monologue in the trailer. To give due credit, the show does a bloody good job of giving us a window in to just that. Glamorous and traditionally beautiful, Villanelle’s psychopathic tendencies are ones we rarely see in female characters, but we get to see a crack of emotion when we get a shot of her eyes, glazed, wet and frantic, as she watches someone die.

Her kill scenes are also stylised from costume to production, we suddenly find ourselves in Baz Luhrmann-esque moments of intense drama, drawn out by high-emotion music and a heavier hand to cinematography.

Across the Atlantic, the US have had the show since early April, and it was an instant awards success, receiving two Emmy nominations: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Sandra, and Best Drama Writing for Phoebe.

But it was really to be expected. After the first episode aired on BBC America, the viewership jumped up by 86% – a leap which is virtually unheard of. Between the two episodes, people were evidently talking about the show in a way that was cultish, and went far beyond your average casual Netflix recommendation.

In the UK, we finally get ‘Killing Eve’ this weekend. What should you expect? In short, a new and creative interpretation of what spy thrillers can look like, and how women can look in them. Expect a new show you’ll almost certainly binge watch all at once. Expect infinite range. And expect to see women on screen as flawless and powerful; but also unglamorous, and authentic, all at the same time within the same characters, the same frame, even.

In terms of representation, isn’t that the dream really?

‘Killing Eve’ premieres on BBC One on Saturday 15 September at 9.15pm, after which the whole series will become available on BBC iPlayer.