It’s fair to say that few writers have captured the peaks and troughs of modern love quite like Sally Rooney. The Dublin-based writer is something of a sensation in the literary world, her writing driven by a sharp sense of self-awareness and wit that makes her characters instantly endearing and super relatable. Now, the long-awaited adaptation of Rooney’s second novel Normal People has finally arrived on BBC Three, directed by fellow Irish sensation Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank, The Little Stranger).

To mark the series (which, fingers crossed, has been worth the wait!), we’ve pulled together some films that remind us of Connell and Marianne’s relationship and act as good companion pieces to Rooney’s story.

Like Crazy

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Courtesy of: Paramount Vantage

Few things have ruined me quite as much as reading Rooney’s book, but watching Like Crazy came pretty damn close. What appears at first glance to be a fluffy romantic drama about two lovers separated by immigration issues becomes a raw, unfettered depiction of love in all of its sticky inescapability (something that Rooney also taps into so powerfully). The whole thing is driven by the consistently underappreciated Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, and is an even more poignant watch since Yelchin tragically passed away in 2016. 

Stream on Prime Video

Certified Copy

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Courtesy of: MK2 Diffusion

Abbas Kiarostami makes films like no else has ever made them and, probably, will ever make them again. Case in point: Certified Copy. Over the course of one beautiful day in Tuscany, we see a relationship unfolding between Juliette Binoche‘s Elle and William Shimell’s James that spans a lifetime of happiness and uncertainty. Time becomes malleable, love blossoms and wilts, and Tuscany remains beautiful throughout. If Rooney manages to capture the push-and-pull of a relationship in its early days, Kiarostami goes ahead and seizes the whole damn thing. 

Rent on Prime Video or Google Play

Blue Valentine

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Courtesy of: The Weinstein Company

Ugh, this one hurts just to think about. Normal People gets very dark in places and Connell and Marianne’s relationship sometimes grows rocky and uncomfortable at times. It’s therefore hard not to mention Blue Valentine, one of my all-time favourite films that I’d prefer never to see again. Chopping back and forth between the blossoming and crumbling of a relationship, Derek Cianfrance’s portrait of young lust and toxic manipulation is a touch, unflinching watch, but a necessary one too. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver career-defining performances as the tempestuous couple.

Stream on Mubi


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Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Okay I’ll be honest here, the only reason I was initially going to include Once on this list was because it’s also set in Dublin. But this independent feature made for just €112,000 that would go on to become a surprise US hit and win Best Original Song at the 2008 Oscars actually has a lot more in common with Rooney’s story than I’d first thought. This charming down to earth story of two musicians, one a busker who writes songs about his recent breakup, the other a Czech girl who has just left her husband, is like a finely-tuned but well-worn guitar, sweet but familiar and with beautiful songs too. Covering unrequited love and heartbreak in all its painful ways but with an underlying message of hope, Once brings an unmistakably Irish voice to the subject of relationships.

Stream on Prime Video

Only Lovers Left Alive

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Courtesy of: Soda Pictures

Jim Jarmusch’s velvety smooth take on vampire lore was a predictably divisive film, as every Jarmusch film tends to be. But if decadent fashion and slow-burning seduction sound like your cup of tea (or blood in this case), then this is perfect as an alternative companion piece to Rooney’s slightly more conventional love story. Jarmusch has plenty of fun with all the usual vampire cliches (including an excellent joke involving Tilda Swinton’s Eve being asked for her date of birth when booking plane tickets).  But underneath all the mythological trappings is a touching, and darkly comic, depiction of how love has kept Hiddleston and Swinton’s characters afloat for centuries – just as Marianne and Connell’s on-again off-again relationship keeps them just above water.

Rent on Prime Video

Brief Encounter

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Courtesy of: Eagle-Lion Distributors

The most English of romances unfolds over a series of short encounters in David Lean’s ‘40s weepie that has topped numerous “best of” lists, and for good reason. Though it is perhaps a more innocent depiction of forbidden love than Normal People, it weaves the same thrilling threads of danger and risk into this story of two people who fall madly in love but know they can never be together. Sweet, honest and tender (and with some wonderfully grandiose excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2), Brief Encounter is the cream of the classics.

Rent on Prime Video

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