OK, OK. What’s so good about Killing Eve? Well, the short answer is ‘Almost everything’. OK, so it’s a load of hokum about an icily gorgeous, ridiculously athletic, wittily multilingual, sexually ambivalent, engagingly psychopathic assassin and the woman who sets out to bring her to justice.
But isn’t everything on telly like that these days? More or less. Give or take the odd detail.
Killing Eve has so much going for it. The casting and direction are terrific and the three female leads – Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw – all give stunning performances.
The plot, though, is more than a little farfetched. And the book the series is based on, Codename Villanelle, by Luke Jennings, is disappointingly clunky. In fact, it’s pretty hard work.
So what happened to make Killing Eve a hit?
One thing above all.
It was effectively ghostwritten by the brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And she has real talent.
Waller-Bridge, who shot to fame when she wrote and starred in the cult comedy Fleabag, took the original material to pieces and started again from scratch. She rebuilt it, restructured it, breathed life into the key characters and gave it an energy, pace and mystique it never had before.
Codename Villanelle has pages and pages of dull description and leaden explanation and hardly any dialogue. Killing Eve has line after line of the kind of sparky, unpredictable dialogue any actor would kill for.
‘I know you’re into assassins,’ says one of the minor characters. ‘But I refuse to talk about them this way. They’re people too, you know.’
When Eve finally comes face to face with the killer, Villanelle is offended by her unsympathetic tone of voice. ‘You should never call a psychopath a psychopath,’ she warns. ‘It upsets them.’
And so it goes on. ‘I have lost two jobs, a husband, and a best friend because of you,’ says Eve, later in the series.
‘Yeah,’ says Villanelle, thoughtfully, weighing it all up. ‘But you got some really nice clothes out of it.’
Phoebe Waller-Bridge probably doesn’t think of herself as a ghostwriter.
But what she’s done is exactly what a smart ghost does, whether the project involves helping a novelist get it right or working with a business expert to turn a bunch of notes and ideas into a successful nonfiction book.
It’s all about seeing the potential and using skill and creativity to make the most of it. It’s all about writing that goes beyond what people expect, that surprises and delights them and keeps them guessing and turning the page.
That’s what we do. And if Phoebe Waller-Bridge ever wants to switch to a less high-profile career, I think we’d find room for her in the ranks of United Ghostwriters. I just can’t see it happening for a while, though, when she’s got a hit like Killing Eve on her hands.
Ian Shircore is the author of John F Kennedy: The Life, The Presidency, The Assassination and Conspiracy: 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe. His latest book, about the poetry of Clive James, will be published in early 2019