St. Swithins Day, 1988. Bookish Emma (Hathaway) and raffish Dexter (Sturgess) spend the night together on their last day at Edinburgh university. We subsequently pick up their friendship on various July 15s over the next 20-odd years, charting how their
Subtitled “Twenty Years, Two People”, David Nicholls’ third novel, One Day, was ubiquitous in 2009, a stalwart on ‘3 for 2’ tables and book-club reading lists ever since. Yet for all its populist success, Nicholls’ book is no bland beach read. Out of its tricksy structure — we catch up with two friends on the same day every year for 20 years — Nicholls built up a recognisable, affecting central relationship, a pin-sharp picture of how Britain has changed over the last 20 years and a poignant portrait of how our youthful aspirations get realigned over time.
Following up An Education, Lone Scherfig follows Nicholls’ conceit faithfully but doesn’t really share its ambition or authenticity. Instead, One Day The Movie delivers a thoroughly enjoyable relationship flick. In taking snapshots of the lives of Emma (Anne Hathaway), from radical student to depressed Tex-Mex worker to successful teen novelist, and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), from carefree student to successful presenter of post-pub TV shows to washed-up mess, Scherfig’s film jumps rather than glides from subtlety and rawness to a broader comedic sensibility and a sense of grandiloquent romance.
Adapting his own novel, Nicholls the screenwriter has the good sense to import the best lines — “If I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life, it would be the gift of confidence; either that or a scented candle” — and key incidents from Nicholls the novelist. The book’s best set-pieces — the crap holiday, the Are You There, Moriarty? parlour game — always felt like a Working Title flick and come off a treat. Yet without the internal monologues filling in the gaps, these episodes don’t have the emotional heft they have in print — the years pass but you don’t feel the mileage.
Scherfig demonstrated with An Education that she has a keen eye for young people trying to find themselves, and it’s on display here. Sturgess and Hathaway make the friends-with-a-history thing feel grounded, the growing older realistic. The former delivers the sad swagger of Dexter and the latter sidesteps a wandering Yorkshire accent to find truths in Emma. Around them, the likes of Patricia Clarkson (Dex’s mum), Ken Stott (Dex’s Dad) and Romola Garai (Dex’s missus) do good supporting work, but it is Rafe Spall, as Em’s Star Trek-loving, failed-comedian boyfriend, who edges it.
It may not truly capture the complexities of its source material but One Day is funny, winning and entertaining - if little else.