So by chance, this week I’ve been reading the scripts to The Night Manager, David Farr’s dramatisation of John Le Carré’s thriller. And I’ve been watching Normal People, Sally Rooney and Alice Birch’s dramatisation of Romney’s novel about a teenage romance.
I’m late to both of these, I know, but what strikes me most is that they’re pretty much equally tense. If anything, Normal People has me stressed out more and yet close to nothing happens.
In the first episode of that, we meet a schoolgirl and a schoolboy, and by the end they are secretly a couple. In the first episode of The Night Manager, there is murder, there are explosions, there is a really frightening villain.
I am deeply enjoying The Night Manager but I’m going to call it for Normal People as Most Tense of The Two.
And in this second, as I write to you, I remember something Alan Plater said about TV drama. He preferred it to be about people being, rather than something happening to people. Drama about people living, rather than drama about there’s-a-serial-killer-coming.
Mind you, I also think Normal People is more tense because it’s a romance. There’s an element of romance in the start of The Night Manager but, despite all that script’s other strengths, it feels like the pretty standard thing of a quick love affair before she gets murdered and he wants revenge. I am being so unfair to this show, but.
I used to think that my true definition of drama was two people arguing in a room and they’re both right. I still think that’s a peak, but maybe the true pinnacle is two people standing in a room and they both want each other yet the risk of saying it is so great.
It always is. I don’t know why this never stops being so tense when every romance has the same moment. Comedy romance turns on the first encounter, that’s so crucial that it’s even got a name, but drama has more than the meet-cute. It’s got the moment when one person tells the other.
There is no circumstance, no combination of desires or rejections, that can possibly mean anything, anything at all can stay remotely the same after that moment. If the other person is equally interested, that’s one thing and it’s great. But if they’re not, it’s over. You cannot go back to the friends you were one sentence ago. There will hopefully come a time when it’s not as painful for either of you any more, but until then you cannot have one sentence that isn’t awkward.
Listen, I was going to announce to you this week that I am becoming evil. I had decided it is the only way. In the US, there are people backing sedition and in the UK we have Brexit destroying the fishing industry while the government’s Jacob Rees-Mogg claims fish are happy now because they’re British. Clearly, self-interest to the point of blindness is what gets you anywhere in the world today.
Except now we’ve talked, I want to go write some romances. I’ll put evil on hold for a bit. Thanks.