Perhaps you recognise Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker-Bowles in season four of Netflix's The Crown? Maybe you remember her as Nurse Patsy Mount in the beloved British TV series Call The Midwife? You might have one of her books – Shiverton Hall, The Creeper or Monsters – on your Kindle, or enjoyed a TV show she's written, such as the award-winning Killing Eve?
Or, most likely, you got to know her name when she became one of only seven female directors to ever be nominated for the Best Director Oscar, for the thought-provoking Promising Young Woman, which she both wrote and directed.
However you came to know of her, Fennell, 35, has likely touched your entertainment life in some way without you even knowing. And the under-the-radar anonymity the Berkshire-born Brit currently enjoys is all set to change, as her success with the Carey Mulligan-starring Promising Young Woman has landed her the coveted writing gig for DC Comics' new female superhero film, Zatanna.
From silver spoon to silver screen
By her own admission, Fennell’s upbringing was the stuff of upper-class British fairy tales.
Her father is Theo Fennell, an old Etonian-turned-celebrity jeweller, whose designs, worn by the likes of the Beckhams and family friend Elton John, helped define the style of the 1990s. Her mother, Louise Fennell, is the author of the novels Dead Rich and Fame Game.
"I'm very aware that part of my luck was that I had parents who lived in London who were able to support me," Fennell told the Daily Mail. "I have to work really hard because that head start that people like me get, you need to prove you deserved it."
She also attended Kate Middleton’s old school, Marlborough College, admitting: “My husband calls it ‘Hogwarts’."
Seven months pregnant while directing
The multi-hyphenate told Deadline she "coughed up" the script for Promising Young Woman "like a hairball", but she was also seven months pregnant with her first child when she embarked on the 23-day shoot in Los Angeles in 2019. Giving birth three weeks after it wrapped, she was back in the editing room a few weeks after that.
"It was quite gruelling, but that's OK, isn't it?" she told Variety. "It's not very often you get to make a film."
She's also close friends with Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom she met when they both appeared in the 2011 film Albert Nobbs. Waller-Bridge facilitated Fennell's step into the big time when she quit her job as head writer on the award-winning TV show Killing Eve, and suggested Fennell take over for season two.
"Emerald and Phoebe are really great friends, but they're different people as well," said Killing Eve's producer Sally Woodward Gentle. "They're both ferociously clever, have a wicked sense of humour, they get complicated relationships."
A history maker moving into the big leagues
There has only been one female winner of the Best Director Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards, which was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. This year, two women are nominated in a category of five names: Fennell is one, and the other is frontrunner Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. This brings the total of women ever nominated in that category to seven.
"There's no way of describing it without sounding immensely cheesy, but it means so much and I'm so proud," Fennell told The Hollywood Reporter following the nominations. "It's truly once-in-a-lifetime amazing … Carey and I were screaming and sobbing and jumping on Zoom."
Having written her new movie, Spacebound, details of which are being kept under wraps, Fennell has also joined the DC Comics family to write the screenplay for Zatanna, a female superhero considered one of the most powerful sorcerers in the DC Universe, who sometimes joins forces with the Justice League.
Whatever she comes up with next, those who know Fennell warn that her fans should expect the unexpected.
"I feel like Emerald has an incredibly clever approach in luring us," says actress and Oscar-nominee Margot Robbie, whose production company made Promising Young Woman, "then pulling the rug out from beneath us and smacking us in the face."