‘Heartstopper’ season one review: A charming, empathetic ode to young queer love

A still from ‘Heartstopper’

Heartstopper is an eight-episode series adapted from the graphic novel series of the same name written by Alice Oseman. Directed by Euros Lyn, the first season is based on the first two volumes of the graphic novel series. 

The Netflix coming-of-age drama is a tale of queer identity, love and friendships. Set in Truham Boys School and Higgs Girls School, the show focuses on queer people in same-sex schools, and deals with the politics of their existence which is delicately wrapped in a blanket of high-school romance.

Openly-gay student Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), according to his friend, is one of the “borderline outcasts” at the school making him an easy target for bullies at Truham. At the beginning of the school year, Charlie is asked to sit next to Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), the star rugby player, and this kicks off a chain of events that deal with the nuances of a young queer relationship.

The show is successful in assimilating students of different sexualities within the school gates, and delicately explores an umbrella of sexualities and queer identities; the attention to detail and the subtle references across the eight episodes is remarkable. For instance, Isaac Henderson (Tobie Donovan) is seen reading Proud: My Autobiography by Gareth Thomas, the autobiography of the first openly gay professional rugby union player, at a rugby match. The show’s handling of Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney), a transgender, and her shifting schools from Truham to Higgs, is very well done. Elle is never defined by her sexuality and is treated like every other character, with a well-written personal arc and her own love interest.      

Though all queer people face discrimination, Heartstopper hits the nail on the head when it shows that the discrimination faced by a lesbian couple — in this case, Tara Jones (Corinna Brown) and Darcy Olsson (Kizzy Edgell) — is different from that faced by a bisexual man, a gay man and a transgender person, but it is painful nonetheless.

Truham Boys School and Higgs Girls School are a universe in their own right. Though there are bullies who make the lives of queer people tough, the storyline progress only with love, empathy and kindness sprinkled with milkshake dates and movie nights. The show rewrites high school romance with characters that are emotionally mature, kind and accepting; something that is a rarity these days.

The use of texting to convey an emotion is done to perfection; the camera zooming on into phone screens and showing the characters typing a message and then proceeding to delete it nonchalantly captures the apprehensions of young people trying to build relationships in the era of screens.

The show is also very respectful of the book, and the visual imagery of the graphics translate artfully to the screen; yellow cracker-like animations emerge when the hands of the protagonists touch and pink hearts appear when a character is yearning. Each episode is designed to represent a chapter from the book, and the show feels like the pages literally came to life with the actors resembling the graphics almost perfectly.

Sebastian Croft as Ben Hope, a popular kid who has internalised homophobia, excels in his role, and so does William Gao as Tao Xu, the film nerd who is protective of his friends. 

Adults do not play a major part in the show; they accept their children and leave them to steer their lives on their own. However, a special mention to Olivia Colman, who plays the role of a loving and accepting mother with grace, something people in the queer community do not always have the privilege of experiencing. Her love transcends the screen.

Heartstopper is an ode to the students who remain relegated to the background of a classroom, and an ode to young queer love. The show dares you to empathise, accept and love. 

Heartstopper is currently streaming on Netflix

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Printable version | Apr 25, 2022 5:35:15 pm |