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Sandra Oh and Jodie ComerBBC

The 'cat-and-mouse' couples we fell in love with before Killing Eve

Which other pairings had us clawing at the couch with (sexual) frustration before Eve and Villanelle?

Harvey Day
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*This article does not contain spoilers*

As Killing Eve returns to BBC One for its second season, viewers won’t just be tuning in for the stellar writing, the iconic fashion moments or the Bafta-winning performances. No, we’ll also be on the lookout for the electric chemistry between intelligence officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and deliciously twisted assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

The cat-and-mouse relationship which saw Eve travel the world hunting down her murderous nemesis - real name: Oksana Astankova - in the first season, had millions of viewers hooked. Since the show ended on a blood-stained cliffhanger back in 2018, the sexual undertones between this sassy pair have been the subject of many a think piece.

“The sexual tension between Killing Eve's queer leads is almost unbearable,” wrote US columnist Jill Gotwitz in LGBT+ publication them. 

Meanwhile, the show’s head writer Emerald Fennell - who took over from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, for the second season - added in an interview recently: “There absolutely is a sexual component to the obsession, but this is also a show about Eve, who is an extraordinary woman but also an ordinary woman.” 

One expert has even explained the psychology of how this sort of relationship so often plays out in the real-world, in relationships off-screen.

“[The] cat and mouse game allows [a couple] to engage in an unspoken dance,” US clinical psychologist Dr Paula Bruce told a legal website, writing on this subject. “The truth is, unconsciously, the cat is interested in the mouse because it flees, and the mouse is interested in the cat because it chases. As long as one is fleeing and the other chasing, they can each be reassured of a connection between them, but also that a certain distance will be maintained.”

And before Killing Eve, here are some of the other cat-and-mouse relationships that had us clawing the sofa with (sexual) frustration.

Mr and Mrs Smith: John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie)

Mr And Mrs Smith stillIMDB

This US action comedy about a bored married couple who realise they’re both, in fact, assassins hired by rival agencies to kill each other is famous not only for racking up nearly $500m (£390m) at the box office worldwide but also for forging one of the biggest celebrity power couples of all time: Brangelina.

“There is a kind of movie that consists of watching two people together on the screen. The plot is immaterial,” said famed movie critic Roger Ebert back in 2005. “What matters is the chemistry, a term that once referred to a science but now refers to the heat we sense, or think we sense, between two movie stars. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have it, or I think they have it, in Mr and Mrs Smith, and because they do, the movie works.”

And proving this on-screen chemistry, Brad and Angelina - considered two of the hottest stars in Hollywood in the mid-noughties - scandalously coupled up off-screen, even though Pitt was married at the time to America’s sweetheart and Friends superstar Jennifer Aniston. 

“Because of the film we ended up being brought together to do all these crazy things, and I think we found this strange friendship and partnership that kind of just suddenly happened,” Jolie told Vogue in January 2007. “I think a few months in I realised, I can’t wait to get to work. Whether it was shooting a scene or arguing about a scene or gun practice or dance class or doing stunts… we just found a lot of joy in it together and a lot of real teamwork. We just became kind of a pair.”

Their off-screen relationship lasted 12 years, until news of their split broke in 2016.

The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) 

Silence Of The Lambs stillIMDB

Another famous - although much more subtle and creepy - cat-and-mouse coupling came in psychological horror classic, The Silence of the Lambs, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, which sees a young FBI trainee (Jodie Foster) get tangled up with serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). One memorable scene, when Hannibal says he’d eaten a man’s liver with “fava beans and a nice Chianti,” has been quoted in later movies and internet memes.

“Through the bulletproof glass, in dizzy succession, Hannibal and Clarice become… teacher and pupil, father and daughter, lover and beloved, while always remaining cat and mouse,” said the reviewer for The New York Times in 1991.

Many years later, on the Graham Norton Show, Jodie admitted that she was genuinely terrified of Anthony Hopkins - and the feeling, it turns out, was mutual. “He was scary!” she said. “I avoided him as much as I could. I really avoided him.” Later, towards the end of filming, she added, “He came up to me… and I had a tear in my eye and said, ‘I was really scared of you'. And he said, ‘I was scared of you!’”

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The film is now considered to be one of the greatest of all time - with Starling and Lecter being selected as the greatest heroine and villain, respectively, in the history of cinema by the American Film Institute.

Basic Instinct: Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) 

Basic Instinct StillIMDB

The relationship between Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is another sexually-charged, cat-and-mouse pairing that forever changed cinema - if only because of *that* leg cross.

When it was first released, though, critics were divided, with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers calling it a “guilty pleasure” before adding: “This is one charged-up erotic thriller - gory, lurid, brutally funny and without a politically correct thought in its unapologetically empty head.”

Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, described it as "mechanical and routine, a muddle of Hitchcockian red herrings and standard cop-thriller ballistics."

Reflecting on the leg cross that caused a sensation across the globe, Sharon Stone said in an interview that she wasn’t aware she would be so exposed during the film. “[Director Paul Verhoeven] had told me when we shot the scene that the light was reflecting off of my underwear, and that if I took off my underwear, there would be a shadow, that we wouldn't see my pubic hair, as we do in the film, where everybody keeps claiming they see my vagina," she said.

But, nevertheless, Stone said she’s still proud of her powerful character: "It has been a film that empowered women in their feminine - not just their sexual - but their feminine identity.”

Gone Girl: Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike)

Gone Girl StillIMDB

A much more recent example, psychological thriller Gone Girl - based on the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn - centres on desperate husband’s (Ben Affleck) quest to prove his innocence after the mysterious disappearance of his seemingly perfect wife (Rosamund Pike).

“From the moment it hit bookstands in 2012, Gone Girl was pegged as a 21st Century battle of the sexes, its protagonists Nick and Amy locked in a murderous duet, fighting for control of their marriage,” wrote a reviewer for Grantland. “What was a battle of the sexes becomes a game of cat and mouse. [Director David] Fincher knows the mouse can never really compete with the cat, and he doesn’t waste time pretending.”

Luther: Detective John Luther (Idris Elba) and Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) 

Luther stillBBC

Another modern cat-and-mouse coupling, Detective John Luther (Idris Elba) shares a complex relationship with psychopathic serial killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson): he’s tracking her down to try to bring her to justice and yet he just can’t shake his fascination with her.

“Idris Elba has scored four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his role as John Luther, an obsessive, dedicated, and sometimes violent police officer investigating Morgan, a brilliant psychopath and murderer,” notes Marie Claire magazine.

When it comes to Killing Eve, though, star Sandra Oh had the last word when she suggested in a recent interview that because the show’s two lead characters are so indisputably badass, it might be more accurate to describe the show as a “cat-and-cat game”.

We agree Sandra, who needs mice anyway? Except, of course, the OG cat and mouse couple...