Phoebe Waller-Bridge 'empowered' to see violent women on TV

Creator of BBC’s Killing Eve says it’s refreshing not to see ‘women on slabs the whole time’

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who developed the award-winning BBC drama Killing Eve, has spoken of how it is “refreshing and oddly empowering” to see female characters being violent after decades of television in which women have been brutalised.

The writer and actor acclaimed for her role in a new series of the BBC sitcom Fleabag which she created, addressed the issue as fans eagerly await the second series of Killing Eve starring Jodie Comer as a psychopathic killer and Sandra Oh as an MI5 operative.

“I think people are slightly exhausted by seeing women being brutalised on screen,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. “We’re being allowed to see women on slabs the whole time and being beaten up, and in some ways that’s important to see because it shows the brutality against women.

“Seeing women being violent, the flipside of that is refreshing and oddly empowering,” she added.

Waller-Bridge’s comments, the latest in a debate that has gathered pace amid criticisms of the depictions of violence against women in shows such as Luther, The Fall and The Politician’s Husband, were backed by the screenwriter and producer Sarah Phelps, who was behind a recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders in which John Malkovich starred as Hercule Poirot.

“An idea has been sold to us in the past, which is that women can be feisty, but what is really empowering now is that we are seeing characters with some really dark and secret parts of the psyche that we haven’t seen in the past,” said Phelps.

“We’re now seeing much more layered and complex characters – that’s what Phoebe is talking about – instead of seeing women as cyphers for warped male fantasies.”

Phelps, whose upcoming projects include an adaptation of the work of the Dublin-based crime writer Tana French, said her approach to crime dramas was to “honour the body” and tell their tale.

Comer and Oh
Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in the first series of Killing Eve. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/Sid Gentle Films

She said: “What is empowering is that the women are telling the stories in dramas. They are not waiting for someone else, a male detective, to come in and stand over their macerated corpse and say: ‘By the way I am splitting from my wife.’ They are leading and defining the narrative.”

Rachel Krys, the co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “Many women are tired of rape and other forms of violence being used to titillate, to scare and to promote myths about what ‘real’ victims and perpetrators are like and how they behave.

“It would be refreshing to see fewer programmes which fetishise violence against women and promote a toxic version of masculinity, and be offered more which challenges gender stereotypes and shifts social norms.”

The first trailer for the much-anticipated second season of Killing Eve was unveiled in February and featured more black comedy and at least one ominous shot of a kitchen knife.

The BBC spy drama, developed by Waller-Bridge, which first aired last year, stars Comer as the ruthless globe-hopping assassin Villanelle and Oh as Eve Polastri, the MI5 officer tasked with hunting her down. The series was a hit with viewers, becoming one of the most watched series on the BBC iPlayer. It also received widespread acclaim from critics, and was named the Guardian’s best TV show of 2018.

Waller-Bridge told Marr: “Strangely, there’s hardly any blood, there’s hardly any gruesomeness that we were allowed to show … There’s a man on the slab but no bits on show. We have just as much respect the other way around.

“BBC America, the original channel, said we couldn’t have that much blood on show, we couldn’t be too grotesque. The challenge was to make it feel very violent without actually showing anything. That’s a very different experience for the audience.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: 'I have an appetite for transgressive women'
The Fleabag and Killing Eve creator on sex, fearlessness and what makes her rage

Simon Hattenstone

08, Sep, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: I was not hired for Bond because of my gender
Fleabag creator says she was never told 007 script role was to help with female characters

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

09, Dec, 2019 @12:51 PM

Article image
I’m sorry Fleabag put my family in spotlight, says Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Show’s creator regrets that guesswork about inspiration for characters made life tricky for those close to her

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

30, Jun, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge defends Fleabag from poshness criticisms
Writer says defining series as being ‘for posh girls’ undermines story

Mattha Busby

03, Jul, 2019 @6:19 PM

Article image
Killing Eve review – dazzling thriller from Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge
The slick miniseries, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, follows an MI5 spy and a dangerously proficient assassin in a female-dominated game of cat-and-mouse

Jake Nevins

05, Apr, 2018 @10:30 AM

Article image
'Coolest night in town': the club where Phoebe Waller-Bridge created Fleabag
Once based in a rundown boozer, DryWrite nights encouraged risk and giddy game-playing – their spirit is felt in Killing Eve and across British theatre today

Matt Trueman

14, Aug, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
What Fleabag did next: future looks bright for Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Creator of hit sitcom not short of offers and hints Fleabag could return – when she is 50

Gwilym Mumford

09, Apr, 2019 @4:37 PM

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: new Bond film must 'treat women properly' – even if he doesn't
The Fleabag and Killing Eve writer has expanded on her role polishing the script for the 25th 007 film – which is rumoured to concern genetic engineering

Catherine Shoard

31, May, 2019 @2:10 PM

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge to star in Fleabag on stage for the last time
The actor-writer will perform her comic monologue, on which the hit TV show was based, for 30 performances this summer

Chris Wiegand

02, May, 2019 @12:35 PM

Article image
Phoebe Waller-Bridge brought in to liven up new Bond script
Fleabag creator, writer and star asked to add her offbeat style to script of new 007 film

Richard Brooks

14, Apr, 2019 @5:59 AM