'Normal People' Is the Complicated and Compelling Romantic Drama You'll Want to Binge In One Go

The 12-episode series is based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 27, 2020

When Sally Rooney's Normal People first hit bookshelves in 2018, it thrust readers into a disarmingly relatable love story, following the amorous ups and downs of an on-again, off-again couple from Sligo, Ireland. Teenagers Marianne and Connell have known each other for years, as tends to happen in small towns. And although she's aloof, intense and considered an acerbic loner, while he's outgoing and popular, a torrid and tumultuous secret romance blooms.

That's just the beginning of the Irish author's novel, which then heads to Dublin's Trinity College with its two protagonists — where, free from the shackles, expectations and gossip of their hometown, their roles have been reversed. Marianne is now the self-assured and well-liked toast of the campus, while Connell, although excelling academically, struggles to feel comfortable in his new surroundings. Still, when the two cross paths again, old emotions reignite.

Unravelling the pair's ebbs and flows from their final year of high school, then all through their university years, Normal People won plenty of fans on the page — and plenty of awards, too. As well as becoming a bestseller, Rooney's second book was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and nabbed 2019's Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The next step: bringing this tale to the small screen, all courtesy of an excellent and involving new 12-part drama of the same name that has just hit Stan in its entirety, and will soon be available on TVNZ OnDemand.

As anyone who has devoured Rooney's novel will anticipate, Normal People, the TV series, proves both tender and perceptive as it dives deep into a complex chronicle of first love. One of the show's triumphs: its commitment not only to charting Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Cold Feet) and Connell's (newcomer Paul Mescal) feelings for each other, but to detailing the recognisable and realistic minutiae of being a high schooler and then a uni student. This is first and foremost a romance, and a passionate and intimate one at that; however the series can't tell this complicated couple's story without touching upon everything else that pops up along the way. That includes thorny family situations, different social circles, everyday bullying and painful tragedies, as well as the possibilities and anxieties that moving away from home brings, and the pair's ever-growing pile of emotional baggage.

In making the supremely confident leap from the page to the screen, it helps that Normal People boasts an array of talent. Rooney herself helped pen the TV adaptation, alongside fellow screenwriters Alice Birch (Succession) and Mark O'Rowe (Boy A). And, in the director's chair sits both Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and BAFTA winner Hettie Macdonald (White Girl, Howard's End), who share helming duties.

That said, as smartly written and intelligently directed as the series is — and as beautifully shot, too — it's impossible to imagine it striking such a chord without Edgar-Jones and Mescal. They're in great company on-screen, with Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful) also a standout as Connell's mother. But when you're watching a sensitive and chaotic whirlwind of a romance, and unpacking all of its intricacies, you want textured, layered, convincing and heartbreaking performances to match — which these certain rising stars well and truly deliver.

Check out the full trailer below:

All 12 episodes of Normal People are available to stream via Stan. It will be available in New Zealand via TVNZ OnDemand from May 3.

Published on April 27, 2020 by Sarah Ward
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