BBC’s Normal People review: A romance as on and off as the leads’ clothes

Normal People. Marianne (Daisy Edgar Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). Picture: BBC/Element Pictures

Normal People. Marianne (Daisy Edgar Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). Picture: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe/Enda Bowe - Credit: BBC/Element Pictures/Hulu

As the BBC’s Normal People smashes the Killing Eve iPlayer record, we look at what annoyed us about the show and whether a second series is on the cards

Normal People. Marianne (Daisy Edgar Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). Picture: BBC/Element Pictures

Normal People. Marianne (Daisy Edgar Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). Picture: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe/Enda Bowe - Credit: BBC/Element Pictures/Hulu

Sally Rooney’s coming of age love story Normal People has given BBC iPlayer its busiest week ever as millions tuned in to watch two young people have countless angst-ridden fumbles.

In the first seven days following its release on iPlayer on April 26, there were a record-breaking 16.2 million requests for Normal People and more than 21.8 million for BBC Three.

The 12-part series follows Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) and Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as the pair embark on a star-crossed love affair at school which continues into university and beyond and is based on the best-selling book.

Author Rooney co-wrote the show with playwright Alice Birch and the BBC has hinted that – despite the end of the book – there may yet be a second series.

Connell is handsome and popular and he hides a dark secret: he reads books which, when you’re at high school, is as socially acceptable as hollowing out a baby seal and wearing it as a hat.

Marianne is an outsider, a loner, unattractive to everyone despite the fact she literally looks like a supermodel or the heartbreakingly gorgeous Andrea from folksy band The Corrs back in the 1990s.

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He lives at home with his mum who is a cleaner for Marianne’s mum, who owns a mansion and whose other child, some bloke whose name I didn’t bother to learn, is an aggressive psychopath who she fails to stop bullying his sister.

So the differences are clear: popular and poor, unpopular and rich. Then come the similarities: both tortured like all self-respecting teenagers, both self-obsessed, both ridiculously bound up in what other people think of them.

To be fair, I’m sure we all remember feeling like that.

But still – after 12 episodes of angst, I feel a bit like I’ve endured a beautifully-shot, nicely-acted edition of Father Ted kicked through Skins co-written by Morrissey. My list of angsty-teenage moans about it follows, and contains spoilers aplenty.

Issues I have with Normal People:

1) You have to suspend your disbelief hugely to believe that Marianne and Connell are 17-year-olds at the beginning of the show. They look about 35. Connell in particular looks ancient – it’s quite creepy, like Janette Tough’s Jimmy Krankie pretending she’s actually 10-years-old. Lorraine, Connell’s Mum, looks younger than he is.

2) Dress (or undress it) up as you will, watching two people taking off school uniform in order to get frisky with each other feels really unpleasant.

3) We also have to pretend that no one at school has realised that Marianne looks like Anne Hathaway and is stunning just because she doesn’t have blonde hair and because she drops some yoghurt on her top which is “absolutely tragic”. When she gets ready for a dance and wears a dress (PRETTY IN PINK KLAXON) everyone practically needs reviving with smelling salts because they’ve realised she’s not a hideous troll – it’s like the school suddenly grows eyes.

4) The heavy-handed TRUISMS. Marianne is rich and has a lovely house with a garden and she’s got a MANSION in Tuscany but her home is cold and her mother is a stainless steel robot. Connell, however, lives in an honest-to-goodness two-up-two-down with horrid carpet but it is a house full of LOVE and WARMTH because you don’t need MONEY to be happy, right, kids? I know which I’d prefer to be in during lockdown, though.

5) Marianne’s student house suggests that first-years at university live in Instagram-esque glamour huts and regularly throw classy dinner parties when in fact they live in bacteria-ridden identikit halls of residence where the only time they’ll eat anything even resembling actual food is if their parents come to visit and take them out.

6) Marianne’s boyfriend Jamie has literally no redeeming features whatsoever. None. This makes the whole ‘will she choose him or choose Connell?’ dilemma about as compelling as being asked to choose between wearing shoes made of wasp’s nests or sandals made of red hot iron.

7) University newspapers are not that cool. No one whoops if you get a story, because ‘getting a story’ is the whole point of working on a newspaper. There was no drinks reception thrown when I edited my first freesheet, mainly because I was only made editor because everyone else refused the job.

8) I am still annoyed that no one I went to university with has an Italian mansion set in an olive grove where they can feed me figs – and by now, I’ve given them all decades to get one.

9) The mopey navel-gazing between Connell and Marianne is really wearing: can neither of them just have a simple conversation with each other? Would Connell REALLY not have mentioned that he had nowhere to live that first summer? Can they not just SAY WHAT THEY ACTUALLY THINK?

10) THE ENDING. Sigh. Don’t get me started.

* All 12 episodes of Normal People are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. It is also on BBC1 from 9pm every Monday night with two episodes shown each night