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The stakes were really high: the stars bringing Sally Rooney's Normal People to TV

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones play Connell and Marianne in the BBC/Hulu adaptation of the phenomenal bestseller. They discuss sex scenes and millennial traits.

Though fans will hope and trust that a TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People would not shy from the novel’s sexual intimacies, it keeps us waiting a while – it is not until the second episode that undercover teenage lovers Connell and Marianne get under the covers for the first time. For a few seconds, it all seems to be going comically wrong, as her arms and her ponytail flail above her head, trapped in her pull-off bra. But then her face emerges, shiny with trust and desire, and the fireworks begin. “I love that scene,” says Daisy Edgar-Jones. “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.”

This might make it sound a bit PG, but as her co-star Paul Mescal quickly chips in: “It’s not clinical. It’s loving and romantic and sexy because you see two minds coming together.” To describe the adaptation as hotly anticipated is an understatement. Rooney herself has co-scripted six of the episodes in collaboration with award-winning playwright and story editor on series two of HBO’s Succession Alice Birch, who recalls “hoovering up” the novel in a jetlagged blur and immediately emailing her agent to say she was desperate to adapt it. “I felt very emotional about those two people. I don’t often have this feeling. In our industry, we can be quite quick to enjoy a book and then immediately think about how to hack it to bits for the screen.”

Birch is in good company. Practically as soon as Rooney hit the literary world with her debut novel Conversations With Friends in 2017, she became a calling card for anyone who aspired to be seen as culturally attuned. Her novels were Instagrammed alongside chai lattes atop piles of on-trend books. She was name-dropped on Twitter by actors Lena Dunham and Sarah Jessica Parker, was featured in Florence + the Machine’s fan book club, and was ranked high in books of the year charts by British Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine. But she was also recognised as a writer’s writer. “It is a long time since I cared so much about two characters on a page,” wrote author Anne Enright in the Irish Times, when Normal People was published a year later.

Novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry, who took over from Enright as laureate for Irish fiction, says: “There is a uniqueness in Sally Rooney, not only in her absolutely crystal clear style, but also in her universal success. It is difficult to identify a comparable moment in Irish writing, both in its breadth and its immediacy, unless you can go back to the impact that the novel, and more particularly the film, of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments had in the early 1990s. There are other equally radiant careers, more conventionally spread over decades, like Anne Enright’s, or Colm Tóibín’s, but the suddenness of Sally Rooney, the almost abrupt arrival, reminds me more of a figure like Martin McDonagh in the theatre. There is a time before Sally Rooney and a time after.”

Source The Guardian.

02.06.2020 13:06

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