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Conversations With Friends first-look review: Alison Oliver one to watch as whole cast ooze chemistry in sizzling Sally Rooney adaptation

**Warning: The following contains spoilers for Conversations With Friends episodes 1 and 2**

Conversations With Friends was always going to have a tough time following the success of Normal People – but the latest Sally Rooney adaptation is a grown-up and intimate look at how lives can intertwine in the most unexpected of ways.

It’s one of a recently revived BBC Three’s biggest hopes of 2022, so it’s no surprise the broadcaster realise just how key Conversations With Friends will be in determining it a success.

The Irish author’s previous book-to-series, which has now garnered over 70 million worldwide streams, will still be fresh in the minds of many fans, having given us Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) perfectly frustrating love story on-screen, catapulting Edgar-Jones and Mescal to international stardom.

While the 2020 series came less than two years after its publication, Conversations With Friends has been given a few years to breathing space before being granted a TV world of its own, which perhaps has worked to its advantage, with more opportunity for freedom in turning the pages into plots on-screen.

Inseparable students Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane) are best friends, and former lovers, whose spark together comes alive in punchy poetry performances. While Bobbi is full of self-confidence and sharp quips, Frances, the brains behind the pair’s act, is more introverted, clearly somehow finding herself in her ex’s shadow despite her obvious talent.

Things all change early on when writer Melissa (Jemima Kirke) turns up at one of their gigs. Impressed by their talent and obvious chemistry as a duo, she urges them to get in touch, which they jump at the chance to do.

Nick (L) and Frances (R) ooze chemistry (Picture: BBC/Element Pictures/Hulu)

When Frances realises Melissa is married to gorgeous actor Nick (Joe Alwyn), she sets her sights on getting to know all of him. Meanwhile, the remaining two women enjoy a lower-stakes flirtation, and the friends quickly find themselves weaved into the affluent pair’s lives.

The first episode takes slightly more time to get going as we meet each of the major players for the first time, and Nick doesn’t emerge until towards the end of the instalment. But with 12 in total, there’s plenty of time to work out the rest and enjoy the slightly slower pace.

In one major difference to the book, we’re shown the perspectives and mindsets of all four characters. This gives a whole new level of understanding as to why Melissa is possibly the least present on-screen so far, in a really clever nod to the tale being told from Frances’ view in the novel.

Melissa (L) Bobbi (R) also enjoy flirting with each other (Picture: BBC/Element Pictures/Hulu/Enda Bowe)

At the centre of the story is the affair itself, still not quite past the point of no return in episode two. After a drunken and substance-infused kiss shared at a birthday party confirms Nick and Frances’ obvious attraction, they’re taken down a risky road neither have been on before.

The main four are all bang on with the chemistry, yet Oliver and Alwyn deliver a particular spark as Frances and Nick, perfectly encapsulating the frustration and deep emotional conflict amid the moral dilemma of starting an affair, with the exact person you really want to be with.

Apart from Sex Education and Girls star Kirke, none of the core cast is that well known, but fans will soon fall in love with the whole gang. Lane, who is more accomplished in America helps give the series a massive dose of energy, which is sorely needed amid a storyline where not that much actually happens, apart from the all-consuming affair.

The four will all head off on holiday in later episodes – which we see ending in tears (Picture: BBC)

Alwyn also shows major promise as he dives into the world of TV for just the second time ever. He also deals hilariously well with the quite meta experience of being an actor playing an actor – especially when he has to take to the stage for his alter-ego’s latest play.

And what to say for Northern Irish star Oliver’s first-ever on-screen role? When asked recently by an excitable selection of the press, including Metro.co.uk, whether she was ‘ready for the fame’ inevitable with starring in such a highly-anticipated series, she laughed ‘no’, surely aware she’s about to become one of the stars of the moment.

With 10 episodes left to dive into, the series gets off to a brilliantly strong start, showing the complexities of forbidden love as well as not quite knowing your place in the world.  If you’re looking for a love story to leave you warm and fuzzy, as well as brokenhearted all at once, then you’ve got it in spades right here.

The comparisons to Normal People will be inevitable with director Lenny Abrahamson also at the helm again, but this undoubtedly deserves its own chance at success as part of the Sally Rooney multiverse.

Conversations With Friends can be streamed in full on BBC iPlayer from Sunday, May 15.

 


Credit: Original article published here.

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