Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People has become a cultural tour de force since its 2018 debut, spawning a legion of fans with some of her most devoted followers even describing her as the voice of a generation.

Anticipation was, naturally, sky-high for the BBC and Hulu take on the smash hit. Safe to say, it does not disappoint in the slightest. 

Many must have been hesitant prior to watching the adaptation, with trailers a tad underwhelming. Furthermore, did we really need a 12 part show for such a small novel? 

The length of the series means it is faithful, in most regards, to the source material and manages to do it justice while filling in some of the potential blanks.

Sally Rooney herself co-wrote the opening six episodes, showing a natural touch for screenwriting. She injects the TV version with the natural wit and variety that leaps from the page in the text.

Normal People tells the story of Connell and Marianne, a pair of Irish adolescents. We follow their story from the end of their school days through their time at Trinity College in Dublin. 

It focuses on the relationship between two youths who, despite being on opposite ends of the social spectrum, share a deep emotional connection.

Paul Mescal in Normal People
Paul Mescal in Normal People C: BBC

Connell, a handsome and popular sports star, and Marianne, an outspoken and feisty loner from a wealthy family, begin an on-off relationship that forms the backbone of the story. 

So much praise has to go to newcomers Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones, both of whom have phenomenal chemistry and really plumb the depths of their characters.

A fair chunk of scenes involves the two leads alone, with little dialogue exchanged between them. However, a subtle glance or longing look convey more than words ever could.

Both the novel and show give a realistic portrait of what it is like to be in love and the uncertainty of youth. 

It is an unflinching look at how up and down relationships can be at that age, all while dealing with mental health issues of varying degree.

It also offers up an interesting insight into the nature of class and society in Ireland, as the two main characters interact with each other from across a social divide. 

The novel is set during the 2008 economic downturn, where the have and have not dynamic is more sorely felt.

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People C: BBC

Music forms a vital part of the novel, with the series following that lead by making great use of indie, folk and house to suit the moods of a particular moment.

It is wonderfully filmed, with multiple tracking shots used of our star crossed lovers, showing the similarities and contrasts between the two. 

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, of Room and Frank fame, helms quite a few of the episodes and his intimate style is felt.

There are many extreme close-ups that allow the audience to see often overlooked nuances in the actor’s faces.

Dublin, a scruffy yet charming city, provides a much more vibrant setting than the rural community of County Sligo that Marianne and Connell grow up in. 

As they move throughout their lives, the locations seem to reflect where they are emotionally, spiritually and mentally. 

This BBC adaptation nails much of what made Rooney’s novel a modern classic. If this is anything to go by, we are in for a treat when the team behind this tackle her debut novel Conversations With Friends

Normal People is a modern classic that showcases what modern television has to offer, with Connell and Marianne’s story so relatable and compelling that we are left hungry for more.

Verdict: ★★★★★