The Story Behind Netflix’s Geek Girl

By Olivia Emily

6 days ago

The series is climbing the most-watched charts


It may be up against Bridgerton season 3 (and 2, and 1), but Geek Girl is making a splash on the Netflix charts, garnering a legion of fans and pleasing now-adults who loved the books in their teenage years (ahem). But did you know there’s a true story underpinning the coming-of-age series?

Emily Carey as Harriet Manners in Geek Girl

Emily Carey as Harriet Manners in Geek Girl. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2024

Is Geek Girl A True Story?

Geek Girl isn’t an entirely true story, but it is based on events in author Holly Smale’s life. Smale was also scouted by a London modelling agency to be a fashion model at age 15, and she was bullied at school just like Harriet. Smale modelled for two years before quitting because she did not enjoy it.

When Smale was 39, she was diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia, and has retroactively described Harriet as having both conditions, too, since she is based on a young Smale. After Geek Girl was first published, Smale received an email from the National Autistic Society who asked if she realised Harriet is autistic. ‘I’m like, “How dare you? No, no she’s not”,’ Holly recalled in an interview with the BBC. ‘She’s just a really clever girl who can’t handle sensory environments and can’t communicate properly and needs to have everything in order. I had no idea what autism was.’

Smale has described her diagnosis as liberating. ‘From an emotional perspective, it’s helped me to love myself a bit more and to feel much less shame,’ she told the BBC. ‘I’m not fussed anymore about being like everyone else.

‘It feels a bit like growing up thinking you’re a duck and everyone telling you, your entire life, you’re a rubbish duck… And then you suddenly hit the age of 39 and someone says, “You do realise you’re not a duck, you’re actually a frog?”,’ Smale says. ‘And you have this moment of revelation where you’re like, of course, it doesn’t matter that I can’t paddle and do all those duck things, because I’m really good at being a frog.’

Emily Carey as Harriet Manners and Liam Woodrum as Nick Park

(L-R) Emily Carey as Harriet Manners and Liam Woodrum as Nick Park. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2024

What Is Geek Girl About?

Geek Girl centres on 16-year old Harriet Manners, a student at Hollybridge Secondary School. She is socially awkward and often bullied, but accidentally thrust into the shiny world of fashion when she’s discovered by a modelling agent during a school trip. Soon, she’s fashion’s biggest rising star – but her sudden success is anything but a fairytale. In becoming a model, she is living out the snubbed dreams of her fashion obsessed best friend, and while she has a budding romance with fellow model Nick, she must avoid the firing line of his ex-girlfriend, the established model Poppy Hepple-Cartwright who sees Harriet as a threat.

What Is It Based On?

Geek Girl is based on Holly Smale’s young adult novel of the same name, which is itself based on Smale’s experiences growing up: she was also bullied at school and scouted to be a model as a teenager.

A still from Geek Girl

(L-R) Emmanuel Imani as Wilbur Evans, Hebe Beardsall as Betty & Emily Carey as Harriet Manners. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2024

Where Was It Filmed?

Geek Girl was filmed in London, UK and Ottawa in Canada. The main London filming locations include: North Greenwich, Dalston, Hackney, Southwark, Waterloo, Twickenham, Paddington, Kensington and Chelsea. In Surrey, Kempton, Richmond and Walton-on-Thames were also used for filming.

The Geek Girl Cast

  • Emily Carey as Harriet Manners, a teen turned model
  • Emmanuel Imani as Wilbur Evans, Harriet’s agent and mentor
  • Liam Woodrum as Nick Park, Harriet’s love interest and fellow model
  • Daisy Jelley as Poppy Hepple-Cartwright, Nick’s girlfriend
  • Rochelle Harrington as Nat Grey, Harriet’s best friend
  • Tim Downie as Richard Manners, Harriet’s dad
  • Jemima Rooper as Annabel Manners, Harriet’s stepmother
  • Zac Looker as Toby Pilgrim, Harriet and Nat’s classmate
  • Sandra Yi Sencindiver as Yuji Lee, a fashion designer
  • Mia Jenkins as Lexi, one of Harriet’s bullies
  • Alana Boden as Miss Lord, a teacher at Harriet’s school
  • Madeleine Price as Liv, Lexi’s friend
  • Alexandra Chaves as Millie
  • Hersha Verity as Maia
  • Hebe Beardsall as Betty, Wilbur’s assistant
Zac Looker as Toby Pilgrim & Emily Carey as Harriet Manners in Geek Girl

(L-R) Zac Looker as Toby Pilgrim & Emily Carey as Harriet Manners. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2024

Who Is Emily Carey?

Emily Carey is an autistic, non-binary actor who portrays Harriet Manners in Geek Girl. You might also recognise them as Young Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon (opposite Millie Alcock’s Young Rhaenyra Targaryen), Mika in Get Even, and Anastasia in Netflix’s Anastasia: Once Upon a Time.

How Old Is Harriet Manners?

Harriet is 16 in Netflix’s Geek Girl, though she is 15 in Smales’ first book. There are six books in Smale’s Geek Girl series. By book six, Harriet is 18 years old.

Is Harriet Autistic?

Yes, Harriet Manners is autistic, as is Smale who wrote the Geek Girl books, and so is Emily Carey, the actor who portrays Harriet. Harriet is also dyspraxic, as is Smale. Dyspraxia is a common disorder that affects movement and coordination skills – such as balance, playing sports, learning to drive a car, or walking down a catwalk.

In response to critics of the series calling Geek Girl inauthentic autistic representation, Smale took to X, writing: ‘It’s based on books written by me (autistic), about me as a teen (autistic). I wrote all of Harriet for the show (still autistic) and the lead actor is autistic. It’s the DEFINITION of authentic.

‘I think people are so used to seeing inauthentic representation they don’t recognise it when it’s in front of them,’ Smale continued. ‘And, honestly, I don’t really blame them.’

That said, Smale and the series producers are purposefully subtle when it comes to Harriet’s autism. She is never described as autistic or neurodivergent, but she is bullied for her enthusiasm for niche subjects and learning, she always has headphones with her, and she prefers being alone in quiet environments. When facing conflict with her best friend Nat, she asks, ‘Are we arguing right now?’, and she frequently doesn’t see the punchline in her friends’ jokes.

As one fan of Smale wrote, ‘I think the great thing about your books […] is that you wrote them not knowing [about autism] and so not being influenced by how it should or shouldn’t come across.’

A still from Geek Girl

(L-R) Tim Downie as Richard Manners, Rochelle Harrington as Nat Grey, Emily Carey as Harriet Manners, Hersha Verity as Maia & Jemima Rooper as Annabel Manners. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2024

Will There Be A Season 2?

No news just yet on whether we can expect Geek Girl season 2, but we imagine Netflix is keeping an eye on the high ratings. Since Smale wrote six Geek Girl books, there’s plenty of content to adapt into future series.

WATCH

All episodes of Geek Girl are streaming now on Netflix. netflix.com