Heartstopper: Series One - Review
Netflix's adaptation of the LGBTQ graphic novels
Joe Locke and Kit Connor star as Charlie and Nick, two teenagers who discover their unlikely friendship might be something more as they navigate school and young love.
Last year, my article reporting on the casting was one of my most-read stories - which instantly made me wonder what the hype was about. After watching the adaptation of Heartstopper (which was written for the screen by author Alice Oseman), I understand entirely the fandom’s enthusiasm for these characters.
Rarely have I binged a show and genuinely enjoyed each episode. The romance genre is very hit or miss for me, especially nowadays - but Oseman perfectly captures the highs and lows of first love and pens probably one of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen on TV for a while. Oseman does a superb job adapting her series for another medium with her screenwriting debut. Euros Lyn was a fantastic choice to direct all eight episodes - his cinematic eye is perfect for a series like this.
The show’s writing is effortlessly brought to life by newcomer Joe Locke and His Dark Materials’ Kit Connor, who were perfectly cast as Charlie and Nick respectively. Locke’s portrayal of the introverted and bookish protagonist is natural and captures so many layers throughout the show. Because the character is quite innocent and suffers from severe anxiety (often replaying previous scenes in drastically different ways to how they occurred in his head) this causes him to overthink things or blame himself - which causes his insecurities to manifest themselves in both believable and heartbreaking.
Charlie’s storyline is easily relatable to many viewers and one of the best portrayals of mental health - it is neither sensationalised nor victimises him. Charlie’s arc also does a great job showing the difference between a toxic relationship and a mutually affectionate one through Ben and Nick's characters, showing Charlie’s healing from the latter to accept the other throughout season one. Oseman takes the time to explore the emotional scars - especially in a scene after their breakup; Ben tries to force himself on Charlie despite the latter’s protests and is saved by Nick. The aftermath of this is dealt with sensitively without ignoring the seriousness of what could have happened. Naturally, the emotional abuse from Ben has caused Charlie to be so guarded that it takes him time to learn how to trust again, and this shows excellent character development.
If I had read the graphic novels before seeing the show, I probably would have cast Connor as Charlie based on his portrayal of Pan in His Dark Materials. However, I was pleasantly surprised that he played a totally different character on screen. Again, Nick was an instantly likeable character, and his coming to terms with his feelings for Charlie and his bisexuality was actually very well executed. Nick’s character is a man of few words, often expressing his emotions through touch or embraces - which was a compelling character trait and complimented Charlie’s talkative nature. A single tearful look or a lingering hug from Connor’s character told a thousand words. His scenes with his on-screen mother (played by Olivia Coleman) were absolutely brilliant in both the writing and acting.
Together, these actors had phenomenal chemistry and captured the nuances and complexities of teenage love and sexuality. As previously stated, Nick and Charlie’s relationship is a perfect example of how to write a great romance - no forced love triangles or miscommunication breaking them up for weeks on end, just two people falling for each other and learning to communicate said feelings, concerns and fears.
One scene that I thought captivated both characters perfectly was in the aftermath of Nick getting into a fight with classmate Harry over homophobic comments directed at Charlie. In the homeroom, Charlie immediately starts apologising (despite the fact he had nothing to apologise for) and tries to dismiss the bullying he has learnt to accept throughout the years - Nick rebuffs that he shouldn’t have to. Although he struggles to say everything he wants to, he ultimately rests his forehead on Charlie’s shoulder. He doesn’t care that they’re in a room full of people, and this moment of affection is what both characters need.
In terms of LGBTQ representation, it’s so refreshing to see a cast of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and even questioning characters featured in a show and not be plagued by cliché and harmful stereotypes. The ensemble cast was well cast and developed the wider universe and relationships around and outside of Nick and Charlie with great performances by William Gao, Yasmin Finney, Corinna Brown, Kizzy Edgell, Sebastian Croft, Cormac Hyde-Corrin, Tobie Donovan and Rhea Norwood. Also, as someone who was raised on the Harry Potter audiobooks, I quickly recognised the iconic voice acting of Stephen Fry and thought that was an excellent cameo appearance.
Heartstopper was an absolute heart stealer of a show. From the writing to the directing and acting, it was just so lovely to see a simple love story written and portrayed realistically on screen. This is one of Netflix’s strongest debut series in recent years and is a must-watch.
I cannot recommend this show enough, and this series needs to have a renewal to adapt the rest of the series - which I will probably be reading and reviewing while we wait for a series two. So if you haven’t watched it yet, seriously go watch it!
My rating for Heartstopper: Series One - ★★★★★.
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