Phoebe Waller-Bridge is my current writing idol. Creator of one woman stage show, Fleabag, which has just completed a gripping second series for the BBC, as well as screenwriter for the breathtaking Killing Eve, Waller Bridge is the one to watch.
Fresh out of Drama School, and unable to find female roles that she desired to play or even felt she could play, Waller Bridge decided to write something for herself. In Fleabag, which is her own family nickname,she created a fictional character who is sexually promiscuous, brash and deeply tormented, yet also incredibly funny and relatable. Waller-Bridge is great at creating gripping characters, particularly women, who are often unapologetic about their actions, their sexuality or their connections in life. Women who are strong and confident, while also unashamed to admit their fears and desires, without needing to explain themselves or their positions as women in society.
Fleabag is complicated. She struggles to come to terms with traumatic past events, which leads to addictions to alcohol and sex, and several amusing verbal outbursts, often as added asides to camera where her feelings cannot be contained. Her family is completely dysfunctional. Her Sister, while attempting to untangle herself from any family associations, is incredibly similar to Fleabag in her reactions to events, and together Fleabag and Claire (Sian Clifford) have a connection that pulls them back to each other, particularly in times of trouble. They are vicious and unforgiving to each other, but they stand up for, and even lie to protect, each other. In the second series, Fleabag’s ‘little miscarriage’ outburst at a family meal, brings all kinds of trouble.
Olivia Coleman is brilliant as Fleabag’s new step mum. Former Godmother to Fleabag and Claire, it seems she has slipped into the family unit quite comfortably. Her sly and snide comments to Fleabag and irritating ways make for comedy gold. Yet she is narcissistic and self obsessed, threatened by her new husband’s family. It’s heartbreaking how Fleabag’s Father (played to great effect by Bill Paterson) seems to ignore his future Wife’s behaviour. When he sees her slap his daughter across the face, then try and hide what she’d done by straightening the coats on the coat rack, he does nothing. Fleabag seems unsurprised by this and it’s never brought up again. From comments made by her Father, we gather that Fleabag is much like her Mother. Suggesting her Father was rather passive in the relationship. Paterson’s character is likeable yet also frustrating. He is often awkward, uncomfortable and unsure of himself. He dislikes confrontation and avoids any form of debate, yet clearly loves his daughters. Scenes from season 2, where Fleabag physically helps him down the aisle to marry her hated step mother, are quite moving.
While Fleabag has been labelled as shocking and controversial by some when it first appeared on our screens, in 2016, probably due to the nature of it’s themes, it has been received with great love and admiration by the masses. It’s heavy on the sex, swearing and even bringing female masturbation into the fore. (One scene featuring a news report of Obama is particularly shocking). As series one develops, we begin to learn more about this sex obsessed, drinking, smoking, swearing woman. She is much like anyone else, in that she is trying to cover the pain of loss and regret, to connect with her dysfunctional family and to find some form of happiness in modern existence. In Fleabag, Waller-Bridge has created a representation for the modern woman, or man even. she celebrates the broken people, the struggling, the dysfunctional, the average. Fleabag is unapologetic, she stands up for what she believes in, for what is right, for her family and friends. Her Brother-in-Law, Martin (played by American Brett Gelman) is a horrible person, who doesn’t appreciate his wife at all. She despises him, much as we do as an audience, encouraging her sister to chase the happiness she deserves with a fellow colleague, whose name, ironically, is Klare.
Her friend Boo is funny and outrageous, much like Fleabag, as well as being sweet and affectionate and the loss of her, as well as events around it, have deeply affected our heroine.
Fleabag holds regret in her heart and feels pain for any wrongdoing. She is ultimately a good person. Her asides to camera, act like little confessions to the audience, and make us feel part of her world. Her mischievous streak is thrilling, from stealing a small, priceless statue from her step mother, to purchasing a vibrator for her sister, and even falling for the (very) wrong man.
Season 2, is arguably stronger than the first, as we see more depth to Fleabag, and we are introduced to one of the most magnetic characters in TV since Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy. Andrew Scott breaths new life into the series, as the priest who is set to marry Fleabag’s Father and God Mother.
Scott has excelled in any role that I’ve seen him in. The most memorable as Moriarty in the BBC series of Sherlock (by Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss). More recently he portrayed a struggling widower who had a grievance against a social media giant in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror for Netflix.
In Fleabag, Scott is a dedicated new Vicar (who also happens to drink and swear!) who becomes involved with the family while helping to arrange the wedding. He takes pity on Fleabag when a family dinner turns into a punch up, and she reveals falsely that she had ‘a little miscarriage’ while covering for her sister. From there, their friendship grows and Fleabag is clearly attracted to him. The chemistry between them both is incredible, so when they finally get together, we are ecstatic. Yet the constant reference to God, including some striking choral music, leaves us uneasy. The musical score was actually created by Isobel Waller-Bridge, and sharing the family’s comedic gene, many of Greek or Latin words used in the score are words for Male and Female private parts.
The idea of God making a painting fall from the wall of the church as a warning for the Priests behaviour, is brilliant, and shows Waller- Bridge at her writing best. Some of Boo’s lines are also funny and heart warming, particularly when she is talking about erasers on pencils.
‘That’s why they have them, because people make mistakes.’
This line of Boo’s seems to sum up Fleabag’s character and mindset. She is forever paying for her mistakes.
The Priest’s ultimate reasons to why he can’t be with Fleabag, are heartbreaking. The way the series ends suggest another may be in sight, yet Waller- Bridge has made speculations that she wants to leave the series at this point. The West End show, on which the series was originally based, is currently in the West End and being screened live in cinemas next month, which should surely stir up appetite for more?