Exploring the complications of a romantic relationship is nothing new – the centuries-old William Shakespeare‘s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ demonstrated the barriers that can obstruct us from living happily ever after. Based on Sally Rooney‘s book of the same name, Normal People follows adolescents Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who begin a love affair despite coming from different backgrounds in the small Irish town of Sligo. Connell is a popular high-achieving student who lives with his single mother. He wants to keep his relationship with Marianne secret, who is also bright but timid and unpopular. The miniseries follows their on-and-off love affair through secondary school and university in Dublin, where they not only struggle with their affections towards each other but with personal changes too.
The series consists of twelve episodes that run for twenty to thirty minutes. Though not generally the format for a dramatic series, the structure does help to focus on the significant moments in Connell and Marianne’s lives through their late teens and early twenties, though certain scenes are fleeting. It feels like entries into a personal diary are displayed for the audience because many scenes are so intimate and detailed, particularly in the second half of the series (which is directed by Hettie Macdonald). How her and Lenny Abrahamson convey the events of the protagonist’s lives is splendid.
Audiences will relate to many aspects of Normal People. A feeling of isolation is prevalent in the series as Connell and Marrianne struggle with their feelings for each other and individual difficulties. The series explores mental health and self-worth as well. In the second half of the series, Connell struggles to deal with a traumatic event, displayed with remarkable poignancy, and Marianne suffers belittlement from her family and other boyfriends, both of which are equally compelling.
The two leads give wonderfully understated performances. Both Mescal and Edgar-Jones excellently capture the insecurities and vulnerabilities teenagers and young adults feel and show superb character development as they mature. The fact that Normal People is relatable is mostly due to the pairs’ empathetic portrayals.
The cinematography and production design also helps in absorbing the audience. Marianne and Connell’s proximity within the frame is often telling, and it often adds to the scene, both in moments of affection and disagreement. There are also beautiful locations in Ireland, Italy, and Sweden that feature. The camera often focuses on the characters’ mouths and hands, drawing attention to the significance of what they say and do.
Many of us have had experiences similar to those Normal People portrays, and the show will likely remind audiences of them. The series is also redolent of the time we live in now and for all of these reasons, it is connecting with people and leaving a profound mark, as love often does.