It’s hard to get on a train at the moment without seeing a commuter reading David Nicholls’ One Day. It’s become this year’s Da Vinci Code (while thankfully not being the equivalent of literary slurry). The adaptation directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education) is a perfectly competent romantic drama but doesn’t have the emotional impact of the novel and fails to distinguish itself above other movies of its kind.
One Day follows recent graduates Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) after they share a failed one-night stand on St. Swithin’s Day – the 15th July – in 1988. They eventually become best friends and each year on the 15th we’re given a snapshot of the preceding year. Emma initially takes a dead-end job as a waitress in a scuzzy Mexican restaurant before eventually retraining as a teacher and becoming a successful novelist.
Dexter meanwhile becomes an obnoxious presenter for late night TV shows and has a string of glamorous but ultimately meaningless relationships before his life spirals into drug-fuelled abandon and his career nosedives.
The snapshot structure which no doubt works in the novel is less successful on film. As the years pass, the form finds characters awkwardly trying to work details about what’s happened to them in the last year into casual conversation. And without any of the internal monologue and musings that no doubt accompany the print version, the weight of years feels decidedly lightweight.
Structural problems aside, the performances are first rate. Jim Sturgess in particular rises to the difficult challenge of making Dexter repugnant and easily hateable early on but worthy of our sympathy come the conclusion.
Much has already been written about Anne Hathaway’s dodgy Yorkshire accent. In truth, it’s not actually that bad, it’s just that she often forgets to do it and often lapses into a standard RP accent that all American actors adopt. There’s actually no reason why she needs to have an accent at all or even for that matter to be British. The book makes a distinction between Dexter’s posh upbringing and Emma’s more earthy beginnings but we never meet Emma’s family in the film so this distinction is lost.
Accent aside, she’s actually very good, conveying a sense of vulnerability in her early years and a growing sense of cynical exasperation at continually having to piece Dexter together. There’s the familiar problem with her being too pretty for the role – even as a mousy undergraduate, she’s stunningly pretty.
One Day is nevertheless an enjoyable romantic drama, even if it inevitably suffers from adaptation decay which leaves it lacking the emotional punch or the depth of the book.