Airing to great acclaim earlier this year on the BBC in the UK and US streamer Hulu, Normal People told the tender love story of Connell and Marianne as their relationship moved from high school in the west of Ireland to Dublin’s Trinity College.
In this DQTV interview, executive producers Lenny Abrahamson, who also directs, and Ed Guiney discuss the starting point for their adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel and how they landed on the idea to turn it into 12 half-hour episodes.
They also discuss the long process to cast the central couple, with Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones eventually landing the parts, and how this story set specifically in contemporary Ireland resonates with audiences around the world.
Normal People is produced by Element Pictures for the BBC and Hulu, and distributed by Endeavor Content.
DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 directors to tune in for, from Steve McQueen (Small Axe) to Mira Nair (A Suitable Boy) and Tobias Lindholm (The Investigation).
20. Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir
In her native Iceland, Magnúsdóttir is a triple threat, known for her work as an actor, writer and director. With a 20-year career on screen, largely in feature films, she has written on series such as Stella Blómkvist. Last year, Magnúsdóttir wrote, directed and starred in Happily Never After, in which she plays a marriage counsellor who discovers her husband has been unfaithful.
Next up, she is co-directing The Minister, an Icelandic political drama that follows an unconventional politician who rises to become prime minister while hiding a mental health condition that will threaten the stability of his government.
19. Lenny Abrahamson
Nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 feature Room, Abrahamson was a key driving force behind one of the hit series of the year so far, BBC and Hulu drama Normal People (pictured top). Working alongside writer Sally Rooney and the team at Element Pictures, Abrahamson joined the development process from an early stage, helping to translate the sensibility and tone of Rooney’s novel to the screen. The plot follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Dublin’s Trinity College.
The series was released to no shortage of acclaim, and Abrahamson will be hoping lightning strikes twice when he and Element reunite with Rooney, the BBC and Hulu to bring her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, to television.
18. Claire McCarthy
McCarthy is currently lighting up Sunday nights on BBC1 with The Luminaries, a sumptuous period drama set in 1860s New Zealand at the height of the gold rush. Based on Eleanor Catton’s Booker prize-winning novel, it stars Eva Green, Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel in what is described as an epic story of love, murder and revenge, filmed against New Zealand’s stunning landscapes and a wholly realised frontier town set.
McCarthy’s previous credits include a number of short films, and she is also a writer and producer. Last year it was announced that McCarthy will be the lead director of forthcoming Sky Italia series Domina, which chronicles the power struggles of Ancient Rome from the perspective of women, in particular Livia Drusilla, who went on to become the most powerful woman in the world.
17. Tom Shankland
Shankland’s extensive CV includes such TV shows as Les Misérables, The City & The City, The Punisher, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, House of Cards, The Missing and Ripper Street. He now leads off eight-part BBC and Netflix drama The Serpent, which tells the remarkable story of how murderer Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) was captured.
As the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide to become Interpol’s most wanted man, with arrest warrants on three different continents. Jenna Coleman, Ellie Bamber and Billy Howle also star in the series, which was filmed on location in Thailand.
16. Andrew Haigh
The director of films such as Weekend, the Academy Award-nominated 45 Years and Lean on Pete, Haigh has also directed episodes of TV series including Looking and The OA. The North Water sees him take charge of an adaptation of Ian McGuire’s novel of the same name, which Haigh himself has reimagined for the screen.
The five-part thriller is set in the late 1850s and follows a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up to become the ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. The all-star cast boasts Colin Farrell, Jack O’Connell, Stephen Graham, Tom Courtenay and Peter Mullan.
15. Jorge Dorado
As the director of Spanish drama The Head, Dorado takes viewers inside a claustrophobic, time-hopping horror thriller set deep in the isolated, frozen wilderness of Antarctica. Filmed inside a studio and on an oil rig in Tenerife, as well as on the ice-covered landscapes of Iceland, the series begins as the summer crew of scientific research station Polaris VI depart, leaving 10 people to continue working through the long, dark winter. But six months later, the summer crew return to find seven dead bodies, two people missing and just one survivor – who may be a murderer.
14. Michaela Coel
Having dazzled audiences with her performances in The Aliens, Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising, Bafta winner Coel is also well known as a creative force off screen. She created, wrote and starred in breakout comedy Chewing Gum, and repeats the act in I May Destroy You, which is currently airing on the BBC and HBO.
She also co-directs I May Destroy You with Sam Miller (Rellik, Luther), helping to give the show its fly-on-the-wall style as viewers follow Coel’s character, burgeoning writer Arabella. The series is described as a fearless, frank and provocative series that explores the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how the distinction between liberation and exploitation is made.
13. Mikael Marcimain
Swedish director Marcimain’s last TV show, Danish miniseries Liberty, was set in Tanzania in the late 1980s and followed a group of Scandinavian expats as they struggle to adapt to a new culture, exploring what happens when the idealism that brought them to Africa turns to corruption, lies and deceit.
He returns to the period for his next project, Jakten på en mördare (The Hunt for a Killer), a true crime drama focusing on the murder of 10-year-old Helen Nilsson in southern Sweden in March 1989. The series follows the journey of two police officers who lead an investigation into Helen’s death and, against all odds, find her killer.
12. Isabel Coixet
Spain’s Goya Awards are its equivalent of the Oscars, celebrating the best in film. So with seven Goyas to her name, it’s not an overstatement to describe Coixet as one of the country’s leading filmmakers. Now she has turned her attention to television by writing and directing HBO Europe’s eight-part series Foodie Love.
Launching in the US this month following its release across Europe, it follows two 30-somethings after they meet on a foodie mobile dating app and then embark on a gastronomic journey, learning about each other through the mediums of jamón, ramen and fine dining from around the world.
11. Daniel Syrkin
Russian-born Syrkin grew up in Israel, where he has established a directing career with credits including film Out of Sight (earning him the Israeli Academy Award for best director) and TV dramas The Gordin Cell, Mossad 101 and miniseries Stockholm.
His next directing project is Tehran, an Israeli espionage thriller from Fauda writer Moshe Zonder, which tells the story of a a Mossad agent who goes deep undercover on a dangerous mission in Tehran, placing her and everyone around her in jeopardy. The series will air on Israel’s Kan 11 and was recently acquired for worldwide release by Apple TV+.
10. Eduard Cortés
Spanish director Cortes has screen credits stretching back over 30 years, with recent TV work including Merlí, Ángel o demonio and Hay alguoien ahí. He is now helming what is described as the most expensive Spanish series to date, Diem Quien Soy (Tell Me Who I Am).
Taking viewers back through the 20th century and some of its most important historical events, from the country’s civil war and the Second World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the show is based on Julia Navarro’s novel. It follows these events through the eyes of Amelia Garayoa (Irene Escolar), a woman trapped by contradictions, who will make mistakes for which she may never quite finish paying. Moved by her ideals, she is able to leave her life behind to fight for freedom. Filming on the Movistar+ drama took place in more than 300 locations and featured over 3,000 extras.
9. Karena Evans
As an actor, Canadian Evans has appeared in series such as Mary Kills People. As an award-winning director, she has shot music videos for Drake and Coldplay, while also building a TV slate including Swipe Night and Snowfall. Now, she is the pilot director for upcoming Starz drama P-Valley.
Based on showrunner Katori Hall’s stage play, the story unfolds deep in the Mississippi Delta, home to a little-strip-club-that-could and the big characters who come through its doors – the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned.
8. Yann Demange
French director Demange has shot episodes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Dead Set, Criminal Justice and Top Boy. His next project, Lovecraft Country, takes him to the US for a story that blends real-life racism with the terrifying monsters ripped straight from the horror stories created by novelist HP Lovecraft.
Demange directs the first episode of the HBO series, which is based on Matt Ruff’s novel. Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his uncle George (Courtney B Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael K Williams).
7. Eva Husson
Husson directs the first three episodes in the second season of Amazon Prime Video’s returning thriller Hanna. The standout scene from those opening instalments comes in episode two, when Hanna seeks information about a company involved in training young girls as elite killers. Volunteering for a drug trial, Hanna takes a dangerous trip, with memories of her isolated life coming back to haunt her in mesmerising style.
French director and writer Husson has also directed films Girls of the Sun and Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story).
6. Tobias Lindholm
Lindholm, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of films A Hijacking, A War and The Hunt and TV drama Mindhunter, is behind six-part crime drama The Investigation. The series explores the aftermath of the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, focusing on Copenhagen Police and its head of homicide Jens Møller and how the department’s methodical, unusual and technical work led them to solving the murder.
The series is produced for TV2 Denmark, Sweden’s SVT and Nordic streamer Viaplay, with the BBC also picking it up. Lindholm has also worked on Danish dramas Follow the Money and Borgen.
5. Lucia Puenzo
Writer/director Puenzo made her directing debut with 2007 feature XXY, which she also wrote. She is now lead director and showrunner of Chilean drama La Jauría (The Pack), which is set to become one of Amazon’s first Latin American original series.
The story concerns the disappearance of a young girl who unwittingly becomes the centre of a police investigation. The girl’s disappearance exposes a deadly online game that recruits men to commit acts of aggression toward women, brought to light when a video of her assault goes viral.
4. Anthony Hemingway
Since making his directorial debut with an episode of Justice in 2006, US director Hemingway has helmed episodes of series including Power, Underground, American Crime Story, Treme and The Wire.
His latest challenge was to bring the story of Aretha Franklin to TV in the third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Genius. Set to premiere later this year, the series sees Cynthia Erivo in the title role as the drama chronicles Franklin’s rise from young gospel singer to the Queen of Soul. Hemingway is the producing director on the series, working alongside showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks.
3. Mira Nair
Internationally acclaimed director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) is behind the BBC’s forthcoming adaptation of Vikram Seth novel A Suitable Boy, marking the first time she has directed television.
Across six episodes, the story follows university student Lata (Tanya Maniktala), who is coming of age in North India in 1951 at the same time as the country is carving out its own identity as an independent nation. Lata’s mother is determined to find her a husband – a suitable boy – but Lata, torn between family duty and the excitement of romance, embarks on her own epic journey of love and self-discovery.
2. Stacie Passon
Passon’s credits include Transparent, The Path, Billions, House of Cards and American Gods. For her next project, Passon is directing Sky drama Little Birds. The series transports viewers back to 1950s Tangier, which serves as the bright and bold backdrop to the story of a New York heiress who becomes intoxicated by the vibrancy of this international melting pot. Not your average period drama, Little Birds is based on the erotic vignettes of Anais Nin.
1. Steve McQueen
Best known for his Oscar-winning 2013 feature film 12 Years a Slave, McQueen comes to TV with his forthcoming series Small Axe. An anthology of five films, Small Axe was created and directed by McQueen, with each entry telling a personal story about London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
Described by BBC director of content Charlotte Moore as “an extraordinary and visceral piece of work,” two of the films – Mangrove and Lovers Rock – have been produced as feature-length films and were selected for the 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen also co-wrote them with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland, respectively. The three other films are called Alec Wheatle, Education and Red, White & Blue.