Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag gave us the best TV comedy entrance in living memory and much more besides, and the great news is there’s now a brand new way to binge on the entire show as Fleabag: The Scriptures collects the full shooting scripts from series 1 and 2, together with new insights and comments from its creator and star. Writing for the screen is a team effort, and Waller-Bridge uses a short section at the back of the book to credit all the cast, production team and other helpers who collaborated on the transition from an initial ten-minute monologue to a one-woman stage play to a stand-out TV show. Key to cracking that final transition was director Harry Bradbeer’s instinct for brevity and the use of ‘visual sentences’ to carry a weighty back story. Fleabag is haunted by the death of her friend and business partner Boo, but Waller-Bridge was struggling to get this across without killing the comedy – until Bradbeer came up with the simple image of Boo standing transfixed in front of hurtling traffic. “A new part of my brain opened up,” she writes. “That was the way into Fleabag’s pain. She has such a formidable armour of wit and self-awareness, but drop that at any point… and we’d know that she isn’t OK.”

Fast-forward a year, and series one was ready for a softish launch as a Comedy Feed on BBC Three – which back in 2016 was freshly minted as a digital-only platform – and Amazon Prime. The sharpness and originality of the scripts had attracted a starry cast – including Olivia Colman as Godmother and Bill Paterson as Dad – and it was only a matter of time before the series went mainstream on BBC Two. And by the time series two came about in March 2019 – with new love interest Andrew Scott (the ‘hot priest’), and Fiona Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas in memorable cameos – it went straight to BBC One, and became one of the most lauded comedy shows in all territories, picking up six Primetime Emmy Awards, and being praised by the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian as “a near-perfect work of art” and “the most electrifying, devastating TV in years.”

Love is awful! It’s awful. It’s painful. Frightening… So no wonder it’s something we don’t want to do on our own.”

© Two Brothers/Luke Varley

Fleabag is gloriously off the rails in series one, deflecting her anxieties with acerbic wit, promiscuous sex and casual break-ups, a porn habit, drunkenness and petty theft. But in series two, set a year and a bit later, she has cleaned up her act and is healing past rifts when she meets her match in the shape of the ‘hot priest’ who, in spite of his vocation, has a similar line in searching observation: “I like that you believe in a meaningless existence. You’re good for me. You make me question my faith.” Other characters we met in the first series are fleshed out as a result of Fleabag re-engaging with those around her – gifting Sian Clifford’s Claire in particular far greater range as her uptightness loosens and the sisters re-bond. And perhaps Waller-Bridge’s most striking innovation is to have the priest call out Fleabag’s trademark asides to camera: “What was that? … Where did you just go?” Breaking the fourth wall is one more thing Fleabag must let go of; and this subtly signals that the audience may soon be cut out of her life forever.

“This is a love story,” declares the bright pink bellyband that hugs the boards of the book. And while that statement might defy the expectations of series one, series two is all the richer for living up to it. “Love is awful! It’s awful. It’s painful. Frightening,” remarks the priest as he officiates Dad and Godmother’s wedding as proceedings draw to a close. “It makes you doubt yourself, judge yourself, distance yourself from the other people in your life… So no wonder it’s something we don’t want to do on our own.”

It’s a bittersweet joy to share Fleabag’s unpredictable, messy path to enlightenment, hope and appreciation of herself and others. And on the page, amongst the scores of favourite lines, moments and asides, even the scene directions throw up frequent delights, such as the moment at the end of episode one where Fleabag is in the back of a cab in her bra, clutching the sculpture she stole from Godmother: “Two women. One real. One not. Both with their innate femininity out.

Here’s how it all begins:

INT. FLEABAG’S FLAT. CORRIDOR – NIGHT

Sounds of a woman breathing.

Shot of the inside of a front door. Fleabag’s POV.

Shot of Fleabag a few steps away from the door, watching it as if she’s ready to pounce. Smudged make-up, hair tousled.

Out of breath.

Shot of the inside of a front door. Fleabag’s POV.

Shot of Fleabag. She turns to camera.

FLEABAG
(earnest, touch of pain. To camera)
You know that feeling when a guy you like sends you a
text at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday night and asks if he can
‘come and find you’ and you’ve accidentally made it out
like you’ve just got in yourself, so you have to get
out of bed, drink half a bottle of wine, get in the
shower, shave everything, dig out some Agent Provocateur
business, suspender belt, the whole bit, and wait by
the door until the buzzer goes—
(buzzer goes)
And then you open the door to him like you’d almost
forgotten he was coming over.

She opens the door to a HANDSOME MAN.

FLEABAG
(casual)
Oh hi!

ARSEHOLE GUY
Hey.

FLEABAG
Hey.

Beat.

ARSEHOLE GUY
Hey.

FLEABAG
(to camera)
And then you get to it immediately.

They start snogging violently.

 

Watch on BBC iPlayer or Amazon Prime

 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a multi-award-winning actor, writer, creator and showrunner. She is the writer and performer of Fleabag, which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a one-woman show in 2013, followed by award-winning London and New York runs. Fleabag was adapted into a critically acclaimed TV series, for which she won a BAFTA for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme and Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She adapted Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novel series for BBC America as Killing Eve, and is on the writing team of the 2020 James Bond film No Time To Die. Fleabag: The Scriptures is published in hardback and eBook by Sceptre.
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Author portrait © Faye Thomas

Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer, and a founding editor of Bookanista.
@bookanista
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