Joe Alwyn’s voice in ‘Conversations with Friends’ is the new Connell’s chain
22nd Jun 2022
Connell's chain walked so the gravelly tones of Joe Alwyn's Nick could run. Only this one can't be auctioned.
Have you heard of the uncanny valley? It’s a term used in AI and cartoons to refer to a character or robot that is too human. You see, we enjoy seeing some human characteristics in non-humans, it makes them feel more compelling and relatable to us. However, if you give them too many human qualities to the point that the resemblance is uncanny, and their likability plummets as our brains fixate on what’s real and what isn’t. Hence, the uncanny valley.
Joe Alwyn as Nick in Conversations with Friends falls into a similar uncanny valley. He’s SO handsome, he’s almost not handsome. Alwyn ticks so many boxes of required handsomeness – he’s ripped, has incredibly distinctive eyes, great teeth, a chiselled jawline and lush dirty blonde hair that Alison Oliver’s Frances clearly loves to run her fingers through. Even the rough bit of stubble gives his performance as Nick a more charmed, lived-in look.
However, two of these qualities together might be alluring, yet somehow it’s too much when found all in one person. Watching the Sally Rooney adaption, I found myself regularly returning to the same question rather than actually the (admittedly slow) romance unfold: why amn’t I more attracted to Nick?
Joe Alwyn’s saving grace is his unexpected low and quiet voice. With his church boy looks, you automatically anticipate a clear, anunicated tone, one that might potentially run for office or, say, that of a stage actor (which both Nick and Joe are). However, what we get instead is a deep, fumbling voice, dragging his thoughts over so many hot coals before he releases them that they smolder and smoke upon exit.
Honestly, it’s the saving grace of his whole character, the charming chink in his otherwise too-perfect armour. Whereas Connell’s chain caressing Marianne’s throat as they’re in the throes of intimacy became the icon of Normal People, we’ve had to settle for much less in Conversations with Friends. Much less sex but also far less intimacy as Alwyn and Oliver struggle to get their chemistry and their charcaters’ likeability off the ground. In fact, Conversations is a much harder task to televise, its characters, who admittedly grated on many in the book now must live on screen without Rooney’s clever pacing, the extensive email exchanges that littered the book and the absence of an interior monologue.
Which is why Nick’s voice at the other end of his regular phonecalls with Frances is a welcome respite from the messiness of tumultuous relationships and irritating character flaws. Now let’s not get started on his “Irish” accent…
Photography via Hulu.