Sunday, 21 June 2020

Normal People triumphs in the ‘new normal’



When we went into lockdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fox's Anglo-French adaptation (I use the term very loosely) of War of the Worlds had already started. It was certainly no seminal sci-fi mini-series (read Andrew Lewin's review here), but I stoically stuck with it unlike the much-maligned BBC adaptation which wasn't helped by being scheduled after BBC/HBO's phenomenal His Dark Materials in the run-up to last Christmas - seemingly several lifetimes ago in the wake of our shared trauma.

Daisy Edgar-Jones played Emily Gresham who regained her eyesight whenever near an alien invader. For a while, War of the Worlds was a fun post-apocalyptic romp in the style of The Walking Dead until it became abundantly clear we weren’t going to see any tripods! Le sigh!

The later episodes washed over me in a comfortingly forgettable fashion given the emergent coronavirus crisis and the knowledge that, like so many, I would need to shield due to disability and asthma. Seeing family and friends would be reserved for social media, FaceTime and fond memories for the foreseeable future.



So, when Normal People, a BBC co-production with Hulu, started streaming on BBC iPlayer with considerable fanfare, I didn't appreciate it was the actress from War of the Worlds, playing Marianne opposite newcomer Paul Mescal's Connell, until a few episodes into this astonishing adaptation of Sally Rooney's award-winning book about millennials.

Amidst the modern day trappings of 24/7 digital connectedness and iPhones (I belatedly jumped onto the bandwagon with the new SE), Edgar-Jones and Mescal’s performances harken back to the silent era in this bittersweet examination of first love imbued with bokeh beauty. The brittleness of their on-off relationship distilled in lush, aching, glances. The leads inhabit their roles from divergent worlds so absolutely; a former college lecturer and family friend suggested I should never read the book; wise words.



The series, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald, triggered a multiplicity of marvellous and malignant memories from high school, college and university. Cognisant of the, crushingly, inescapable notion of imposter syndrome haunting so many of us throughout our lives.

How I yearned for a place at drama school as I tackled, with the support of family and NHS healthcare professionals, the challenging aftermath of a traumatic life-changing head injury. Finding myself mocked and ridiculed for being the only school student with a visible disability who had romantic crushes like everyone else.

Alas, there was no TARDIS, X-wing or Batmobile (Edgar-Jones reminds me of Anne Hathaway who played Catwoman in The Dark Knight Trilogy) in which to escape beyond the metaphorical. That said, I'll be forever grateful to my late mum for fighting to secure a return to mainstream school and this facilitated further disabled students' entry (where appropriate). Pathfinding is never easy as history attests.

It would be disingenuous not to suggest that I've always found making friends easy, but within the context of being disabled and, by extension, oftentimes discriminated against, each new encounter felt like another tiresome battle of wits to justify one's existence. None of this is in anyway unique to me, and I hope it doesn't detract from sharing my enjoyment of Normal People by becoming a worthless exercise in self-indulgence.



The creative arts gave me sanctuary and college was a second chance at an education stifled by systemic streaming and the need for years of rehabilitation. So much so, I was afforded the privilege of unconditional offers on several art courses at degree level. A far cry from what a career tutor prophesied in the final year of high school; having tried to sabotage a college application; an abject lesson in how not to inspire pupils.

The lecture scenes in Normal People resonated. This Gen Xer was transported back to English Literature class and debating the subtext of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a critique of British imperialism (infesting our current political discourse), which is where this journey of introspection began.

Like pop cultural touchstones The Wonder Years and My So-Called Life, Normal People is one of the most deeply affecting rites of passage in any medium. The fates of its charismatic characters will haunt you long after the end credits have rolled.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, color me intrigued, I have to see how we can catch this over here

    ReplyDelete

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