I'm not crying, you're crying
I'm aware I'm late to the party. For a straight week and a bit, all I would see on my twitter feed was praise upon praise for BBC drama Normal People. So I finally caved in and thought I'd see what all the fuss was about, loaded up BBC iPlayer and pressed play on the first episode. What I didn't expect was that I then spent roughly six hours of my day binging the full 12 episode series, and in that six hours the show insisted on taking my heart, tearing it apart, putting it back together and repeating the process. To call it a rollercoaster of emotions would be an understatement. However, I'm glad I endured the devastating binge watch, as I can honestly say that this is perhaps the single most important show of modern times, period. It's a show I could talk about for hours though for your sake and mine I'll keep this brief.
BBC Three's Normal People is an adaptation of writer Sally Rooney's best-selling novel of the same name, and centres around the on and off relationship between protagonists Marianne and Connell, who despite the different roads life leads them down always remain an important part of each other. The story begins when both are in their final year of high school and takes us through their lives after, when the pair move on to college. However the transition from school to college life has different effects on both Marianne and Connell, and both are faced with very different challenges and personal struggles in the new environment they now live in. While at its simplest level, Normal People is a romantic yet persistently complicated and tragic love story, the show also explores a variety of themes such as social class, status, mental health, image, social norms, belonging and of course, love. This makes this show not only a joy to watch but also a deep and detailed look into the way people live and adapt to modern society.
The story is a very character driven one, with many of these themes being conveyed not through setting or imagery, but rather through how characters converse, think, feel and engage with each other and the world around them.
Marianne, played by actress Daisy Edgar-Jones, is at first portrayed as a loner. In school she is regarded as an outsider who has zero friends and often keeps to herself. Despite this she exudes a certain confidence that adds more depth to her person. She stands up to teachers, snapping back at them without hesitation, and is not afraid to break social boundaries and challenge social norms. When she moves into college, she immediately adapts to her new environment and is at the top of the social hierarchy. She is a free spirit and remains so for the entire series. However Marianne, while confident in her views, beliefs and intelligence, lacks confidence in how she appears as well as how she builds relationships with others. She states many times in the series how she doesn't feel as though she's a loveable person, and regards herself as very cold. Yet throughout the series she engages in various different relationships with very different partners, perhaps as a way of trying to find what she wants out of a relationship and to truly understand what she wants and what makes her happy. In this sense the character of Marianne embodies the exploration of self-love and finding peace within yourself whatever that may be; while also exploring themes of modern relationships and dating.
However, Connell Waldron is on another level. The importance of Connell Waldron as a character is immense and in my opinion the single most important part of the series, were I to pick one. Connell, played by acting newcomer Paul Mescal, has to be the most detailed, deep and truly real character I have ever seen on screen. Connell in the beginning of the series is almost like the anti-Marianne; he's at the top of the social hierarchy at school, has lots of friends and in general a confident looking guy. However, in reality Connell merely plays the social game well. Deep down Connell is anxious, creative, and a genuinely complex and good person. He isn't like that around his friends, instead playing into the image he has around his peers. However around Marianne, he feels like for the first time someone truly understands him. This is why he almost instantly falls for her. The problem Connell has is that he wants to fit into the world around him but feels he can't do that by being himself, hence why he and Marianne keep their relationship a secret in school; he's afraid he'd get rejected by his peers. Throughout the series Connell serves as an insight into the pressures of being different and complex in a world that wants to be simple. This often results in him feeling desperately lonely, afraid and unsure of himself. Like anyone, Connell simply wants to feel part of the world around him, but feels like he can't because no one truly understands him as a person; that is aside from Marianne. What Connell endures, feels and thinks is not only relatable but absolutely devastatingly real. In a world where mental health is increasingly at the forefront of society, Connell serves as a reminder that social pressures, loneliness, and depression are becoming a normal experience for young adults and young men also, which is something rarely seen on screen.
The directing and cinematography of the series cannot be forgotten. Every scene and shot feels as though its been given meaning, that every moment has a certain weight and importance to it that you can't help but pay attention and stay engaged. The acting performances in the series are also something to truly behold, with every cast member truly bringing their characters to life and making it feel as though you are watching the lives of real people. What all of these elements help create is a show that is extremely relatable and thought provoking, something I feel few shows try and do these days.
The show has also generated a lot of buzz surrounding its abundance of sex scenes. While I feel that yes, it is a big part of the show and is good to explore, I also don't think it should be where the attention is directed. The show features many sexual scenes which in a way help to try and normalize sex in relationships and shows it in a very real way. Not the raunchy, lust driven scenes often portrayed in film, but an awkward and casual experience between two people, and for that I applaud the cast and crew. However, that's all I feel needs to be said regarding these parts of the series.
The focus of the series, as I've discussed, is the characters, the people the story follows and how they grow as individuals and adults in a world where they are forced to adapt and fit in.
In summary, Normal People on BBC is not only a very well made, fantastically written and acted TV show, but also a perfect image of modern life and times, and never fails to be engaging, emotional, relatable and most importantly, real; and that is why for me this show stands above all others as an importance piece of TV history and culture as a whole. So if you haven't already, go watch this series, I promise you won't regret it. I would however have some tissues on hand; just incase.
You can watch all 12 episodes of Normal People now on BBC iplayer.