It’s a universally accepted truth—at least among people of a certain age and socioeconomic demographic—that conversations with friends is Sally Rooney’s finest novel, a debut superior to its acclaimed sequel, normal people. So it’s no surprise that the BBC is returning to the territory that defined the 2020s normal people one of the first real lockdown hits, a King of the Tigers for the generation that happily squanders their mortgage money on turmeric lattes. conversations with friends picks up the formula so faithfully that even the lack of any narrative continuity can’t prevent this sense of continuity.
conversations with friends follows the twisted lives of Frances (newcomer Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (American honey‘s Sasha Lane), who are best friends, ex-lovers and, to their eternal shame, performance poets. “You guys are pretty intense together,” Nick (The favourite‘s Joe Alwyn) observed after the duo was joined by his wife Melissa (girlJemima Kirke). Nick and Melissa, an actor and writer respectively, become sources of fixation for the girls. Frances develops an all-consuming and much-reciprocated crush on Nick, while Bobbi drifts in flirtatious witticisms with Melissa. “Can you actually picture her alone?” asks Bobbi as she and Frances roll into this marriage.
As viewers, we don’t have to (although we might want to). conversations with friends is a Home Invasion story: Frances and Bobbi blow like a rough wind off the Irish Sea. Frances, a self-confessed communist, is disturbed by the couple’s mid-century furniture. “Your house is very cool,” she says. “You two are so grown up,” Bobbi adds. This glossy facade in the lives of Nick and Melissa – the essential capitalist impulse to consume and own – is the show’s central but agnostic critique. When asked why she writes poetry, Frances replies that she likes “the impermanence”. “I get a little sick just thinking about it going on forever,” she adds. Eventually she finds her mind, her body, her experiences, all degenerated by her affair with Nick. Cue lots of unhappy brooding over the end state of mankind’s misery.
The story is that of Frances, and Alison Oliver – all biting her lip anxiously and swallowing dry nervously – more than carries the piece. She’s a lonely Celtic presence in a production that feels strikingly stray: Bobbi is now American and Melissa is English. These performances feel very much within their actors’ established realms (oh wow, it’s Jemima Kirke playing a woman who masks her vulnerability with vocal confidence!), but there’s an abundance of charisma about. Londoner Joe Alwyn (who looks creepy, I have to say, like a golden retriever) has an Irish intonation so subtle it’s almost imperceptible, but manages to capture some of Nick’s genderless sexuality (like a well-read, emotionally manipulative Ken). Puppet).
conversations with friends is long. The series runs for 12 episodes. My UK edition of the novel is 321 pages, which various experts have assured me means that each episode is about 27 pages of action. The problem of protraction (or compression) is endemic in the adaptation of novels, but the pacing of conversations with friends feels so indulgently sluggish, the milieu (whether in Ireland or Croatia) so oppressively repetitive, that the effect is hypnotic at best and soporific at worst. “It’s a real play,” Nick says of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a hot tin roof“where things happen.” This, it seems proud to proclaim, is the opposite.
While undeniably slow, solipsistic, and self-satisfied, the show has an atmospheric appeal. It’s a TV designed to be viewed out of the corner of your eye while scrolling through Instagram and staring at strangers on two screens at once. And if you’re not thrilled at the prospect of watching the lives of a group of fairly eligible millennials at a pace closer to Captain Tom than Mo Farah, there are plenty of close-up shots of beautiful people kissing to distract you. Ultimately, conversations with friendslike his characters, doesn’t have much to say but takes the time to say it.