Conversations With Friends: First trailer released for Sally Rooney TV adaptation

Lenny Abrahamson’s forthcoming 12-episode series features in a Vanity Fair spread

When I have conversations with friends nowadays it’s usually about the state of our knees. In Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends, on the other hand, the chats are about art, Marxism and existentialism, with an undercurrent of simmering sexuality.

Lenny Abrahamson's forthcoming 12-episode BBC/Hulu adaptation of Rooney's book has featured in a big Vanity Fair spread and the first trailer has just been released. It's clearly going to be huge.

When his adaptation of Rooney's second novel, Normal People, was broadcast in the early days of the pandemic it turned its stars Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal into very big stars. It was a small, intense love story so compellingly shot and acted that it was easy to forget that sometimes very little was happening onscreen.

Something about the intimacy of the story worked well with an audience in lockdown. Before long people on the internet were obsessing over pictures of Paul Mescal in GAA shorts. The gold chain that his character wears in the show got its own Instagram account.

While Normal People orbits two protagonists, Conversation with Friends has four to contend with. It starts off with twenty-something onetime lovers turned best friends Frances and Bobbi. They’re befriended by an impossibly elderly couple in their 30s, with what The Simpsons writers’ term “sexy results”. By this I mean, Bobbi flirts with professional writer Melissa, and Frances begins an affair with Melissa’s actor husband Nick. Be warned: the word “conversations” might be a euphemism.

This cast aren't as unknown as the cast of Normal People were when it launched in 2020. Jemima Kirke, who plays Melissa, was in Girls. Joe Alwyn, who plays Nick, was in The Favourite (he's also Taylor Swift's boyfriend and cowrote the excellent Swift song Betty). And Sasha Lane, who plays Bobbi, starred in Marvel's Loki.

Frances, who provides the novel's point-of-view, is played by the less known Alison Oliver. However, she did go to the Lir Academy of Dramatic Arts in Trinity College just like Paul Mescal, and that worked pretty well before.

The major change from the script here is that unlike Bobbi in the book, Lane is a Black American. It's a well-reasoned alteration to the story that Abrahamson and his team made to reflect the "diversity in modern Ireland".

The show began filming last summer in Belfast, when that city was still in lockdown. This, going by the Vanity Fair interviews, suited the story's co-dependent character dynamics very well.

For Conversation with Friends, Abrahamson shares the directing duties with Leanne Welham, who previously worked on His Dark Materials. Alice Birch returns as a scriptwriter. This time Rooney herself doesn't collaborate on the scripts but she was involved in the early stage of development and is named an executive producer.

Normal People was an intense slowburn of a show without any gimmicks or high concepts. It was an unexpected hit. The likely success of Conversations with Friends when it airs later in spring will be a bit less unexpected.

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