Normal People, review: A masterpiece of love’s assertion

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We are living through an extraordinary period. One we never imagined at the start of the year, separated prolongingly from those we cherish. Admits the tally of suffering that we have despairingly been subjected to, either personally or via the Ten O’clock News, we look to make the present less pervasive to bear (in some shape or form). Entertainment can be the medium to do just that. Whether it is a zany sitcom or a jaw-dropping drama, a sign of a great show are its characters. As viewers, the people we see on screen can help us empathise with things going on in our lives. In coping with our vivid emotions, many viewers (myself included) wish for a sense of belonging – and shows can connect us with feelings that feel lost. A show that does just that is the newly released Normal People (BBC3).

Based on Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel of the same title, the story follows the complex relationship of two students from County Sligo, Ireland. Connol Waldren (Paul Mescal) is a popular but shy guy that has a secret out-of-school relationship with Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a girl known for her feisty and less-than-popular persona. As well as attending the same school, Connol’s mum, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) works long hours as a cleaner for Marianne’s mum, Denise (Aislín McGuckin). Throughout the 12-episodes (30 minutes each), we see the journey of these two as they figure out their relationship with one another. Both of them decide to enrol to Trinity College, Dublin. There, the two see their fortunes turn. Connol struggles to adjust to higher education, whereas Marianne thrives on new-found popularity. Weaving in and out of each other lives, undergoing separate stints in the process, the bond between the protagonists sees them shed light on their traumas and insecurities. Connol battles with depression after the death of his friend, Rob (Eanna Hardwicke), and Marianne’s copes with the toxic relationship with her abusive brother, Alan (Frank Blake).

Whether you have read the book or not, it is safe to say that this is a winner and has only grown in popularity during the lockdown. Perhaps the best show the BBC has produced since Luther. Enveloping themes of affection, secrecy, and more, Normal People has a real cinematic quality to it. Many of the scenes are beautifully shot and framed. Directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald used lighting to vivid use as a way to represent tone. From Marianne’s lonely year abroad in snow-hit Sweden, to her and Connol’s first time having sex since secondary school in the golden haze of her apartment. The on-screen chemistry between the leads is fantastic, encapsulating what Rooney had in mind. A performance that is mature of their ages, the two’s formative experiences – their first kiss, Marianne losing her virginity, the acquisition of empathy – is present and believable. Moreover, the supports fit perfectly into each character’s arc and makes for an extremely driven and focused production that does not fall short one bit. And despite the repetitive use of jump-cuts in the transitions, it feels smooth, allowing the viewer to adjust to the new surroundings with either Connol or Marianne.

There is a real fragility to Normal People which may sound problematic in the grand scheme of things (living through a deadly pandemic). But on second thought, it has wistfulness that conjures up memories of old – especially the melancholic soundtrack. From Nerina Pallots’ sombre cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ during the mournful train journey to Venice, to Frank Ocean’s radiant and autotuned ‘Nikes’ at a drunken house party. Music aside, Normal People asserts the power of love and togetherness at a time when we need it most. The final scene captures a special moment between Connell and Marianne, forever bonded to each other by a shared history shared with no one else but themselves. A stunning and relatable adaption worthy of praise, Normal People is a grand achievement in storytelling and a stunning reminder (in uncertain times) that the challenges we face in life will only serve as guidance in not only finding out who we are, but also how we can take things forward, together.

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