One of the only good things to come out of 2020 (we’re sure we don’t need to remind you that there really were not many) was Normal People.
The BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel charting the love story of teenagers Marianne and Connell was lauded by viewers and critics when it was released during the first lockdown, and made overnight stars of its leads Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
And while it doesn’t look like fans will be getting a second series, that’s OK, because this week sees the arrival of Conversations With Friends.
Adapted from another of Sally Rooney’s hit books, the 12-part series is set to be your new obsession – here’s what we can tell you about it…
The cast of Conversations With Friends (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
What is Conversations With Friends about?
An official synopsis reads: “Frances is observant, cerebral and sharp. Her ex-girlfriend, now best friend, Bobbi is self-assured, outspoken and compelling. Though they broke up three years ago, Frances and Bobbi are virtually inseparable and perform spoken word poetry together in Dublin. It’s at one of their shows that they meet Melissa, an older writer, who is fascinated by the pair.
“Bobbi and Frances start to spend time with Melissa and her husband, Nick, a handsome but reserved actor. While Melissa and Bobbi flirt with each other openly, Nick and Frances embark on an intense, secret affair that is surprising to them both. Soon the affair begins to test the bond between Frances and Bobbi, forcing Frances to reconsider her sense of self, and the friendship she holds so dear.”
Who is in the cast of Conversations With Friends?
Screen newcomer Alison Oliver plays Frances, an English student and aspiring writer studying at Trinity College in Dublin, who also performs spoken word poetry with her best friend (and ex-girlfriend), Bobbi, with whom she has an intense friendship.
Frances is described as “smart, sharp and observant”, with Alison saying of her character: “When we meet Frances at this point in her life she’s stuck in a lot of patterns of behaviour, and there’s a lot of change happening within her relationships with Bobbi, her dad, her own identity and changes within her body that she’s having to figure out.
“It’s putting her in situations where she has to confront her own vulnerabilities and defences, and confront life in a sense, which is something she’s always trying to avoid. It’s a tricky time for her, but it’s very compelling to observe.”
Frances (ALISON OLIVER) and Bobbi (SASHA LANE) (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
Sasha Lane (Loki, Utopia, American Honey) plays Bobbi, Frances’ best friend, who she remains inseparable with, despite their romantic break-up years prior. Bobbi is “undeniably cool and charming” and is drawn to Melissa – played by Jemima Kirke (Girls, Sex Education) – a married successful writer.
“I feel Melissa is like a spark to her,” Sasha says of her character, Bobbi. “[Melissa’s] clearly intelligent and when they first meet, she radiates strong energy, I think she’s the opposite to some of the people she hangs around with, so I think Bobbi is attracted to the fact that there’s someone who is as big of a mountain as her.”
Melissa’s husband Nick is played by Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol, The Favourite) who is described as “reserved and insecure”. When we first meet the couple, they are seemingly in a strange place in their relationship, with “lots of cracks” lying beneath the surface.
Melissa (JEMIMA KIRKE) and Nick (JOE ALWYN) (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
“They are functioning but there’s no real warmth, love or spark between them that there might have once been,” Joe says, with Melissa adding that Nick is “passive enough to allow just about anything, even an affair”.
However, he soon develops an undeniable chemistry with Frances.
Also among the cast are Justine Mitchell (Cheat, Finding Joy) and Tommy Tiernan (Derry Girls, Small Potatoes) as Frances’ divorced parents Paula and Dennis.
Paula (JUSTINE MITCHELL) and Dennis (TOMMY TIERNAN) (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
Alex Murphy (The Young Offenders) stars as Philip, a friend of Frances and Bobbi’s who gets Frances her summer internship, while Tadhg Murphy (Brassic, Absentia) and Sallay Garnett (Striking Out, Finding Joy) play couple Derek and Evelyn, who are close friends of Nick and Melissa.
Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) also stars as Melissa’s mentor and agent Valerie, who also owns the Croatian holiday villa that serves as one of the settings in the series.
How is it different from Normal People?
Being the second BBC adaptation from Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends is bound to draw comparisons to its predecessor Normal People.
While there are some common themes of relationships and coming of age, executive producer and director Lenny Ambrahamson explains how it is different to Marianne and Connell’s more traditional love story.
Conversations With Friends is the second TV adaptation from Sally Rooney's novels (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
“In Conversations with Friends, you have a much more varied set of relationships and a complex story with a single focus, which is Frances,” Lenny says.
“It’s more of a coming-of-age story than anything else but that story is told through these relationships she has with Bobbi, Nick and Melissa. In an interesting way, it’s a messier and complicated story which doesn’t give easy solutions or conclusions.”
While the world the characters inhabit is “similar” in both dramas, Conversation With Friends has a “different visual palette” than Normal People and was shot on 35mm film.
“It’s probably more adult and grown up,” says executive producer Ed Guiney. “The nature of the story is more about the challenges of being an adult, it lives more in that world than Normal People did.”
He added of shooting on film: “It gives it a texture, quality and a beauty which is very particular to the show.”
The series was shot on film (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
However, like Normal People, Conversations With Friends will be told in 12 half-hour episodes.
Originally, Conversations With Friends had been developed as a feature film with BBC Films, but explaining how that changed, Ed says: “We commissioned a script and were working away on that when the book for Normal People came out and we were lucky enough to become involved in making that as a TV series.
“It was through the process of making Normal People that we understood the way to make Conversations with Friends was also as a TV series.”
How faithful is the TV adaptation of Conversation With Friends to the book?
According to executive producer Emma Norton, Conversations with Friends was “much harder to adapt” than Normal People, which she says served as a good way of learning how to adapt the second drama.
“It’s a very different book, written in the first person and with a much more complex narrative line running through it,” she says.
“Bobbi, Melissa and Nick are described through Frances, but in the show, the audience sees those characters with their own eyes. We had to work out what that would look like when it wasn’t just Frances inflecting those characters. We had to work out what they would say, not just what she’d heard them say.
“There was a lot of filling in that was different to Normal People, as that moved between two characters and two story strands, you didn’t have one person’s viewpoint shaping that.”
Alison Oliver during filming of the series (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)
Alison, who plays Frances, says the series will remain faithful to the book, though, despite some things being translated slightly differently for TV.
“The heart of all the characters remains completely intact,” she says. “I think with any adaptation there’s things that will work in a book but then when they are translated into a visual form might not have the same effect, so there’s slight differences but the narrative and Sally’s tone remain true and present throughout.”
When can I watch Conversations With Friends?
All episodes of Conversations With Friends will drop together as a boxset on BBC iPlayer on 15 May at 10pm, also airing on BBC Three and BBC One.
It will also air in the US on streaming service Hulu.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.