After discovering Irish writer Sally Rooney’s stunning second novel Normal People upon its release in 2018, I was ecstatic to hear the news and watch the brilliant outcome of the television adaptation which graced our screens in early 2020.
The show, produced by the dream team of BBC Three and Hulu, came at a time when everyone was watching television and needed a dramatic escape from the stress of COVID-19 lockdown; Normal People allowed this for a moment. Whilst it served as escapism, it felt reminiscent of the pull of Rooney’s original novel, drawing the audience into the complexities of life. Through stunning cinematic shots of rural Ireland and inner-city Dublin, we are drawn into the world of young adults Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal), watching the two mature from teenagers to grown adults having to navigate their way through the trials and tribulations of adulthood.
For one, the soundtrack is incredible. From haunting covers of classic tunes such Nerina Pallot’s version of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ to the inclusion of one of the best love songs ever written, Billy Ocean’s ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, the television adaptation captures the tumultuous journey of two lovers struggling to keep their lives afloat through the beauty of the screen. The show delves through the highs and lows of relationships, exploring the issues people face when left to their own devices after being so reliant on another being.
Edgar-Jones and Mescal made the lead roles their own, yet their characters hold so much resonance to the original story that the adaptation held its strong connection to Rooney’s work. With Rooney serving as an executive producer of the show, it’s no surprise the representation of Marianne and Connell worked so well on screen. Before watching the show, which I have now seen four times, I was concerned that the realities of young love would be lost in the midst of either excessive style or unneeded substance, yet the 12-part drama valued the sex, romance, and violence of the original story through the inclusion of realistic depictions of these elements.
Exploring issues of love, loss, mental health, and abuse all in the space of a limited series format is a difficult task, yet Rooney’s story offered so much for audiences to explore and understand, presenting real-world issues in a way that shifts the narrative pace, adding a sense of realism and reality. Normal People is one of the best books to television adaptations I’ve seen in recent years, and I’m hoping to see Rooney’s first work Conversations with Friends (2017) get the potential for an adaptation too in years to come.
Normal People is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Watch a trailer below.