REVIEW: ‘Normal People’ (2020) by Sally Rooney – From Page to Screen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘There is a true demonstration of the vulnerability and fragility between Connell and Marianne, a beautiful story is portrayed.’  

What does it mean to be normal? To fit in? To feel accepted by society?

Sally Rooney’s Normal People, winner of the 2018 Costa Novel Award, premiered on BBC3 at the end of April. Having read the book, with its nonlinear narrative and lack of speech marks, it was exciting to see how it would translate on to the screen.  

Set between Sligo and Dublin in Ireland, Normal People focuses on the relationship between two very different students, Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones.) Both actors truly bring these characters from the novel to life, by perfecting exact nuances and details throughout.

Connell and Marianne attend school together but start to become close because Connell’s mother works in Marianne’s home. They begin a secret relationship, due to differences in friendship groups, class, and personas. They both apply for college at Trinity, Connell changing his mind from Law to English, and Marianne applying for History and Politics. Although a little cliched and predictable at times, the story continues and sees the two drifting apart from each other as they finish school and their final exams.

Source: BBC Pictures

The intimacy is beautifully described in the book through Rooney’s narration and use of internal monologue, and is portrayed equally beautifully on screen. There is a true demonstration of the vulnerability and fragility between Connell and Marianne, which is beautifully acted with sincerity. With this comes trust, Ita O’Brien worked as the series Intimacy Coordinator in order to make sure the actors felt comfortable, and said: “Those scenes chart the delicacy, the beauty, the openness of this incredible, something-other relationship. It was crucial for me to honour Sally’s writing. There is nothing gratuitous. But there is also a lot of sex.” 

Time passes and remaining just as friends, a particular favourite part in the series is when Connell and friends go to Italy, staying in Marianne’s Italian holiday home. The Italian countryside is a beautiful backdrop in this episode as tensions rise awkwardly and frustratingly over dinner. An interesting conversation is also had here about the power of money.

Fast forwarding swiftly to the end of the series, Rooney’s ending for these two characters is so beautiful and numbing to watch. The directors use of flashbacks throughout the final episode is clever, reminding us just how much Connell and Marianne have progressed within the story. The growth and acceptance they both now have for themselves and each other is powerful to watch.

An inspiring story of love, loss, and growth. A refreshing approach to the understanding of normality, Normal People cannot be recommend enough!

Based on the novel by Sally Rooney

Dir: Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald

Prod: Catherine Magee

Cast: Daisy Edgard-Jones, Paul Mescal, Sarah Greene, Leah McNamara, Sebastian De Souza, Aislin McGuckin, India Mullen, Desmond Eastwood, Fionn O’Shea, Eliot Salt, Aoife Hinds, Frank Blake.

Release Date: 2020

Available on BBC3 iPlayer and Hulu.