Madness From Nowhere: ‘Killing Eve’


Autumn is a viewing-and-reading time for many people connected with media and the arts. October has ‘Super Thursday’, the day when over 500 books are published, more than on any other day of the year. The London Film Festival is on, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts is running all of its Oscar-contenders. Theatre puts away its musicals (some of them really deserve to be buried, along with ‘The Mousetrap’) and playwrights get serious with great new drama. Football’s back, TV’s better – much better since Netflix and Sky Atlantis – and…wait, hold that sentence.

My God, we may have to include the BBC; they’re chasing the Netflix effect. Could it be that it will set aside its Poldarks, Dickenses and Downtons long enough to produce something from the 21st century? First we had ‘Bodyguard’, silly but pretty to look at, and now something surprisingly left-field, ‘Killing Eve’.

On the surface it’s a zeitgeist box-ticker. Female leads, weak men in the background, diversity foregrounded, sexy locations all present, all part of the cycle and I’m all for it. But it’s not grim and gritty. The dialogue is frequently non-naturalistic, there’s a lot of humour and the premise is utterly preposterous; a beautiful hit-woman is wiping out targets with a variety of nicely silly methods – poisoned perfume in Paris, testicle tongs in Berlin (yes, you read that right).

Balancing her is hangdog low-level security gal Sandra Oh, whose look can swing from gorgeous to bulld0g-licking-piss-off-a-nettle. When her instinctive curiosity gets her upgraded to spy status by boss Fiona Shaw, she finds herself out of her depth in Moscow and Paris. This is not the spy-jinks of John Le Carré – it’s closer to Diana Rigg’s ‘The Avengers’ than anything else as the two women face off in a series of skirmishes that sees them get really up-close and personal.

Writers often enjoy works that remind them of their own stuff, and for me ‘Killing Eve’ shares elements with the Bryant & May books, although of course it’s sexier. It’s set in a rogue unit populated by misfits, threatened with closure, facing outlandish situations, the team defies the odds to close the case. But whereas Bryant & May will never be filmed, ‘Killing Eve’ has everything a producer wants his audience to see; mayhem, action, great costumes and sexy women with guns. It’s filled with delightful non-sequiturs and game-changing twists.

It also annoyed and puzzled me in equal measure. What started as a bonkers assassin chase with a dazzlingly mad villainess (the amazing Jodie Comer) turned into a less interesting spy-swap and finally emerged as an obsessive lesbian drama via an oddly out-of-character speech that has set everyone arguing. It makes you wonder; did the show have any idea of what it wanted to be?

The mystery deepens; where did the series come from? It was commissioned in 2016 and is based on ‘the Villanelle’ novels’ (no, me neither) by Luke Jennings, who is, of all things, the dance critic for the Observer. I looked up the novels; there are only two and one’s only just out. And they’re not novels, they’re novella-length. So the TV side seems to be running the show rather than the books. What’s more, the second season was commissioned before the first one aired.

Presumably it’s the idea that caught producers’ imagination back in 2016 rather than the writing (the books could have been packaged as 1970s pulp paperbacks). I’ve absolutely no complaints with that because it has an idea – what an idea, and what great TV it makes. The gangbusters early episodes tone down to more prosaic telly drama from the midpoint, but even so…

I still have a feeling that nobody – including the original author – has the faintest idea what to do next. Which is exciting and puzzling – rather like the early days of television. Perhaps I’m wrong. Check it out and see what you think.


19 comments on “Madness From Nowhere: ‘Killing Eve’”

  1. Bernard Abramson says:

    Started watching but gave up after a couple of episodes, just too ludicrous to tolerate even as a macabre version of Carry on Spying. I found it even less credible than Keeping Faith which, I suppose, is an achievement of sorts.

  2. Adam says:

    Most enjoyable series that the BBC has put out in ages. It’s clear that it’s very tongue in cheek and lacks any logic, but is all the better for it. I’ve had my fill of Scandi-noir moodiness for now. I just hope that the second season lives up to the first…

  3. Rob C says:

    Bryant & May will never be filmed? A bit definitive, no?

    Personally I’d love to see a series or films, there is such a wide spectrum of story types from Horror through to Musical, with every combo thrown in (including the bones of the best musical horror film ever, Serial killer with G&S )

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    Not watched it all, but it is fun.

    Has anyone seen black earth Rising? I’ve missed it is worth catching up?

    Now I also like the BBC’s Inside No. 9. there is a new series due, it will series 5.

    A female Who and next year Good Omens is due out, the BBC is doing some interesting things.


  5. Rachel Green says:

    I really enjoyed this series.

  6. Eva Balogh says:

    The B.B.C. does indeed appear to be ‘chasing the Netflix effect.’ I’ve not watched so much from the B.B.C. in ages.

    I persevered with Killing Eve but I know people who didn’t. I also found myself thinking that there was some liking to the Bryant & May books. I’m not convinced Killing Eve was more ‘sexier’ though – but I see what you mean in terms of overall visual appeal. Am quite sure Janice, with her Alma Cogan make-up and Mr May, with his silver mane would be tough competition for Villanelle and Konstantin in that department.

    Overall, I was left a little dissatisfied with Killing Eve because of its lack of clarity in what it wanted to be but equally, good to see something a little more quirky on the beeb.

    @Wayne – I am liking Black Earth Rising.

  7. Rachel Green says:

    whose look can swing from gorgeous to bulld0g-licking-piss-off-a-nettle

    Had to drop back in because this phrase is perfect.

  8. Peter Tromans says:

    Diana Rigg’ Mrs Peel in the Avengers, that was something the like of which we’ve not seen for decades. However, I preferred the Honor Blackman’s Mrs Gale, just as much style, but real steel behind it.

  9. Wayne Mook says:

    Thanks Eva. If I have time I will watch this, so many things to see, read and hear.

    There has been a whole bunch of Angela Carter programmes on Radio 4 bunched under the title, Get Carter, a number of them are still on the BBC i-player.


  10. Ken Mann says:

    Watched episode one but was turned off by the self-satisfied way it reckoned it was smarter than it really was. Still a good thing if it encourages genuinely smart rivals.

  11. SimonB says:

    We really enjoyed it, even if it was a little confused at times. And have also adopted Dickswab when referring to some people.

  12. Matt says:

    Our household gave up after a couple or three episodes. It wasn’t that we didn’t have a chuckle at it but It just got on our nerves how silly some of it was. Really! who follows a known assassin into a crowded Night club? Its just wrong.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor’s 13th incarnation? Nailed it. From the moment this happened:
    DOCTOR: What do you mean, ‘Madam’?
    PC KHAN: Well, you’re a woman…
    DOCTOR: Am I? Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman.

    Add to this an ‘A Team’ type construction montage (her sonic screwdriver), and a brilliantly unpleasant alien adversary – think ‘tooth fairy’ and try to imagine a seven foot tall blue, lethally cold one, and youre there. A great intro. Yeah, she’s great.

  14. Matt says:

    Total agreement from me Ian. I was simply amazed at how natural it all felt. Job for life there for her I think.

  15. Berenice says:

    I loved Killing Eve. It was a wild ride and all three main female leads were great characters. In contrast to recent BBC offerings stuff actually happened that progressed the admittedly mad plot in every episode – no long musical interludes where dull characters stared off into the distant scenery contemplating the mysteries of life..(Keeping Faith – I am looking at you!) I can’t wait to see where they go in the next series.

  16. glasgow1975 says:

    loved Killing Eve, it started as self-published instalments, which are now the first novella, wasn’t a fan of Jodie Comer in The White Princess or My Mad Fat Diary, she was too much of a spoilt bitch for my liking, ironic that I love her as a mentally unstable killer. Dr Who, I like it, but don’t love it, dislike the police box as TARDIS vestibule, and her odd grip on the Sonic annoys me – sideways? Really? Nobody points sideways.

  17. glasgow1975 says:

    b*gger my change of email has lost me Spongebob

  18. snowy says:

    G, you’re back!

    I feel we should mark the event some how ……..?

    I know, tonic wine spritsers all round, chin, chin.

  19. Ian Luck says:

    The TARDIS always used to be a ‘vestibule’, with a big set of double doors on the inside. The Police Box part is the only bit that extends into three-dimensional space. Everything else is it’s relative dimension. The Police Box is described as ‘The exterior plasmic shell’, and is the boundary between ‘now’ and ‘now’. It’s permanently attached, (and it has never been explained how), but is also separate from it’s interior, meaning it can be picked up and put on a lorry at the behest of the Daleks, for example, or perch on a cloud at the top of a spiral staircase. It was mentioned once, that each TARDIS is a pocket universe in itself, and were one to land on a planet, and somehow become it’s true mass, it would destroy that planet. Saying that, I’m very fond of the original Master likening The Doctor’s TARDIS to a second hand gas cooker in 1971’s ‘The Claws Of Axos’, and his horror at The Doctor’s bodged attempts to make it work. Oh, and Clara calling the TARDIS a ‘Bad tempered old cow’, when it refuses her entry.

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