Sally Rooney’s slow millennial masterpiece is fast becoming a modern Irish classic
Lenny Abrahamson’s visual interpretations of Sally Rooney’s books are an important moment for youth culture in Ireland – which at 33 I’m not sure I’m still a member of. With such competition for television audiences and production, can the subtle exploration of human relationships in Conversations with Friends compete with all those thrillers out there for viewers?
In general, many critics have called the TV version of Rooney’s book sluggish. But the constant demand for pacing in stories is an indictment of the attention deficits that plague modern life and the techniques that television dramas use to court our attention. The Cliffhanger; the hook and twist in every scene. And I say that as a crime writer, where pace is the name of the game.
In conversations with friends, Bobbi and Frances’ artful looks and considered shots with glamorous couple Nick and Melissa demonstrate a stealthy chemistry that’s slowly simmering.
Contrast this with the dramatic scenes unfolding in courtrooms now – the secret world of footballer wives, or what happened at a drunken party between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
Gently unfolding stories are nothing new to those educated in Ireland, where the first introduction to love stories comes at school. The Leaving Cert syllabus is full of meandering yarn, like George Emerson’s pursuit of Lucy Honeychurch in A room with a view. In A triailHer raunchy operator Pádraig pretends to put a ring on Maire’s finger to get her in the sack. Or there’s Sive’s unhappy engagement to Seán Dóta. How relevant are these stories to the lives of young people today?
In the noughties, Marissa Cooper and Ryan were there That’s OK, the high society beauty captured by the bad boy with a heart. We actually believed in the ongoing romance between Ross and Rachel friends was what we could expect when we were dating someone. What should heartbreak look like? It was Rachel, crying by the rain-soaked windows, listening to U2s With you or without you.
At home, the soaps delivered stories to adults, not teenagers. Miley and Fidelma roll in the hay Glenroe shook the nation in the 1990s. Another show that has followed Ireland’s changing society is Beautiful city – from the first gay kiss on screen in 1996 to online rape, teenage pregnancy and drug overdoses.
However, the reach of our domestic soap abroad is limited. Produced by Element Pictures and distributed by online streaming platform Hulu, conversations with friends the whole world wonders: Can you love more than one person? How does that fit with our idea of orderly nuclear families? Yes, there was the summer of love and swapping car keys in a bowl, but free love is no longer overstated.
Compare conversations with friends with Rooney’s novel normal people First off, it’s like trying to rate two very different sisters. One is a classic coming-of-age heterosexual romance, the other a complex matrix of extramarital affairs and shifting sexual mores.
The world was a slow place when Connell and Marianne graced our screens normal peoplebut the frenetic pre-pandemic momentum has returned to sustain the complicated arrangement of ex-boyfriends Bobbi and Frances and married couple Nick and Melissa.
A romance across class lines like Connell and Marianne is a story we’ve heard many times, but there’s a taboo element to the arrangements conversations with friends. Bobbi and Frances’ lesbian high school relationship turns into a friendship as a performance poet, considered an art form deemed somber enough to haunt.
And then we can consider how the TV versions compare to the books. Before anyone binge-watched Rooney, conversations with friends was considered a better book than normal people.
In an interview with Film Independent, the cast spoke about Abrahamson’s collaborative approach. He promotes new talents, they talk like friends. An intimacy coach helped the actors explore each other’s physical interactions. The character and chemistry development contrasts with the focus on plot ups and downs found in other “boozed” box sets. conversations with friends is art, more than a product consumed by a stream-hungry audience.
So why is the release of conversations with friends important? This adaptation of Rooney’s debut novel is important in reflecting on the indigenous, evolving relationships in Ireland today.
Romantic entanglements are also about the everyday words exchanged outside a Dublin bus stop. That this global production is the brainchild of a millennial Irish author and directed by native talent Abrahamson is an achievement that underscores the value of Irish drama on the international stage.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/sally-rooneys-slow-moving-millennial-masterpiece-is-fast-becoming-a-modern-irish-classic-41674427.html Sally Rooney’s slow millennial masterpiece is fast becoming a modern Irish classic