Ohne Day should not work. Consider its premise: Posh Southern boy loves working-class Northern girl…for two decades. He grew up in the Cotswolds and plans to spend the summer after graduating from university in France “with the Marlborough lot”. She wanders the dusty village halls with suffrage plays and pauses to play Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection before making out with someone. This doesn’t seem plausible. Or touching. Or funny. Or relevant to our times, which have traveled so far beyond “class conflict” that I can’t conjure up a vicious enough word to describe them.
And even. When David Nicholls’ third novel came out in 2009, it won over everyone who read it, even those who don’t do romantic comedies. It was so funny and unpretentious, so sincere and true. The movie that followed was strangely awful, but let’s treat this as a rebound relationship instantly removed from your romantic history so you can love again. Because now we have the hot 2020s version. And this one is a keeper.
A limited series is the ideal format for One Day, a love story that is both epic – spanning 20 years – and daily, with all the action taking place on a single date, July 15, the day of St. Swithin. Each half-hour episode, except for the heartbreaking finale, covers a day beginning in 1988 with Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall) and Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) meeting on the night of their graduation at the University of Edinburgh. This perfectly divides the story into 14 very indulgent slices of nostalgia.
The format made me understand what One Day really is: the poetry of everyday life and the power of nostalgia. As Philip Larkin writes in the poem that opens this flawless adaptation, written by a team led by Nicole Taylor (Wild Rose) and produced by Nicholls: “Where can we live except for a few days? »
Each episode is an exquisite miniature setting. There’s July 15 when Dexter, now a failing TV presenter, goes home to visit his dying mother and screws everything up. Even the abandoned exercise bike in his old room and the Bugsy Malone video on the shelf make my throat tighten. And the giddy summer day when Em and Dex collect a bottle and bag of off-license Kettle Chips, lie down on Primrose Hill and watch the sunset. And the awful part of the board game. Are you there, Moriarty? when Dex accidentally hits his new, even classier girlfriend in the face with a rolled up copy of the Times.
The supporting cast is superlative, the period details magnificent, the soundtrack sublime. By the time Orange Juice’s Rip It Up comes on, I’m a mess, capable of collapsing at the sight of a hamburger phone.
Of course, the whole enterprise depends on Em and Dex being completely believable and lovable, individually and together. They are extraordinary. Woodall’s charisma and frightening but infinitely forgivable privilege are on full display; I forgive him a thousand times. Its chic is neither glossed over nor glamorous; it is simply integral.
Ambika Mod (This Is Going to Hurt) is such a revelation that it’s hard to believe this is her first starring role. Her Em is flinty, vulnerable, committed and relentlessly impassive. On the hungover morning after their meeting, they pass the time climbing Arthur’s Seat. “Is it a religious thing, not to sleep together? » » asks Dex. To which Em explains in a funny tone that his mother is Hindu and his father a non-practicing Catholic: “God was not involved. »
Which brings me to a confession. My first reaction to seeing Mod play Emma was complicated. I was thrilled: I had never seen someone who looked like me, living the life I was living at the time I was living it, on screen before. But that’s also why it didn’t ring true. Because race (and class, for that matter) didn’t work like that back then. What I mean by that – I’m just going to say it – white boys like Dex didn’t like brown girls like Em. I know because I was one, even though I went to Glasgow. In the first episodes, the unspeakable nature of Emma’s race struck me. The truth is that Dex (and his parents) may have made unintentional racist mistakes. And Em would have forgiven him.
But then I kept watching. I started falling in love with them, hard. And I began to appreciate the beautiful Shakespearean elements of this story, which tells of two very different people who connect through humor, shared cultural references, and, most importantly, time. And, my God, it goes by so quickly. Suddenly it’s July 15, 1991, Dex and Em are swimming in Greece and I’m into it. By the time it’s 2007 and Dex is back in Edinburgh, where I landed and from where I’m writing these words, I’m crying my eyes out and wanting to start all over again.