Warning: contains spoilers
‘I am worried that I’m Claire in Fleabag’, I messaged my younger sister last week, expecting reassurance that I was not quite that uptight and had a better haircut.
Three dots blinked on the screen...
‘I have seen a likeness,’ came the reply.
Ouch. As anyone with a sister (or two, as I have) will know - there is no relationship so fraught with brutality, honesty, angst and love. That is something Phoebe Waller-Bridge clearly knows, too. Her on-screen depiction of the sibling bond between Fleabag and her older sister Claire was, for me, the key to the entire show.
Simply, it was perfect. I can’t remember a richer, more beautifully observed portrayal of sisterhood on screen - the love that comes from knowing a person so well, yet which can easily tip over into resentment, or hatred. The feeling of wanting to simultaneously hug and kill one another. The pleasure and pain. There should be a word for it: sisterfreude perhaps.
Their exchanges perfectly captured the petty, belittling, hilarity of sisterhood:
Claire: You can’t call yourself an adult just because you put pine nuts on your salad
Fleabag: F------ can
Little wonder so many real sisters have been playing the ‘who’s Fleabag and who’s Claire?’ game. A colleague admitted that she and her sister had spent an entire weekend in character.
It is Claire who is the first to vocalise the tragic truth that Fleabag slept with her best friend’s boyfriend. But it is also Claire who steals back the golden statue (based on their mother, as it turns out) for her sister.
Fleabag might pinch Claire’s clothes and have punched her husband, but she also comes running when she thinks Claire is in trouble, berates their hairdresser and fakes a miscarriage for her.
They are painted as polar opposites - the straight, overbearing older sister and the inappropriate, messy younger - but it is so much more complicated than those stereotypes suggest.
Theirs is a relationship of awkward hugs, silences, shared beds, grief and mutual loathing of their godmother. It is a bond that, even when they seem at odds, is unbreakable. Even when they haven't spoken for months, they tell one another their deepest secrets. It's why Claire's husband, the monstrous Martin, is so appalling to Fleabag.
"You are the problem in my perfect awful life," he shouts at her, during a confrontation in the guinea pig cafe. "Off she runs into the night for you". He knows, when push comes to shove, that his wife's loyalty lies with her sister. That despite it all, they are each other’s rock.
When Claire says to Fleabag in the final episode ‘The only person I’d run through the airport for us is you’, it is is a profession of true love that makes all the other on-screen declarations we hold dear (‘I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’) seem outdated and insincere.
That Waller-Bridge’s own sister Isabel wrote the Fleabag theme music and that Claire was played by her drama school friend Sian Clifford - who Waller-Bridge has said is a ‘like a sister’ - only makes it all the more poetic.
So forget the hot priest. In the end, Fleabag found her soulmate - her sister - again. That’s what fairy tales look like in 2019. As she said in the opening line of the series, ‘This is a love story’. And it really was.