Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) are students at the same school in a coastal Irish town. Hailing from two vastly different backgrounds the pair strike up a secret relationship nonetheless, a decision that will impact the rest of their young adult lives.
It was only a matter of time before Sally Rooney’s novel with a devout millennial following would be adapted for the screen. A startlingly well-observed account of the tempestuous relationship between young lovers Marianne (played in the show by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), Normal People saw Rooney hailed as the voice of a generation, meaning the task of bringing her words to screen couldn’t be handed to just anyone.
Normal People lives and dies by its central performances. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal are astonishingly sure-footed.
Enter Lenny Abrahamson, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind Room, whose awards clout and Irish heritage made him a natural fit for tackling Marianne and Connell’s migration from their native County Sligo to college life in Dublin, while Rooney co-wrote the 12-episode series with Lady Macbeth screenwriter Alice Birch.
As a show that pivots on the dense journey of just two characters, Normal People lives and dies by its central performances, and here Edgar-Jones and Mescal are astonishingly sure-footed. In high-school shorthand Marianne and Connell would be labelled a loner and jock respectively, but under her flinty exterior Edgar-Jones brings a mesmerising vulnerability, while Mescal (in his breakout role) muddles the words in his mouth before he speaks, taking great care with the dialogue that Rooney uses so sparingly.
Abrahamson uses location and the occasional pop song to frame the story, but always leaves room for this tender relationship to breathe. For a novel so personal to many, there’s always risk of disappointment, but the detailed care taken here is such that the Rooney hive can rest easy. This is one glorious example of an adaptation done right.
A refreshingly nuanced study of young love, with two powerhouse performances that complement Rooney’s ability to draw out beautiful colours and textures in her characters.