One evening, a few weeks ago, I was about to load up Netflix in search of my next TV series to watch. Then a friend told me how much he had been enjoying a great series on BBC Three. So, instead of Netflix, I fired up the BBC iPlayer and launched into Killing Eve.
Sandra Oh plays the titular Eve Polastri in the show, which is adapted from Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle series of novellas. Eve is an MI5 officer who spends all her time behind her desk, but when a ruthless assassin begins to carve her way across Europe, Eve builds a dossier on the case and quickly comes to the attention of MI6 section head, Carolyn Martens (played by Fiona Shaw). Carolyn convinces Eve that she should join her at MI6 in an unofficial capacity, and soon they have put together a team that includes Elena (Eve’s assistant), Bill (a colleague from MI5) and the youthful Kenny (an ex-hacker).
Meanwhile, the viewer knows exactly who the killer is. We see Villanelle, a psychopathic Russian assassin (played by Jodie Comer in what may be the performance of a lifetime), as she makes her kills in Vienna, Berlin, Tuscany and other glamorous locations throughout Europe. Each assignment is handed to her in code by her handler, Konstantin (played by Danish actor, Kim Bodnia – best known for his role as Martin in The Bridge). As the series progresses, Eve and Villanelle develop a mutal respect and obsession for each other.
Killing Eve is terrific television. Most spy films or series fall into one of two camps: they’re either packed with spectacular stunts and thrilling action, like the James Bond or Mission Impossible films, or they go for the gritty and realistic angle like John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But Killing Eve doesn’t fit either of these templates. With its poor tradecraft and botched assassinations, it can hardly be taken as a serious espionage thriller (although events in the UK earlier this year may suggest otherwise) and yet most of the characters play it straight, like their life depended on it, which in some cases is true. Bloody and horrific things happen, yet at the same time, the series doesn’t take itself too seriously, particularly when there are some downright unrealistic scenes for the genre.
Despite this refusal to be pigeon-holed, or perhaps because of it, Killing Eve is one of the most watchable British series for years. The main reason for this is the extraordinary performance of Jodie Comer as Villanelle. Whilst Sandra Oh is fine in her role of Eve, the former desk-bound agent who has to balance her home life – leaving her husband wondering whether his wife will return home safely – with her new assignment of chasing down a ruthless assassin, it’s Comer’s portrayal that catches the eye. In one scene-stealing performance after another, Villanelle effortlessly switches tack from the pouting girl who just wants to be loved to cold-hearted killer, in the blink of an eye, with many subtle variations in between. Equally impressive is Comer’s range of accents – Russian, French and when on assignment in a rural UK location, a fine cut-glass British accent (but then again, she is from these shores).
The script is whip-smart throughout, providing many memorable moments and some great dialogue between the characters, often when Villanelle is ready to dispatch one of her victims. When she throws a party for Konstantin, she appears dressed as him, complete with a false beard! In an early scene, a superior is worried that she is cracking under the pressure, and she hams this up, causing both he and Konstantin to feel sympathy for her. She turns up to the interview in a pink ballet dress and acts likes she’s falling apart only to turn the situation on its head by laughing in their faces. Throughout the series, her comedic chemistry with Kim Bodnia’s Konstantin is evident.
I have to admit that during the first episode, I found the overuse of music a tad distracting but as the series wore on, it settled nicely into a groove and it ending up being an integral part of the series in my eyes (I mean ears). When one of the characters runs down a picturesque jetty to make his escape in a speedboat, the music rises in the background, and you find the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end – it’s all reminiscent of Miami Vice except this time the action plays out on a Russian lake.
The series is not perfect: I didn’t find the ending wholly satisfactory, and there are some strands of the plot that weren’t explored as much as I’d have liked. But if there are little niggles with the series as a whole, Jodie Comer’s performance is flawless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the recipient of some prestigious awards over the coming months. Given that Killing Eve has been renewed for a second season, I’m prepared to give the makers the benefit-of-the-doubt and can’t wait to see what they serve up next. In the meantime, if you haven’t watched this entertaining series, dig in via the iPlayer.