Normal People has been hailed as a “small-screen triumph”Watch full episodes now
Nominated for a 2021 Golden Globe for Best Limited Series, the 12-episode romantic drama is now available to binge first on Showmax.
The BBC series follows Marianne and Connell, Irish teens from the same small town but with very different backgrounds, as they weave in and out of each other’s lives from the first sparks between them in high school to their tumultuous college years.
Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds) was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA earlier this year for her role as Marianne, while Paul Mescal won a BAFTA for his breakout role as Connell, with nominations for an Emmy, a Critics Choice Award and an MTV TV Award for Breakthrough Performance.
Normal People has an 8.5/10 score on IMDb and a 91% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In their five-star review, The Guardian says Normal People “captures the beauty and brutality of first love perfectly.” They go on to call the series “a small-screen triumph” and a “near-perfect” rendering, whether you’re completely new to the story, or already a fan of Sally Rooney’s book, which was named Waterstones’ Book of the Year for 2018, ranked #25 on The Guardian’s list of the 100 best books of the 21st century, and #10 on Entertainment Weekly’s roundup of Best Books of the Decade.
Rooney’s adaptation of the novel, alongside BAFTA-nominated scriptwriter Alice Birch (Succession, Lady Macbeth), earned the series a 2020 Emmy nomination for the script.
Normal People also earned two further Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Directing for Lenny Abrahamson (Room), who directed the first six of the show’s 12 half-hour episodes, with BAFTA winner Hettie Macdonald (Howard’s End, Doctor Who) directing the second half of the series.
“It’s really interesting to tell a story of two young people growing up from 17 to 22, because those years in your life are massive,” Daisy says. “They need each other and they settle each other in a way that no one else can really. At times they are toxic and don’t communicate, but when they do, they speak to each other in a way that they can’t speak to anyone else.”
Successfully translating the book for TV meant getting that physical chemistry on screen. “Normal People is a love story,” Lenny says. “So part of the story is this amazing sexual connection. It’s a rewarding and healthy and a good thing that they have together, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such an extraordinary novel: it treats sex and young people in a positive way, as opposed to the dystopian way that that world and sexuality is sometimes shown to young people.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Daisy said of the depiction of Marianne and Connell’s first sexual encounter: “I love that scene. It’s so awkward. For me, it is the most representative love scene I’ve ever seen. Connell is so kind and giving and safe with her that it’s a very healthy depiction of what first-time sex can look like.”
Intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien was an integral part of the process. In an interview with BBC’s The One Show, Daisy explained, “Ita… was just invaluable in creating an atmosphere that meant that Paul and I felt very safe within the boundaries of filming those scenes, because they are so important in the book, and they’re really beautiful in the book, and it was important that they were done with justice in the series.”
The sex scenes were a joy to us … We just had to think about the emotional beats.”Daisy Edgar-Jones, who plays Marianne.
Thanks to Ita, she says, there were no grey areas. “We’re able to have a very open conversation with what we both feel comfortable with and what’s important story-wise for those scenes, ‘cause they’re never just thrown in for the sake of it: they’re always very important to furthering the story.”
Daisy compares intimacy coordinators to stunt coordinators, and sex scenes to stunt sequences. “I really can’t believe that it hasn’t been the norm to have someone there to help us, because it’s a stunt at the end of the day. Just like with a fight, you are simulating something that isn’t real, and you need to make it look realistic, but it’s also important that we feel psychologically safe within the boundaries too, because it’s a vulnerable place to put yourself.”
“The sex scenes were a joy to us because it was [Ita’s] job to worry about how it would work and we just turned up, did the choreography and carried on. We just had to think about the emotional beats,” Daisy told The Guardian.
Producer Catherine Magee believes the key to the love story’s success lies in the show’s title. “Normal People, to me, means that the depth of emotion and the joy and the pain of love is something that’s normal and universal. People connected with the book who were 16 and who were 86 for that very reason; they recognise that the complex emotions in it are things that people experience in their lives. It’s normal to feel all of the things that our characters feel.”
“I’m really excited about people seeing this,” Lenny says, “because I think there’s something special about the two characters, and something really special about the two actors who are playing them. Daisy and Paul’s performances are so compelling that I think by the time you come to the end of this story, you will never forget Connell and Marianne.”