I May Destroy You

BBC1, 10.45pm


THE next Fleabag, the new Killing Eve. Since Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s turbocharged ascent from Edinburgh Fringe to Baftas and Bond, these are what every commissioning editor, and aspiring writer, wants.

Good luck with that in these changed television times. The sex scenes from Fleabag alone have become the stuff of health and safety nightmares.

Fortunately, Michaela Coel’s drama, I May Destroy You, wrapped pre-virus. Even luckier, Coel is the real deal as a writer and actor, as anyone who caught her in E4’s Chewing Gum can attest.

The tale of a tabard-wearing shop assistant, Chewing Gum, like Fleabag, started off as a play and made much use of the direct address to camera. Unlike Fleabag, it was raw and working class, more Primark than Prada.

I May Destroy You, which continues its 12-part run tonight, is not as easy a watch as Chewing Gum. Given what it is about, sexual assault, and the fact it is based on Coel’s own experiences, it could hardly be anything else.

Then there is the world that Coel’s character, Arabella, lives in. A young writer with a hit book on her hands and the difficult follow-up refusing to materialise, Arabella’s world is one of late night London, clubbing and rooftop bars. If the only thing that would get you out of the house after 10pm is a gas leak, this may not be the one for you.

We met Arabella as she made her way home from Italy, where she was meant to have been finishing her new book, but somehow found the charms of her surly Italian boyfriend more appealing. Back in London, and under pressure from her publishers, she tried to pull an all-nighter.

Getting nowhere she gave up and went out to meet friends. As we saw from the state she was in the next day, wandering around confused, unable to find her flat, something happened the night before, but what?

For all that she is a writer herself, Coel’s depiction of the life was patchy. Would Arabella really Google “how to write quickly”? Then again, Arabella’s first book, Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial, sounds authentically awful enough to find a publisher.

There was no effort made to ease the viewer in gently, setting out who was who and what was what. That fractured way of storytelling can be satisfyingly naturalistic and twisty, or just plain confusing.

Holding everything together, and soothing away any doubts, was Coel. That magnificently arresting face stopped you in your tracks every time it appeared. Whatever she did or said next was compelling, just because she was doing it. That’s star quality.

Never mind Fleabag rebooted or Killing Eve resurrected – Coel is an original talent, her own special creation. Catch her quick.

Episode two tonight, and on iPlayer