ORIGINAL CHARACTERS Series: Part 3 – Villanelle

Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on Villanelle from Killing Eve.

What is an Original Character?

What is an original character? 

It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. 

It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation or a character that sums up a behaviour or generation.

original, adjective

“not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting…”

— from The Cambridge English Dictionary

Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay. 

For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive an original character is an element of a script that shines through everything else. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of the script need, the original characters stand out. 

Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help elevate great to superlative. 

Whether plucked from real life, an amalgamation of real people in real life or just simply a genius stroke of creativity, these are original characters…

The third in our original characters will look at a beloved character who has graced our screens in the recent years- Villanelle from Killing Eve.   

We’ll look at aspects including:

*The following article contains spoilers for Killing Eve*

Who Is Villanelle?

Villanelle

Villanelle is a psychotic, Russian assassin who (we later find out) is working for a crime organisation named The Twelve.  

In the first series, we do not learn much about Villanelle’s past, other than: her obsession with an old school teacher and that her real name is Oxana Vorontsova.

She was separated from her family at a young age, before training to become an assassin.

Over the course of the three series, Villanelle undergoes a significant character arc and growth. She gradually starts to juggle her career as an assassin with her interest in Eve, and growing sense of conscience. 

Complex, Three-Dimensional Characters: 

As discussed in our previous ‘Original Characters’ posts, it is important for contemporary television shows to present us with interesting, complex, multi-layered characters. This is what audiences have come to expect.

It goes without question that viewers have to be able to understand (possibly even relate to) a character if they are to stay engaged with the storyline for one (or more) series.

This is an essential aspect to crafting an engaging, gripping series. A narrative will fall flat if it lacks strong, well-developed characters. Quite simply, audiences will lose interest.

Characters In Killing Eve:

Killing Eve, a mainstream series, consists of several key players who are carefully crafted and develop throughout the series. These include, Villanelle, Eve, Carolyn, Konstantin and Kenny.

The writers keep us invested and gripped with all these characters. As the series progresses, their individual storylines become increasingly layered and captivating. The writers continually seek to maximise the drama, adding more twists and turns to the narrative.

Secrets play a key role in the development of the series e.g. Carolyn has a much darker exposition than appears on the surface as the series progresses.

It is important to emphasise the importance of original characters being complex. To avoid writing stereotypical, flat one-dimensional figures (and to make sure that you are writing an original character) they must be complex.

Complex, layered characters will transform a mediocre script to an engaging, compelling drama with a narrative that promises to grip audiences.

The character of Villanelle fits this concept. As the series progresses, the writers increasingly reveal layers of her character. In doing so, Villanelle becomes very three-dimensional and compelling.

When interviewed on Playing Villanelle, Jodie Comer commented: 

“What I learned playing Villanelle is that there is acting that can be so full of life and bold that it is ridiculous at times. There was something very freeing about playing her.”

Villanelle – Hero Or Villain?

A Compelling Psychopath?

An interesting aspect to Villanelle’s character is that despite her career choice, she is undeniably likeable. Being an assassin is a defining aspect of her character.

However, unlike traditional on-screen depictions of cold-hearted assassins, Villanelle is actually quite funny. This, coupled with her strong personality, sets her apart from the character norm.

Other Notable Films That Include Female Assassins:

These films feature female assassins, but arguably they are not that groundbreaking. They are not as funny, relatable or modern characters, and it is difficult to imagine them existing in reality.

By contrast, Killing Eve’s writers work hard to convince us that Comer’s Villanelle could actually exist. The contemporary London setting and links to modern life (known locations, current trends) add to this illusion.

Villanelle…

Villanelle’s popularity is a result of both the strong writing and Comer’s take on the character. She is an assassin who we should view as the ‘bad guy’, but for some reason we support her and like her. After all, she is one of the dual protagonists.

Indeed, Villanelle has the traits of a typical villain. She is an assassin who enjoys murder for a living. However, as the show progresses (and her character develops) Villanelle becomes more real and relatable. We see another side to her which is more human.

If we take a step-back and view the series with fresh eyes, we can argue that Villanelle is the villain. After all, she is the culprit the team are searching for (particularly in the first series), and is behind multiple gruesome murders. However, as the series develops it becomes clear that the real enemy is The Twelve.

The writer, Luke Jennings‘ on Villanelle…

“I always wanted to see how far I could push it, and how appalling I could make the character and have people still root for her” 

As Jennings’ says, there is a strange complexity with Villanelle, as she is technically a villain. However, even after witnessing several of her horrific, gruesome murders the audience still roots for her.

Killing Eve: Luke Jennings’ Novel And The Villanelle’s Origins

With regards to Villanelle’s originality, it is important to discuss the books written by Luke Jennings.  

Villanelle is originally a character from Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novel series. The BBC America television series adaptation (written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell and Suzanne Heathcote), Killing Eve, also centres on the character’s relationship with Eve. 

What Makes Villanelle an Original Character?

Jodie Comer’s Villanelle has captured the interest of thousands of viewers worldwide.

But what makes Villanelle an original character? What makes her so unique and refreshing?

On the face of it, Villanelle is a traditional character archetype in the respect that she adheres to the typical assassin character we see in thrillers.

However, as soon as you begin to watch the series you notice straight away that she is different, and quite unusual. Villanelle is actually far from the character archetype.

“Villanelle is far from the character archetype”

But What Makes Villanelle Unique?

  • She is a woman in a role traditionally filled by a man.
  • Her slick fashion sense and use of interesting disguises.
  • She conceals her accent by adopting several other personas dependant on her new ‘character’.
  • The appearance of being innocent (usually) which masks her gruesome murders.
  • She is strangely likeable and charming.
  • She is creative with her kills.
  • Her extravagance and over the top attitude to murder – the deaths don’t always look like accidents/she isn’t subtle or discrete.
  • She is funny, deliberately so, and often at inappropriate times (in the context of murder or violence).

Villanelle’s Character Development Throughout The Series:

Series One

Villanelle Original Character, Killing Eve

To Summarise:

In the first series of Killing Eve, it centres on Eve and her fascination with the female undercover assassin who keeps committing gruesome murders on an international level. As already mentioned, in this series we do not learn an awful lot about Villanelle’s background (other than her name and inappropriate obsession with a teacher).

Villanelle is introduced to the viewer as a deadly assassin who continually shape-shifts and conceals her identity through numerous disguises.

Eve’s growing obsession with Villanelle (and Villanelle’s mutual interest in Eve) forms the arc which develops throughout the three series.

Midway through the first series, Villanelle finally confronts Eve. This is an exciting moment. Up until this point, Eve had been tracing Villanelle’s movements. Is very much been a game of ‘cat and mouse’.

Series One ends with Eve and Villanelle confessing their obsession with one another, before Eve stabs her and flees the scene.

The main thing the first series succeeds at is making Villanelle an alluring, likeable character for both the viewer and Eve. The narrative structure of back and fourth between Eve and Villanelle makes the show engaging. Our interest in Villanelle develops through Eve’s eyes. Like her, we become determined to track her down.

Series Two

Villanelle Series Two

To Summarise:

The second series follows on directly from where the first left off. It continues to focus on Eve’s obsession with Villanelle and the break down of her marriage to Niko. However, almost immediately ‘The Ghost’ assassin (another international female killer) comes into the picture. Once again, Eve becomes determined to track down a murderer.

However, the back and forth relationship between the two protagonists continues. Eve tries to track down Villanelle, and Villanelle lures Eve to her murder scenes. She even leaves behind clues pointing to her involvement.

The writers cleverly indicate Eve’s growing (even if unconscious) desire for Villanelle. She becomes jealous of the assassin’s relationship with dislikable mogul Aaron.

The series ends with Eve going to Rome to protect Villanelle, but Villanelle actually ends up saving Eve and then proposes that they run away together. Unable to face rejection, Villanelle shoots Eve and leaves her for dead.

In series two we learn a bit more about Villanelle’s character and backstory. She is developed further from being simply an assassin. We see her mutual interest in Eve, and by the end of the series it is obvious that this is not just a game to Villanelle. There is a real sense that she wants to be with Eve romantically.

Series Three

Killing Eve Series Three

In the most recent series, series three, Comer’s Villanelle is fleshed out and developed even further.

To Summarise:

Series Three picks up six months later. We meet Villanelle at her wedding. In a comical ‘bust-up’ scene, fellow Russian assassin, Dasha, interrupts the celebrations and calls the newly-wed back to work for The Twelve.

This series follows Villanelle and her character development more closely. The main development in this series is that she appears more human, and displays a desire for a life outside of The Twelve.

  • First she desires more control and stature, wanting to become a Keeper.
  • She wants to reunite with her family.
  • She then wants to leave The Twelve and lead a new life (with Konstantin).
  • Her interest and love for Eve develops, but the series ends with them going their separate ways having made a pact never to see one another again.

This series is where we see a more normal, relatable, authentic Villanelle. There is a considerable shift in tone from the previous horrifically aggressive assassin.

But What Is It About Villanelle That Keeps Audiences Hooked?

Not Your Average Assassin? Why is she so appealing to audiences?

Villanelle is a truly compelling character. Be it her quirky fashion sense, her wicked sense of humour, or her exciting psychotic nature which is both horrifying and compelling at the same time.

The importance of Villanelle’s relatability cannot be understated. Despite being an assassin, Villanelle wants love, family and guidance. Arguably, this is everything Eve may have to offer. This makes her character all the more intriguing and original.

As discussed, there is also a strange blend of the horror/shock factor and comedy with Villanelle.

She makes humorous comments at inappropriate times and seems to thrive comedically off gruesome situations. She’s a master of dark humour.

Something to emphasise is Villanelle’s realism. The show as a whole is highly realistic, and arguably a central factor to its success and appeal.

Originality?

  • Character’s authenticity – she could appear in the real world.
  • Somewhat of a revelation in terms of both character and gender (strong, leading female character who breaks with norms).
  • She brings a humour to dark acts and subjects, carrying out murders, for example, with a comedic lightness.

Her Fashion Sense And Style:

It goes without saying that the character of Villanelle has had a significant cultural impact. Something that makes the character distinctive and attractive to viewers is her extravagant, elaborate fashion sense.

Throughout the series, Villanelle pulls off multiple jaw-dropping outfits. This aspect adds to her appeal, because let’s face it she is extremely bold and ‘out there’ with her fashion choices.

It is an interesting aspect of her characterisation, largely because it makes her appear more relatable (conducting herself with style). What’s more, there is the sense she is someone audiences aspire to be like with regards to her confidence and boldness. The writers cleverly distract us from her deadly nature.

Villanelle’s outfits are a distinctive part of the show’s overall aesthetic and they give constant variety to how it looks and feels.

Villanelle’s Relationship With Eve:

Gender and sexuality is a key theme in the series, and it is largely explored through the evolving relationship between Villanelle and Eve.

The series has an overtly feminist angle – predominantly through the female-driven narrative. What’s more, it is difficult to ignore that Villanelle’s horrific, gruesome murders are typically carried out on men. But most of all, the series is about the complicated relationship between two women. It’s one of fear, lust, envy and respect.

Villanelle’s relationship with Eve forms a narrative arc which lasts throughout all three series. Throughout, Villanelle plays on the sexual tension between them and displays an apparent lust for Eve.

Villanelle’s sexuality is an aspect of the show which makes it refreshingly distinct, particularly in the context of the genre. Many see the character as somewhat of a queer icon.

Jodie Comer On Villanelle’s Sexuality…

 “The fact that she’s unapologetically herself and free with her sexuality — her sexuality was something I never questioned and always celebrated. That’s what’s so refreshing. It’s just a part of her. That’s what I love about her.” 

Jodie Comer on Villanelle for Vulture Magazine

A key aspect of the relationship between Villanelle and Eve is the clear juxtaposition. Eve is a relatively relatable, every-woman (like the typical viewer). She has quite a stable life – married, a good job and a home.

By contrast, Villanelle is un-rooted, travelling from place to place as an assassin. She’s living a life as an assassin none of us can imagine.

It is an element of the show which engages many viewers. Throughout the series there is a strong love-hate relationship between the two, started by Eve’s growing obsession and fascination with Villanelle. 

There is something compelling about their relationship. As a viewer, we relate to and view Villanelle through Eve’s eyes. Eve acts on our interest in Villanelle.

This is an interesting balance. The regular detective and the psychopathic, killer assassin.

Eve might be the everywoman but Villanelle represents our fantasy projection, someone living a glamorous, dangerous life with confidence, skill and flair. We want to explore this character and Eve does it for us.

Villanelle’s Further Character Development In Killing Eve?

Series three of Killing Eve has an ending that feels fairly final. But Villanelle’s character development hasn’t finished quite yet.

Villanelle is a brilliant example of a a complex, original character who defies the archetype. She is progressive, distinctive and charismatic.

She’s unapologetically herself, from her fashion sense to her sexuality to her humour to her gruesome job assignments. Villanelle is a character that expresses herself every step of the way.

Villanelle has paved the way for multi-layered female characters who also go against the grain. She is not a good person, nor does she pretend to be. She is complex, yet we gravitate towards her.

Villanelle is a cold blooded murderer that makes us laugh, empathise with and envy the fashion of. Just in this she feels totally original.

Want to have a go at creating great characters like Villanelle from Killing Eve? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Writing Characters That Fascinate.

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This article was written by Milly Perrin and edited by IS Staff.

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