Conversations With Friends Review: Morally Ambiguous But Empathetic Adaptation

Team Normal People are here to break your heart again with an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends.

Conversations with Friends Frances Nick


Team Normal People are here to break your heart again with an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends.

When Normal People first premiered in April 2020, the UK was in a state of deep depression. We were about a month into an unprecedented lockdown, feeling lonely and in desperate need of not just entertainment, but a feeling of belonging. We all needed a hug, because those were unlawful in those weird times. Normal People filled that void of needing something to do, something to watch but it also allowed us to indulge in sentimentality and just feel

So, of course, we were due another adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel. Conversations With Friends, Rooney’s debut novel, is a much messier affair, with delightfully progressive views and questions at the centre of it. While Conversations might not hit the same spot in the zeitgeist as Normal People, it’s still an achingly beautiful story about love and lust. 

Conversations follows Frances (Alison Oliver), a young student who’s best friend and potential soulmate is Bobbi (Sasha Lane), her ex-girlfriend. The pair meet Melissa (Jemima Kirke), a writer, and they strike up a friendship which comes under jeopardy after Frances and Melissa’s husband Nick (Joe Alwyn) begin a secret affair. 

Conversations With Friends Frances

Thematically, Conversations with Friends is a lot more complex than Normal People. Normal People was about the growing pains of love, the full journey into becoming one’s most true self and even that remains a fluctuating concept at the end of the novel and the series. Conversations is a whole different beast, one that brings up questions of polyamory, non-monogamy and marriage. One of the central questions is whether we can have multiple types of love at any one time. Can we love our partner and still, ethically and logically, love someone else? Can one type of love be secure and safe and the other fierce and fiery? 

Conversations, which is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Leanne Welham, doesn’t so much answer any of these questions as it leisurely explores them through Frances’ eyes. Conversations is still very much a coming-of-age story. The love, or affection, passion, that Frances experiences isn’t puppy-love, but something much more confusing and relatable. 

Conversations isn’t always successful in capturing the nuances of Rooney’s writing. What it does beautifully though is bring a morally debatable situation to screen without any judgement, but with empathy and warmth. Some areas of the story, such as Frances’ mystery illness feel like afterthoughts rather than meaningful plot developments. 

Alison Oliver excels as Frances, nailing the character’s internal inconsistencies and there’s a sweetness to the character’s often infuriating naivety. She has palpable, sexy chemistry with Alwyn, who is arguably not given as much to explore. Alwyn’s job mostly consists of looking brooding and sexy, but Abrahamson does capture the passionate, carnal connection the two share. 

Conversations with Friends Bobbi Melissa

There is a stronger element of male mental health in Rooney’s novel, with Nick’s struggles with depression. That element is still present in Conversations, just in a reduced capacity, which eats away at the character’s desired effect. 

Kirke and Lane give good support, but the script often struggles to give them enough to do. Frances’ relationship history with Bobbi feels shallow and unexplored, but Kirke is enigmatic enough to give some weight to her character. 

It’s also nice to see such positive, unfussy representation of bisexuality on screen; it’s not a huge part of the narrative, but it is integral. Frances’ bisexuality is never discussed nor does she have to prove that she’s somehow bisexual enough with her romances. Bisexuality is something that the media has struggled to bring believably on screen and Conversations feels like a milestone in that sense. 

Conversations also features some of the best sex scenes in TV, continuing from the groundbreaking representation of sex from Normal People. Sex is… sexy, but not in a glossy way. Sex is a means of communication for Frances and Nick, a physical way to communicate something that can’t be expressed with words. Sex between Bobbi and Frances is also treated with equal respect and desire as heterosexual sex. 

While Conversations might not be quite as emotionally visceral as Normal People, it’s a fine, fine addition to SRCU (Sally Rooney Cinematic Universe, you heard it here first). It has plenty of emotional pull and the performances fill any gaps the script might have. It’s a series that will allow for self-reflection and it’s just nice to spend a few hours with these characters.

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