I, like many others at the moment, have spent the past two weeks watching the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s brilliant novel, Normal People, and you should too. Since I have already written a review of the book (which you can find here), this post will focus more on how well I felt it translated to the screen, rather than my general thoughts on the story and characters.
I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed watching this adaptation and I think this may be because it did not deviate very far from the book. The producers of the show clearly understood the success of the novel and that to change too much when adapting it for the screen would not replicate the same success. Instead the subtlety of the novel translates beautifully into the show which brilliantly tows the line between what should go unsaid and informing the audience of just enough for them to connect with the story.
Another favourite aspect of the TV adaptation of mine was the cinematography. This was a beautifully shot show with incredible images of rural Ireland. I think this greatly contributed to allowing for things to go unsaid because the audience was given enough just from a single shot of Connell and Marianne that there was no need for any words.
An interesting choice in the TV adaptation was to soften the character of Marianne’s mother. In the book, Marianne’s mother is depicted as very cold, distant and unfeeling and while this can also be said for the character in the TV show, there are a few scenes between Marianne and her mother that attempt to humanise her. The first instance of this is a conversation between Marianne and her mother about Dublin, as Marianne is about to head to college there and so her mother is sharing her experiences there.
The second instance is later on in the series and a much more fraught interaction about Marianne’s brother’s aggressive behaviour towards her. Marianne blames her mother for not doing anything to stop him and her mother responds by pointing out that there’s nothing she can do; he’s her child and she can’t just throw him out of the house. This interaction seems to alter our perspective of her by humanising her and presenting her as being as much of a victim and as trapped as Marianne, where the book exclusively presents her from Marianne’s perspective as cold and uncaring.
Finally, I want to mention one particular scene that I thought was brilliant; when Connell is talking to his therapist. This scene was incredible to watch because it was completely stripped back, with very simple shots of Connell explaining how he is coping, or rather not coping, with his depression. At this point I will give credit to Paul Mescal for his beautifully raw performance which is particularly clear in a long close up shot focused on his face as he breaks down attempting to express what he is dealing with. The vulnerability captured in this scene is truly impressive.
I think that anyone who loved the book will definitely love this show as it is a brilliantly made adaptation that gets everything right.
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