Review: Normal People (BBC IPlayer)
A show called Normal People? Hm. Sounds rather average, boring and... normal? This show was brought to my attention by my Mum, who had just finished the book with her book club and then urged me to give it a watch. Normal People is based on Sally Rooney’s novel and is a new, must-watch, 12-part show on Hulu and BBC Three. Without much thought I agree to start it, and we begin the first episode. I look back and laugh at how clueless I was for not preparing for the roller-coaster of emotions and captivating story I was about to endure.
Marianne, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones, and Connell, played by Paul Mescal, begin as College students in a small Irish town in the first episode. Marianne is a complete outlier amongst the other students, labelled as weird, cold and intimidating. Meanwhile Connell is the man of the moment, playing sports and getting attention from the popular girls. The series follows their lives from College, to University and life after that. It is a Romeo and Juliet style romance, as their lust for one another is obstructed by their opposing ends of the social scale at school. Rooney’s writing is phenomenal, as the stakes are constantly changing and unpredictable. Connell has one up on Marianne, before Marianne then seems to have the upper-hand and round and round they go. In-between studying; other relationships; personal struggles and moving away from home, we can quickly see that this is not going to be an easy ride… for them, or us watching! Amongst the chaos of life, they are constantly having to ask themselves ‘Is this ever going to work?’
Edgar-Jones’ and Mescal’s intimate and honest acting, not only leaves the audience investing into these characters from the moment we meet them, but also brings Rooney’s chaotic and sensitive story to life. Is this love? I’m not sure... But we cannot get enough of the coincidental run-ins and ‘what ifs’ that happen throughout. Even though they struggle to communicate and commit to one another, I find myself shouting at the screen in hopes they will just ‘figure it out!’ Do they have much in common? Not really. But we just can’t help but want to see them happy and settled together. Their close-up shots show an incredible authentic portrayal of these intriguing characters, so much so, that we can understand exactly how they are feeling through the simple movements of an eyebrow or a glance. The more intimate scenes are handled with care by directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, and yet they still show the raw and intense sexual attraction they have for one another. I very much hope this show gets the recognition it deserves.
An important aspect to commend this show on is handling subjects of depression and anxiety. By having Connell, an intelligent and attractive man, sit down to confess he feels alone, lost and helpless is another beautiful layer to this show. It promotes male mental health (a big conversation at the moment) and encourages men to not be afraid of their emotions, even when feeling their most vulnerable. Mescal’s delivery of the line, ‘right’, that comes up at least 30 times in the script becomes iconic to signify that he has inner demons. This isn’t just a ‘right’, this is him struggling to show emotion; lacking confidence and unwilling to say how he truly feels. Alas, he finds his confidence to tackle these emotional struggles and we see that Connell is not afraid to cry…We need more of this in mainstream TV!
Marianne is a complex character layered with troubled sub-texts, such as a dysfunctional family life, that doesn’t surface entirely until the last few episodes. Edagr-Jones’ acting is seamless and delicate with her approach to a young girl who feels hard to love, by no fault of her own. It is with sadness that her toxic boyfriends throughout the show not only play on her insecurities, but open our eyes to the recklessness of love. Is it inevitable that she is drawn to men who end up treating her badly because that is what she feels she deserves? Rooney makes us simultaneously empathetic and disappointed by Connell and Marianne’s co-dependent relationship. Her journey of self-discovery makes us want her and Connell to end up together, and yet also leave us wondering if their fluctuating relationship is just as emotionally damaging than her other ones? They are both deeply flawed and maybe that is why, as the audience, we want them to be able to fix each other.
After a total of 7 questions marks in this review, you can see that this show will leave you trying to dissect every character and story-line, still with no solid right or wrong. The beauty of the uncertainty makes this show special. Normal People is a must-see show, with the acting and directing to be congratulated. I hope the stars of the show, Edgar-Jones and Mescal, have many more outstanding performances to come. Grab your tissues, and experience a wonderful story.
Enda Bowe / Hulu