Adapted from the best-selling novel series by Alice Oseman, ‘Heartstopper’ is a smash hit Netflix show which hit global screens last Friday. Known for his darker work in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Black Mirror’, director Euros Lyn has taken a noticeable, yet effective, creative turn to produce an unbelievably heart-warming teen drama. Within 8 short episodes, Lyn captures multiple LGBT+ themes that are often ignored in the media, while maintaining a playful essence throughout. ‘Heartstopper’ follows the story of Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), a young student who struggles to navigate the issues he faces regarding his sexuality, including developing a crush on the popular rugby boy, Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). Both actors fully embrace their roles, and are able to bring their characters to life, so that the audience find themselves rooting for them from beginning to end.
The first episode instantly throws watchers into the uncomfortable dynamics of the Truham Grammar School for Boys, as Charlie tries to navigate his secret relationship with fellow student Ben Hope (Sebastian Croft). Watchers find themselves disheartened at Charlie’s clear mistreatment, as he is simply being used by Ben to further explore his sexuality and takes clear advantage of Charlie’s innocence and naivety. We then meet Nick Nelson, on first inspection he is simply the boy Charlie is assigned to sit next to in his new form class, but he turns out to become a far greater deal. When Charlie glances at Nick for the first time, illustrations emerge all around him to capture the instant butterflies he’s experiencing. The illustrations that appear on screen recurs throughout the show, referring to the original graphic novel while also highlighting the adorable teenage buzz that the episodes capture so effortlessly.
At first, there are hesitations about Nick and his sincerity, however he treats Charlie in a way that the other popular boys have never seemed to – like a real human being who is not defined by his sexuality. We even see Nick protect Charlie after Ben forces himself onto him after the end of their relationship. Watchers are left feeling deeply heart-warmed, as we collectively know this is the treatment that Charlie deserves.
Despite the taunting and teasing at school, Charlie has a wonderful support system of friends who engage in movie nights on a regular basis. Tao (William Gao) is your classic moody teenager who is highly sceptical of Charlie’s growing friendship with Nick. His attitude can come across as pessimistic, however it’s clear he just wants to protect Charlie from getting hurt. On the other hand, Elle (Yasmin Finney) is filled with compassion and tries to offer Tao a different perspective on the situation. Their differences oddly bring them closer together as feelings between them begin to develop in the same charming way as Nick and Charlie. Elle used to attend Truham but moved after coming out as a trans-woman. It must be noted that having a trans actress star in a trans role is very motivating, as I truly admire how the show manages to consider diversity both on and off screen.
Watching Charlie and Nicks relationship blossom is simply adorable, as we begin to see Nick grow more and more protective over him. Nick begins to struggle with his own sexuality, as his connection with Charlie has caused him to think about an aspect of himself that he has been uncomfortable with his entire life. This is a very genuine struggle for many, as questioning your own identity can be incredibly confusing and daunting, this is very well displayed through Nick’s nervous mannerisms.
When Nick finally accepts his feelings towards Charlie after they share a kiss at a party, there is a clear sense of panic which sets in for him. After some time of reflection, he comes to the realisation that he’s bisexual. Male bisexuality is a topic far too undiscussed and remains somewhat taboo, so this loud and proud representation is something that could help those who are bi-curious. Despite his acceptance of himself, he is aware that his friend group would be far from encouraging. He is forced to choose between what he is comfortable with or what will truly make him happy – it isn’t easy for him, but finally he choses Charlie.
By the final episode Charlie has finally gotten what he deserves, somebody who treats him like more than an experiment or a transitional phase. Meanwhile Nick has learned to live his life authentically, as he emotionally comes out to his mum in the episodes closing minutes. Watchers cannot help but feel proud for the rollercoaster of a journey they have all been on.
‘Heartstopper’ is the show needed for the queer youth of today. LGBTQ+ teens do not deserve to live their high school years believing they are nothing but a burden, or that they don’t deserve the teenage romance that they witness all around them. The show ends at the same place as the book series’ first volume, so fans can bet on another season – something I would absolutely love to see.
Written by Natasha Turnbull