Normal People

BBC Three

Darren Stephens
Apr 28 · 3 min read
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The TV serialisation of Sally Rooney’s novel arrives.

I read the source novel last year, and was utterly blown away by it.

The TV adaptation has to do things slightly differently. The novel deals with things in a series of recent flashbacks, usually commenting on and picking apart the last encounters of the protagonists, generally feeling like internal monologues, even if the writing is not strictly done in the first person. Here of course, in such a directly visual medium, that’s not possible without introducing voice overs and adding complication, so what we get is mostly just the events, and a chance for the actors to try and convey more outwardly what’s going on inside Connell and Marianne’s heads. That they do a pretty good job of that is a tribute to their skill, as well as a good script and direction.

It begins in 2001, in rural Sligo. Connell and Marianne are in their final year of school. Connell Waldron is the only child of Lorraine, a single mum, whle Marianne Sheridan is the daughter of a widowed solicior. While they go to the same school they only really converse when Connell shows up to pick up his mother, who cleans for the Sheridans. It’s at this point they begin a clandestine relationship. It’s clandestine because while Connell is popular at school, Marianne is pretty much a pariah. Both apply to Trinity College in Dublin, with Connell eventually deciding to read English at Marianne’s instigation. However, before the end of the school year, the relationship ends badly, with Marianne so humiliated by the experience that she doesn’t return to school before the exams.

Both of them get into Trinity, and meet again by chance when it turns out that a classmate of Connell’s is seeing Marianne. Over the course of their student years they continue a complex on-off mix of friendship and relationship of sometimes searing emotional intensity, with a constantly shifting dynamic, taking in other partners, and their often fragile mental and emotional states.

It’s not always an easy watch, and like the book is emotionally quite raw. Unlike the book, which sometimes has an slight undertow of sardonic black humour amidst the introspection, the TV adaptation is probably more straightforwardly dramatic.

Both leads are quite wonderful, and I had no trouble at all picturing them as the Connell and Marianne I knew from the novel. Both of them manage to bring a sesne of light and shade to characters without the benefit of our knowing some of their thought processes in the written form. Given that the novel is essentially episodic, splitting the series into twelve as it has been here is a good move, coresponding better with single incidents or moments in the story. Fewer, longer episodes would have diluted the focus of each of these, and lessened their impact.

It is a beautiful piece of work. I don’t like it quite as much as the book, but that’s hardly a criticism given what I think of that. But I do like this adaptation an awful lot.

Fifteen Minutes of Mantra-filled Oompah

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