BBC three’s television adaption of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel ‘Normal People’ has both warmed and torn apart many of the nation’s hearts. Masterfully directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, its depiction of young love is so raw and painfully true to life that it seems to stir the familiar vulnerability of first love for everyone who watches. The screen-play, written by Rooney herself with Alice Birch, shows how language often fails the lovers, Marianne and Connell, in the moments they most need it. Words become suddenly inadequate when trying to communicate their emotions to one another, leading to misinterpretations and pain. These desperate scenarios leave those watching feeling incredibly frustrated as to why they can’t just say how they really feel. When this communication fails, what brings these two delicate characters back together is their physical passion for one another. Although they verbally stumble, there is no questioning of the love shown between them through the tender love-making which is in no way hidden or shamed. The directing of Connell and Marianne’s relationship upturns the romanticised teenage love affair that has been endlessly written and rewritten.
Some scenes are so cripplingly true to life you wonder how the directors have managed to capture them. Marianne is shown as the taunted outsider at school, with a façade that her fierce refusal to make friends is through choice rather than being a vulnerable outcast. However we soon learn that she is a young woman who has been tormented from a life of mental abuse to the extent that it moulds her very sense of self. Connell’s poor treatment of Marianne during their schooldays is often infuriating to watch, as he is torn between keeping his place amongst his friends or following his heart and openly being with Marianne. Paul Mescal’s portrayal of Connell’s struggles with depression later on in the series are so raw they verge on being too powerful to watch. At moments during the series gone is the likeable, laid back Connell. Instead we see a young man who is utterly broken, so beaten down that he can’t even raise his head from his collapsed state as his university girlfriend Helen leaves him.
Masterfully scripted and capturing with complete honesty the struggle of transitioning from teenage years into adulthood, ‘Normal People’ will continue to live with you and haunt you even after you have finished watching it. Its sometimes-slow pace will bring you to moments of frustration, but this is the magic that lies behind Abrahamson and Macdonald’s directing. It is as true a depiction of real life you will get on the screen, and much like life it doesn’t just wipe out the moments that are crude or awkward or uncomfortable. On the contrary, we feel them in full force through the brilliant acting of Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal in the roles of Marianne and Connell. This genius adaption of Rooney’s novel conveys the intensity of a first love while revealing the pain which inevitably comes alongside.
By Lara Keville