Okay, let’s talk about why Normal People is the perfect representation of first love.
BBC 3 released the series in collaboration with Hulu based on the gorgeous novel of the same title by Sally Rooney back in the spring of 2020 when we were all holed up inside, seeing no end to the dystopia we were living through and obsessively scrolling through all streaming platforms. It was likely in this time, therefore, that you either came across or watched Normal People.
I actually read the book myself 2 years ago when it first came out (I am an unapologetic lover of a good contemporary romance) and was immediately entranced by the stunning yet heartbreaking relationship between Connell and Marianne, two teenagers living in Ireland. The book and TV show take place over 4 years between their last year at school then through their years at University (specifically Trinity College Dublin). While you may be thinking ‘oh god not another soppy romance full of unrealistic ideologies and standards that ruin society’s perceptions of love’ I can assure you this doesn’t even come close to that. Rather instead it offers a fresh and natural depiction of first love and the ups and downs of that journey.
12 episodes. 25-30 minutes each. Two young people completely and utterly in love with each other. A whole lot of obstacles in the way of them happily being together. Now if that didn’t get you onto BBC iPlayer to start watching it then I shall delve into a further explanation on why I truly believe this is a perfect depiction of love in the media.
Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal star as our two protagonists of Connell and Marianne. Both are fairly unknown actors with Daisy having some TV and film roles in her past but Paul making his debut TV appearance on the show. I think that casting relatively unknown actors in the main roles was an essential part in the success of the show as you truly believe they are Marianne and Connell rather than in the back of your head thinking ‘Oh its so-and-so from [Insert film or TV show name here]’ which just adds to how immersed you become in the show. Both give heartbreakingly outstanding performances in roles that are challenging to say the least with incredible portrayals of depression, intense vulnerability, heartbreak and most importantly; First Love. Now I will give you a warning, it’s a highly unfiltered show with little to no parts of the relationship between the two that we as an audience don’t see (if you get what I mean…), but I must say this complete exposure of the vulnerability people genuinely feel in a first proper relationship may seem vulgar but in reality it creates this incredible sense of realism and also beauty in the pure, raw emotion depicted on screen. All of these aspects of the roles the two actors had to perform show two passionately dedicated actors that truly love a show and are willing to go out of their comfort zones to do the story justice. This is completely shown as you watch each episode, becoming more and more attached to the characters and story until by episode 12 I would be shocked if you hadn’t cried at least once during your watching experience, not necessarily out of sadness but just the overwhelming sense of beauty of the show.
As well as the acting, a key thing I look out for when watching something is the score/soundtrack as I consider this vital to a story and can truly make or break it. Stephen Rennicks composed the show’s score and it is utterly gorgeous just as you’d hope. By using constant simplistic almost bell-like noises with the harmonious strings and piano making themselves known beneath it, Rennicks creates this whimsical almost etherial sounding score but it has a deeper layer that I can only describe as pain. When listening to it at first you think its very sweet and quite uplifting but the more you listen to it, the more you hear this incredible visual reflection of what feels like heartbreak. All of these factors contribute to a soundtrack that smoothly supports the show’s theme and atmosphere as it truly creates a sense of both new beginnings and hope mixed with a heaviness of past mistakes and heartbreak. A perfect music rendition of love. Rennicks is also known for his incredible score for the film ‘room’ in which once again he captures a gorgeous mix of innocence and heaviness at the same time. I truly believe he was the perfect choice for this series and created a perfect score.
The cinematography is also what makes this show. Directed by Oscar-nominated Lenny Abrahamson (nominated for the previously mentioned ‘room’) and Hettie Macdonald (Director of the Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’, i.e. the best one). The cinematography is done by DoPs Suzie Lavelle and Kate McCullough. All of these creators use a soft and dim layout in their shots which greatly contributes to how natural the show feels and perfectly enhances the atmosphere of reality yet almost fairy-tale like feeling too in certain parts of the show. Sometimes you feel yourself get swept up into the action of the story, forgetting the real life challenges the characters are going to have to face when the crash back down as you’re just so entranced by the stunning connection between Marianne and Connell.
In short, I cannot recommend this show enough to anyone. Even If you don’t usually go for romance shows or dramas, I believe this is a show for everyone as ultimately it’s a show about growing up and being normal people and that’s something every single one of us can relate to.