ONE DAY Review: Tender, Mostly Successful Adaptation of the Novel

Get past Anne Hathaway's ropey stab at a Yorkshire accent and what you get is a film which understands the devastating but also very funny heart of its source material.

rating: 3.5

It's difficult to sit in a Tube carriage these days and not find someone brandishing that distinctive orange-and-white book cover belonging to one of the most acclaimed romantic novels of the 21st century thus far. Though there's the obvious imperative to read the book before the film comes out, one senses that One Day's nascent popularity is rather owed to its own considerable merits; David Nicholls' 2009 novel is a witty, often wrenching examination of relationships and people over a twenty-year period, and with substantial success it is brought to the screen here by talented helmer Lone Scherfig (An Education). One Day begins on July 15th, 1988, as graduating students Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) stand on the precipice of adulthood, pondering what is to become of their lives from this point. The story reconvenes with the two - sometimes together, sometimes not - on July 15th every year for twenty years, to observe how their friendship evolves, and also how they change as people. There is the obvious challenge of bringing anything with a devoted fan-base to the big screen, especially something as densely-packed as this. However, the segmented, bite-sized format does lend itself extremely well to the film form, even if ultimately Emma and Dexter's story might have been more rewarding for purists as a 4-hour mini series. Naturally, some of the novel's memorable beats have had to miss the cut - Emma's affair with a headteacher is excised entirely - while other, more contentious emotional moments are removed simply because they cannot gather significant emotional momentum over a 108-minute film without probably seemingly grossly manipulative (for the book's most devastating moment has its subsequent sting-in-the-tail curtailed here). Perhaps most awkwardly replicated is the brief moments of disconnect between Dexter and his ailing mother (played wonderfully here by Patricia Clarkson), because they are effectively reduced to just a few minutes of screen time, well-played though they are. Still, for praise where praise is due, this is a hearty, loving adaptation which understands the essence of Nicholls's novel and fits Scherfig's sumptuous style - complete with a beautiful score from Rachel Portman - like a glove. While treating the script with respect is one thing, finding suitable performers is in its own way just as important. While she plays the part with the spunky vigour needed for Emma, hardcore fans of the book are liable to find Anne Hathaway's casting reflective of Hollywood tokenism in order that the film might play more successfully with international audiences. Hathaway's slender frame and classical beauty distance her considerably from the slightly homelier, though still naturally beautiful Emma envisioned in the book. More importantly, though, in a rare dodgy turn for the actress, her accent is all over the place, fleeting from generic received pronunciation to a hatchet-job Yorkshire accent which actually sounds not quite North enough. She layers on the charm such that it is only occasionally distracting, if proof enough that casting a home-grown talent might have resulted in a more faithful turn. Jim Sturgess, on the other hand, is immaculately cast as the cocky, well-to-do Dexter; embodying both the character's buffoonish charm and the more grim realities of his life, Sturgess plays the role with an industrious fidelity which implies a studious examination of the novel, or simply an intuitive interpretation of a tragic, flawed, though strangely likeable human being. Fanatics of Nicholls' literary work will likely find fault with what has been left out and the aforementioned questionable casting, but importantly, the soul of the novel has been retained in tact, of how time changes people, and that we never truly know what is around the corner. One Day is at once a heartbreaking and uplifting novel, and thanks to Lone Scherfig, it's also an emotive, tender film which both camps - those familiar with the book and not - are liable to appreciate in different ways. Get past Anne Hathaway's ropey stab at a Yorkshire accent and what you get is a film which understands the devastating but also very funny heart of its source material. One Day is released in the U.S. on Friday and on August 24th in the U.K.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.