Hulu and BBC1’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel ‘Normal People’ is at once tear-jerking and grin-inducing. It’s troubling and sweet and rare.
During the twelve-part series, intimate scenes between Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal make up the non-linear plot of the show. It progresses, yes, but mainly as the two navigate their tangled relationship made up of class and power differences and battles with mental health.
While it’s rare to find a person you so deeply love as early as they did, the issues they encounter feel relatable. “Will he still like me if he knows I’m damaged?” “Will she pity me if I ask her if I can move in?” “Should I move away to advance my career or stay with the person I love?” and the list goes on.
At first glance, the setup seems cliché. It’s a story of first love with the class and popularity differences. Yet, as the show progresses, it reveals so much more, indicative of a long-lasting, mutual relationship. Early on, that respect manifests in the physical intimacy that’s such a dominating part of their relationship.
‘Normal People’ does so many things right when it comes to consent that the first sex scene should be obligatory viewing. “Is this okay?” Connell asks. “Yes, I like that,” Marianne responds. “If anything doesn’t feel okay, we can stop.” It’s not perfect, as the frame, as always, pans in on the couple. They giggle when her shirt gets stuck, they gaze over each other’s equally nude bodies, vulnerable yet electric. It’s real, showing the often awkwardness of sex while navigating each other’s bodies in heavy breathing.
As the plot accelerates through Marianne’s several boyfriends and Connell’s girlfriends, the two always make their way back to each other. “I want you back in my life,” Marianne says, once. The comfort they feel in each other’s company makes his and her presence fundamental: “It’s not like this with other people.” Their relationship changes and grows based on the necessity of being involved. One is never always the protector; one is not always the victim. They equally save each other in separate times of need.
The series culminates in an ode to love, in all its forms, including that of friendship, intimacy, and even motherhood. A book like Normal People, with its internal monologues and intense examination of character, is difficult to put to screen. But this show gets it exactly right.