Normal People review: An intimate love story faithful to Sally Rooney’s novel

BBC Three and Hulu’s new series Normal People transports viewers into the interconnected lives of Marianne and Connell. Eagerly anticipated since it was first announced back in 2019, the show lands in full on BBC iPlayer today – and here’s why it’s well worth your time.

As far as the list of unadaptable novels goes, it would be a fair suggestion to place Sally Rooney’s Normal People quite high up.

The intimate, inner monologue-driven novel cares less about the dialogue television usually relies on and more about the things we don’t say.

This is why when BBC Three’s new series opened with a slow-paced episode following a young Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) on a seemingly mundane day, it’s fair to say the nerves kicked in.

But bear with it and you will not be disappointed as the world director Lenny Abrahamson and his fellow producers create is just as compelling as its two leads.


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And as soon as episode two begins, you’re with Marianne and Connell totally on this unexplainable ride of two people who can’t let go of each other despite the pain they cause.

A huge part of this is down to the casting of actors who feel like they just stepped out of Rooney’s writing – Paul Mescal as Connell and Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, these two are the protagonists of the story who you first meet in their final year of school in Carricklea, County Sligo.

While the pair rarely share a word at school, their paths cross because Connell’s mother works at Marianne’s family home and they soon embark on a friends-with-benefits relationship.

But where the series really comes alive, as the story does in the novel, is when it follows our leads as they head to Trinity College, Dublin.

Here they deal with those terrifying, formative university years and all the troubles they bring along with it.

All the while, viewers follow these two people who find themselves always drawn back to each other through heartbreak, misunderstandings and all-consuming love.

Of the two leads, Edgar-Jones is the slightly more recognisable one thanks to her turns in Cold Feet and The War of the Worlds but in the series she so instantly becomes Marianne it is difficult to see her as anything but.


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However, it would be difficult to argue the first few episodes do not belong to Paul Mescal’s Connell.

A slightly harder to reach entity in Rooney’s novel, Mescal presents fans with the tangible person through a sensitive, charismatic performance.

As the enigmatic Connell, he takes advantage of any silences as if they were rolling monologues – as well as packing the emotional punches required (the heart-rendering phone call at the end of episode three springs to mind).

Great as the performances are, it is also Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald’s direction, which makes the show seem so faithful to the novel while also adding something extra.


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Some of the intimate camera shots, similar to the closeness of Abrahamson’s Oscar-winning film Room, translate so well here at capturing the connection between the characters.

They’re also helped by the generosity of a 12-part drama (rare for the BBC) to really allow everything inch of this dynamic to be explored.

Through its sensitive performances and compelling execution, it’s easy to see this will be a series set to thrill Rooney fans.

And who knows, maybe it will also win over the uninitiated viewer to the brilliance of Normal People as well.

The first four episodes of Normal People were made available for review.

Normal People is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now and will air in double installments on Mondays at 9pm on BBC One.

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