Review: Normal People

No, I’m sorry, you’re wrong. I am not going to start this review with a cliché and say that if you haven’t seen BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel, Normal People, that you’ve been living under a rock.

On a serious note though, we are in a national lockdown and at this point, you really have no possible excuse for such tardiness to this iPlayer party.  

Oh, dear readers, how I wish my final ever university essay were an anthropological study on the reasons why millennial women everywhere are falling in love with Paul Mescal.  But it’s not.  So, I’m afraid this review is going to be short and sweet.  

A brief synopsis of the plot for those hermits of the hermitage: Marianne and Connell go to school together in Ireland. Marianne is not cool. Connell is. They fancy each other. A lot. 

The series follows their separate and intertwining lives from school, to university and beyond, comprised of twelves episodes which forensically expose the protagonists and their beautiful, yet deeply frustrating, love for one another.

I suppose the clue is in the name. Normal People is about normal people and how, really, the word “normal” is a meaningless, made-up idea.  The characters aren’t really “normal” at all. In fact, ‘intense’ is probably the first word I would use to describe the series, but perhaps that’s because I devoured it within two days. I would recommend stretching it out so as to savour the moment, but I just couldn’t help myself. 

You fall in love with the characters in a way that still allows you to be frustrated with them, cringing at the television, wishing Connell and Marianne would just tell each other how they feel.  Watching their relationship unfold, you feel both heartbroken yet oddly comforted. The viewer’s frustration becomes familiar, reflecting the same well-worn warmth that the protagonists share. 

Daisy Edgar-Jones (Marianne) is arguably the star of the show. At an astonishing 21 years old, her performance is moving and sensitive.  The show tackles extremely difficult topics within sex, mental health and, of course, loving and yearning to be loved.  Edgar-Jones’s development of Marianne reveals internal battles of self-worth, at points leaving you feeling utterly seen.  It is complex yet beautifully accessible. Having watched multiple interviews, I would venture to say that she’s also a really nice person. How annoying. 

Okay, okay. I suppose we should talk about Connell Waldron. 

Oh, how I wish I could be cool about this and say “Yeah, I guess he’s good looking. Not really my type though, you know?”  But I can’t.  I don’t know if it’s the chain, or the Adidas tracksuit, the crooked smile or the Irish accent. The man has got it all. 

I suppose the widespread fan reaction makes sense: the original One Direction fans have now reached their twenties.  They’ve attained some kind of maturity and independence; they are now the country’s doctors and nurses, lawyers and accountants; the obsessive thoughts of Harry Styles and those embarrassing tweets sent to Niall at the age of 13 all feel like a distant memory (just me?)

But then Paul Mescal’s jawline hit our screens. The reaction was inevitable. I confess, I only wish he were doing a national concert tour so that we could all buy overpriced tickets and merchandise with his face on it. 

Or perhaps we would be buying replicas of his silver chain. If you follow any Instagram account this week, make it @ConnellsChain.  It fills a gap in my newsfeed I didn’t know existed. 

Now, we are of course missing the point completely. Not only is Paul Mescal edible, he is also an incredibly talented actor. A personal favourite line was “I tink you’re very pretty by the way”.  It’s enough to make you apply for that Masters at Trinity College Dublin. Despite this being his first on-screen appearance, Mescal’s performance undoubtedly equalled that of Edgar-Jones. I wept through the scene in which he confronts his depression with a therapist. Though the acting is often very pared back and minimal, even within the quiet moments, you feel wholly absorbed within Connell’s contemplations. 

Now, I know everyone is very, very busy knitting, playing the flute and teaching themselves a fifth language. But I urge you to watch (or, like me, rewatch) this series and escape into a world with more physical contact than we could ever dream of. 

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