Odeon East Kilbride, 24.08.11

The novel One Day by David Nicholls takes the typical boy meets girl story and spreads it over twenty years by focusing on where each of the main characters, Emma and Dexter, are on one day – the 15th of July – every year from 1988 to 2008. It’s a neat trick that allows the writer to take his story through broad life spans, changing lives and the changing world at a rapid pace, without becoming bogged down in heavy details – so for example, Dexter’s mother announces she has cancer on one July 15th, we see her suffering from treatment the next year and the following year we meet Dexter and learn his mother has died.  Similarly, Emma’s relationship with her friend Ian, though lasting a few years in story time, lasts only a few chapters in reading time.  What makes this particularly successful is that Nicholls can express both Emma and Dexter’s internal thoughts to fill in the gap of what has happened in each year that has passed. 

The structure of the book would seem ideally suited to a film, each chapter a little vignette in itself and contributing to the overall plot, but in translating his book from the page onto the screen, Nicholls hasn’t succeeded in finding a way to transpose his character’s inner thoughts.  That leaves many snippets from the book which had a lot of meaning and relevance in written form as simple scenes that lack the same emotional punch.  It’s a problem that the film never quite recovers from throughout and, together with the usual condensing required to make a four hundred-plus page novel fit into under two hours, leaves One Day as a decent film, but lacking the impact the original novel has on a reader.

One way to overcome the lack of internal monologue is, of course, to find actors who can express their characters feelings through looks and actions rather than words. Anne Hathaway as Emma and Jim Sturges as Dexter give it a good shot, but unfortunately fail to deliver the emotions required to raise the material. Part of that failure may come down to both concentrating on mastering their English accents rather than delivering strong performances. Sturgess has the easier job with decent Received Pronunciation English, but Hathaway struggles, landing somewhere between upper class RP, Emmerdale-Midlands and hints of East coast Scottish accents all combining in various forms. It becomes quite distracting.  Patricia Clarkson also turns up with an English accent as Dexter’s mother – leaving one wondering why they couldn’t find anyone from England to play any of these roles. One English actor who does appear is Romola Garai (Poliakoff’s Glorious 39 (2009) and  recently excelling in BBC2 drama The Hour) wasted in the slight part of Dexter’s ex-wife Sylvie. It’s not a great leap to imagine Garai as a much more convincing Emma, and perhaps someone who could have done more with the material. Rafe Spall, as the hapless, Ian seems horribly miscast, coming across as either completely annoying or faintly creepy, not helped by being forced to sport a ridiculous haircut throughout – it’s a credit to his performance that one can muster some sympathy for him by the end.

Lone Scherfig follows up her success with An Education (2009) here, but there is a lack of visual flair for the most part, lifted only by the odd touch (including the dramatic ending which is effectively shot).  For a film that covers the twenty years that brought us mobile phones, home computers, the internet, there seems to be a reluctance to exploit the  changing lifestyles in any detail, with hints and comments alluding to minor things, such as Emma refusing to get a mobile phone. It’s commendable on one level, but leaves the film strangely timeless, as 1988 could easily be interchanged for 2008, with just a swap of hairstyle. Where is does succeed is as a snapshot of the changes that all people go through as they grow up and life doesn’t quite go as planned. This is good, but hardly new in cinema.

All of which isn’t to say that One Day is a failure, it’s reasonable, mature entertainment. But those who have read the book will be left feeling let down by this slight adaptation, while those who haven’t read the book will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

Film Rating: 3 out of 5.

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