While by this point I could very well believe I was in Groundhog Day (might be time for a rewatch in fact…?) a good source of respite has been making the most of the TV, film and theatre we have at our fingertips digitally. Here’s my latest picks. By Sarah Bradbury.
Normal People – BBC iPlayer series
By sheer coincidence, I finished Sally Rooney’s Sligo-set novel a matter of days before the BBC adaptation hit iPlayer. While apprehensive – the impossibility that what your imagination has conjured in reaction to the words on a page is replicated on screen makes adaptation-watching an off-putting exercise – in this case, I’d say they nailed it.
Not because it matched exactly the characters and places I’d held in my mind’s eye, but so much of its sentiment.
Following the never-quite-a-relationship romance between Connell and Marianne who go to the same school – and also know each other through Connell’s mother being the cleaner for Marianne’s much wealthier family – the 12 part-series drags you right back to your teenage years, complete with all the angst, identity-crises and awkward first goes at sex.
And sex there is a lot of. The naturalistic, explicit kind, which I find quietly impressive from the BBC. Plus despite all its hyperrealistic fumbly moments and careful navigations of consent, it still manages to be sexy as hell.
The scenes that stretch from school through the pair’s first years at university and summer travels left me nostalgic for those days. And the nuanced complexity of the on-off relationship itself felt recognisable from those in my own past – the passion, the obsession, the miscommunication, the heartache, the yearning to be loved, to be understood, to fit in, to stand out, the crippngly self-doubt.
It seems I’m not the only the show has resonated with, with glowing reviews from critics as well every man and his dog on social media, all recognising different aspects of their own experiences captured uncannily.
Fleabag – Play, Soho Theatre Online
Unless you were living under a rock these last few years, you’ve no doubt seen the ground-breaking BBC series from Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But did you ever see the 2013 one-woman show that first conceived of the character?
Now for a limited time you can watch it online. And boy is it worth it. I was astonished by how much Waller-Bridge is able to convey only with words and minimal action. In just over an hour she’s able to build the whole world of her character from the stark stage.
In some ways it’s even better than the TV series – not only because you feel so in awe of her confidence and ability to perform alone for that period of time but because it feels so raw, the words coming straight from the author’s mouth to the audience with no fuss or filter in between.
All the biting wit, crude sex-obsession, and alternately hilarious and tragic encounters are all brilliantly delivered in this singular performance. Make sure you catch it on Soho Theatre or Amazon Prime – the cost will go to charity!
Top Boy – Netflix series
Yes I know I’m embarrassingly late to this party…but if like me you’d missed this London-set urban drama when it first hit screens, I well advise you to go back and catch up. Now on Netflix, it’s rather confusingly split into the first and second seasons as Top Boy: Summerhouse and then the third season as Top Boy: Season 1. For that reason I actually watched them back to front (oops) but it didn’t seem to matter.
The first two seasons are set back when the series first launched in 2011. The third is from last year after Drake, an avid fan, felt aggrieved the show got seemingly callously dropped by Channel 4 and convinced Netflix to rescue it from the TV graveyard.
Each are eminently watchable. Representing a world and demographic rarely given the light of day on our screens, the first episodes feel especially authentic in their grit and rough edges.
The deprivation and lack of opportunity, the exploitation of vulnerable people and disregard for the value of human life, the dismal spaces of crackdens and drab concrete walls, all slap you across the face. But weaved in are also glorious moments of everyday life captured: banter on stairwells, London skyscapes from rooftops, first kisses shared, cuddles from mums.
The third season, things are dialled-up a notch, both in terms of the storylines and the production values, with Netflix’s fat budget to bolster it. Older, but not necessarily wiser, we return to Sully and Dushane eight years on, plus get to know new figures such as young, lethally ambitious Jamie (the distractingly attractive Michael Ward).
It’ll have you on the edge of your seat till the last beat. And perhaps leave you dropping in some new London slang after hearing, “wah gwaan” so often. There’s rumours of a fourth season. Here’s hoping it’s not another eight years waiting…
Tully – Netflix film
This might have been a slightly odd choice since I’m currently pregnant. But this 2018 film from Juno director Jason Reitman starring Charlize Theron exploring post-natal depression I actually found an excellent watch.
While you do often find Theron stereotypically typecast in beautiful blonde roles and perfume ads, you’ve also seen her do the opposite to impressive effect. Most notably in her award-winning turn as Aileen Wuornos in Monster but I also loved her as badass Imperator Furiosa in the *Mad Max *remake.
Tully is far more of the latter ilk. There’s no airbrushed, rose-tinted version of motherhood presented here. Rather an affecting realism in Theron as the disheveled, sleep-deprived mother of a toddler and newborn, leaky boobs, stained tops, bulging belly and all.
And although it delves into a sensitive and potentially triggering area – particularly for us expectant first-time mothers – I actually found the honesty of its representation strangely reassuring. And for a Hollywood film to grapple with this taboo topic in such a bold, unflinching and creative way, I find refreshing. Give it a go if you haven’t yet seen it.
On my growing list of things to watch next are new LGBTQ+ South African film Moffie and Ema from Chilean director Pablo Larrain plus the critically-acclaimed series Unorthodox.
What are your film and TV recommendations?