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The Crown: meet Emerald Fennell, the brilliant woman making season three so great

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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She’s starring as young Camilla Parker Bowles in season three of the Netflix series and this year she’s already penned the script for season two of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve. This is how writer and actor Emerald Fennell is making these television shows her own. 

When Emerald Fennell was 18 she spent a year living in Paris.

This is where the similarities between Fennell – Call The Midwife star, author, actor in season three of The Crown and screenwriter of Killing Eve season two – and Villanelle, the deliciously amoral assassin portrayed by Jodie Comer in the psychological drama, end. 

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But when Fennell sat down to write the second season of the series she found herself drawing on her gap year spent in Paris to colour her new interpretation of this fascinating and beloved character. 

The first season of Killing Eve was an enormous success, with more than three million people tuning in to the first episode alone. But the show’s writer and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge couldn’t return to work on the second season, so she handed the reigns over to Fennell, her friend. 

Emerald Fennell at the 2019 Emmy Awards.

When Fennell began to ruminate on the second season of Killing Eve, all she could think about was Paris. That’s where the series finale left viewers, reeling, in Villanelle’s swanky Haussmannian sun-trap of an apartment where Eve stabbed the assassin in the stomach. When the second season opens, Villanelle roams the streets of Paris as she comes to terms with her new, injured reality.

One of the early scenes of that first episode sees Eve lurch from Villanelle’s flat and straight into a corner store where she buys handfuls of candy in a daze. 

This, Fennell has said, was something she remembers distinctly from her Paris days. “Whenever I was riding a terrible hangover back in the day, the first port of call was I had to get my hands on some candy as soon as possible,” she told InStyle. “If I had to kill a man, I would get it.” 

Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw and Jodie Comer with Sally Woodward Gentle and Emerald Fennell
Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw and Jodie Comer with Sally Woodward Gentle and Emerald Fennell

Maybe there’s more than one similarity between Villanelle and Fennell. Her name is about to become as familiar to you as her assassin character is. 

This year, Fennell has not only written the entire second season of Killing Eve, but she is also starring as young Camilla Parker Bowles opposite Josh O’Connor’s Prince Charles in season three of The Crown. With Olivia Colman in the titular role of Queen Elizabeth II and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, it’s one of the most hotly anticipated television shows of 2019.

Season three depicts Charles and Camilla as a love story for the ages, one that was thwarted by the machinations of senior royal family members. Remember poor Princess Margaret, barred from marrying the man she loved because of outdated notions of protocol and tradition? The same thing happened to Charles and Camilla at first, The Crown suggests. 

Their story takes over the second half of season three, even giving the series its sexiest scene, in which Charles watches Camilla as she reclines in a clawfoot bathtub, tumbler of gin in hand. Their separation in the season’s penultimate episode is heartbreaking. 

The Crown season 3: Josh O'Connor and Emerald Fennell as Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

“Watch out for your family,” Wallis Simpson tells Charles, in one scene. She has asked to meet Camilla, but Charles admits that he keeps his new girlfriend a secret from his family, lest he risk their disapproval.

“They mean well,” Charles shrugs.

“No, they don’t,” Wallis fires back.

“The weird thing about Camilla Parker Bowles, there’s very little about her as a young woman – which is quite freeing,” Fennell told Vanity Fair. “It means that I’ve been able to get a sense of her rather than being able to do a mimicry. There’s almost nothing of her. No footage of her voice, and maybe on a handful of photos. So I’ve been quite lucky in that regard. I got off fairly lightly.” 

The Crown: Josh O'Connor as a young Prince Charles.

Before The Crown, Fennell became household name in the UK courtesy of her bestselling children’s book series Shiverton Hall and onscreen as the elegant and no-nonsense Nurse Patsy Mount on the television drama Call The Midwife. Courtesy of her relationship with fellow nurse Delia – something the pair was forced to keep secret because of the homophobia of the Sixties era in which Call The Midwife is set – the character of Patsy broke ground on television. Fennell left the show at the end of season six to care for her sick father in Hong Kong.

Call The Midwife’s loss, though, is The Crown and Killing Eve’s gain. Early praise from the first season suggests that Fennell has managed to take razor-sharp, knowing tone of the first season and not only give it fresh bite.

“Emerald wasn’t on the first series at all, but she’s been writing for a long time and also she’s very good friends with Phoebe, and there’s no doubt it’s got all the same humour,” producer Elinor Young told Entertainment Weekly. “But Emerald is her own person, so she definitely hasn’t tried to do an imitation of Phoebe, because that would be really limiting and might become a pastiche.”

Emerald Fennell
Emerald Fennell

How Fennell achieves that in the second season of Killing Eve is by sketching in the details of both Villanelle and Eve’s lives and not just the psychological motivations behind their actions. “We can’t cheat and skip forward and make everyone sexy and great again,” Fennell explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “If you get stabbed, even if you’re Villanelle, you need to find a way out. I want to know how you clean your knickers, and the ins and outs of being a very vulnerable woman, and a woman who up until now has never let anything stand in her way.” 

Next up for Fennell is a thriller with Margot Robbie and Carey Mulligan called Promising Young Women. The movie is marinated in the #MeToo movement, and follows Mulligan’s character exacting revenge against someone from her past. Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment film company is producing the film. 

Killing Eve series 2 - Jodie Comer as Villanelle

Villanelle is back

But this “renaissance woman”, as Vanity Fair dubbed Fennell, is still drawn to the thrill of acting. “I’ve got a friend who says acting is just ‘going down the tinsel mines’ and I agree,” Fennell said in 2015. “But there is a part of it that is so terrifying and anxiety-making. You are in a state of joy and love but also terror.” 

Joy, love and terror? Sounds a little bit like Villanelle, too. And maybe with just a dash of Camilla. 

The Crown season three streams on Netflix from 17 November. Killing Eve season two is available on BBC iPlayer. 

Images: Netflix, Getty, BBC

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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