Based on David Nicholls’ eponymous novel and directed by An Education’s Lone Scherfig, One Day is a heartbreaking romance that spans over twenty years and stars Christopher Nolan’s future Catwoman, Anne Hathaway alongside Jim Sturgess (Heartless, Upside Down).
Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) meet in Edinburgh during the early hours of St Swithin’s Days. They’re celebrating their graduation with friends and get left together once their acquaintances begin pairing off for the night. Dexter kindly offers to walk Emma home, leading to a drunken get together which looks set to explode into a physical relationship. However, their sexual encounter is aborted when Dexter- tired of waiting for Emma to ‘prepare’ herself – is caught trying to sneak out. After an awkward conversation Dexter stays but the two decide to become ‘just friends’ – resulting in a complex friendship based on the foundations of an unconsummated attraction and hindered by a sense of ‘What could have been’.
What follows is two separate, yet interweaving narratives which tell the stories of Emma and Dexter’s lives. As the pair gets older their lives take very different paths, however, Emma’s letters and poems to Dexter keep them in touch, whilst his late night drunken phone calls are evidence that he still holds her very close to his heart. As the years go by the two meet at key moments of their lives, slowly dismantling the self imposed obstacles which separate them and quickly realising that they belong together.
One Day’s most endearing feature is how brilliantly it depicts the constantly changing dynamic of Emma and Dexter’s relationship. When one is up, inevitably the other is down, whether it be Dexter enjoying his hedonistic lifestyle as a late night TV presenter whilst Emma toils away in one of London’s grimiest Mexican restaurants, or when She finally becomes a published writer whilst Dexter struggles to cope with his slump into depression – caused by his crumbling career, dependency on drugs and his failed marriage. Whilst admittedly they’re all very ’1st world problems’ and unlikely to evoke much sympathy from many viewers, it’s how Emma and Dexter fight past these unavoidable obstacles to eventually find each other which makes the film’s final act so harrowing.
Another remarkable element of Scherfig’s One Day is its delightfully accurate setting. Using pre-millennium London as the backdrop for the majority of the film’s action, One Day takes us through a nostalgic step back into the horrors of the nineties – complete with all its detestable florescent clothing and quintessentially English humour.
Where One Day does show signs of inadequacy is with the casting of it two lead roles. Sturgess manages to depict the loveable rogue characteristics of Dexter very well – yet whilst it’s admirable that we remain hopeful his destitute years will swiftly pass, Sturgess is far more successful at making Dexter seem vile and detestable than he is in convincing us that he has a heart of gold hidden behind his hideous late night TV presenter facade.
Hathaway’s performance is however a much more complex facet to critique. Whilst appearing warm and incredibly loveable – dealing with the emotional core of her role admirably well, her accent does need to be addressed. Aiming to portray a Yorkshire accent, she all too often fails to hit the right notes – making it all too apparent when she does and thus amplifying her previous failed attempts. It’s a shame that so much hard work is undone by one miniscule, yet incredibly noticeable flaw, however, anything which so starkly removes the audience from the film’s narrative deserves to be mentioned.
All in all, One Day is an incredibly accomplished romance which successfully manages to tell its wide ranging story without ever losing its audience’s attention. Adapting a love story which crosses numerous years is no mean feat and whilst nowhere near perfect, One Day remains a stunningly assured attempt at a monumental challenge.