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The book. The movie. The series. One Day has one winner

by | Mar 27, 2024 | Creative, Review | 0 comments

After consuming each version of this story, here are my final thoughts

Minor spoilers ahead.

The book: 

David Nicholls’s 2009 book One Day follows the life of two people who meet on their last day at the University of Edinburgh, which falls on July 15, 1988. Nicholls manages to captivate you until the last page, which also ends on July 15, just 20 years later. It is intrinsically connected through some of the most critical years of their lives, from being friends to much more. July 15 is an important date, falling on St. Swithin’s Day which is known more in the United Kingdom than Canada. Whatever the weather is like on July 15, it will continue for the next 40 days and 40 nights. Dexter Mayhew, the male lead, explained this to Emma Morley a few hours after meeting. The two share their aspirations for the future, which allows the readers to keep Dex and Em in check while delving into the later years of their lives. Each chapter and each year that is written gives the two characters more and more personality, strengthening the connection. Dex and Em’s relationship flourish throughout the novel, yet we only see one day out of the calendar year. 

This way of storytelling is truly captivating and somehow allows you to know the characters more than following their daily lives. I am absolutely in love with the full circle moment near the end of the book as Dex retraces his footsteps from the first night he met Em. In 2007, he climbed to the top of the hill with his daughter, remembering the same day in 1988 he took this same trail with Emma. Many of the descriptions of the time and journey that the characters went through are easily relatable; all the while, the story is set across the pond in the United Kingdom.  In my early teens, I used to love reading those stereotypical romance/young adult genre books, but I have recently had a significant shift in needing a deep plot before romance. The book One Day encapsulated everything I never knew I needed. 

I recommend this as a read to any and all of you, but I will preface by stating that I am a sucker for sadness. I love a good story that leaves you running out of tissues from sobbing. So, if that sounds like you, head to Chapters now. This book burned deep into my heart like Icharus flying too close to the sun. It captures two archetypal personalities — the darker-toned, insecure, passionate, and talented realist roller coaster of a person, Emma Morley, and Dexter Mayhew, a god-like figure in the eyes of peers, who is privileged, top-of-the-barrel, and ever so lucky (and, not to mention a smoke show). Dex is a character who never seems to doubt his actions, which reflects his go-with-the-flow attitude towards life. 

One Day demonstrates how a deep friendship can grow from one serendipitous moment and fall towards a devoted love all in the same lifetime. Their story builds with such anticipation, causing a stir of highs and lows. I couldn’t help but hate that I loved it. Few books, series, or movies can capture the authentic, deep-rooted pain of such caliber. It tells of perseverance through a multitude of life’s twists and turns. One note I will leave is that the narrative could have been more impactful in the first person by switching between Em and Dex’s perspectives in each chapter to add more attachment and connection to the characters.

The movie

In 2011, director Lone Scherfig, in collaboration with Universal Pictures, adapted this lovely book from page to screen, and, honestly, it missed the mark for me. Compared to the book, it just didn’t hold up with the visual needs I desperately wanted from the pages. The film’s colour grading was exceedingly dull compared to what I yearned for. Hollywood has recently drained the colour from the screen and my hopes. This film was ahead of the current colour famine but stayed on implementing dull filters throughout the film and never turning the saturation past what seemed like 10 per cent. 

I also had a stir about the casting selection for the character’s portrayals. It didn’t stick out or align with what I envisioned. Since Anne Hathaway, who, in the film took the role of Emma, is widely known for her beauty, it didn’t sit right that she was supposed to be your relatable, run-of-the-mill girl. The film industry has rung the towel dry of trying to convince viewers she is unattractive, only to play out the ugly duckling makeover trope with her in multiple instances. She stands out too much for me to buy that she was indeed the Emma Morley I had read about. The male lead, Jim Sturgess, didn’t do it for me either. He couldn’t bring the level of charm and charisma that I knew the Dexter Mayhew had. The on-screen chemistry was good enough to get by, but I just couldn’t detach from the characters I created in my mind.

The series

Earlier this year, Netflix released a 14-episode limited series directed by Molly Manners, which intended to surpass the film adaptation of One Day and closely align with the beloved book for its dedicated readers (me). Manners’s insight, expressed in an interview with Netflix’s Tudum, perfectly encapsulates the experience the series offers, declaring, “You’re never just observing two people.” It truly feels as if you are involved in their lives by showing so much of both characters’ lives, while allowing for a deeper connection linked to the audience. Like any book-to-series adaptation, there is always the fear that what you see won’t align with what you imagined. However, unlike the 2011 film, everything from the characters to the settings almost perfectly fit what I had envisioned, which was truly amazing to witness. 

I was particularly intrigued by the casting, as the female lead was played by South Asian actress Ambika Mod, which initially drew me to watch the series (plus, I had taken part in consuming every other adaptation at this point, so I might as well finish it off). All I can say is wow! What a stunning and heart-wrenching performance by Mod, and after watching the series, I hope to see her in many future films. To put it lightly, Ambika Mod’s delivery of the line “I’m not being a footnote” in the flashback was tear-jerking. Referencing Dexter’s life as a novel allowed him, years later, to reflect and realize that Emma was so much more than a footnote; she was the main character his world revolved around. 

The accents were also much more honest and believable as the casting crew hired actual British people — I know, crazy. This incredible series, in stark contrast to the film adaptation, which, to really hammer in the point of proper casting, included the oddball choice of Anne Hathaway, who (if you didn’t know) is American and has a tacky Yorkshire accent at best. 

Dexter Mayhew’s actor, Leo Woodall, fit Dex to a tee, which I imagined. The suave arrogance and nonchalant attitude were so necessary that I fell under his spell, too! The chemistry between Dex and Em is palpable and authentic, and you can’t take your eyes off the brilliant performances of Mod and Woodall. It felt so special to witness their journey, and your heart yearns for the two to communicate properly and realize each other’s interests. Still, they are too fearful of coming to terms with it. Spanning 20 years, success and dreams shift from Dex, who quickly rises to fame and just as quickly falls, to Em, who starts working minimum wage and climbs the totem pole to producing her own plays. This shift creates a realistic and crucial dialogue between characters as both grow distasteful of the other at some point. 

The series manages to be engaging and sincere. The soundtrack adds such an ethereal component to their story. That’s not to mention stunning visual locations and colouring of the shots. I have always craved vibrancy in this story since witnessing the dull visuals of the film! As the series closes off, the cinematic decision to drain the colour is strategic compared to the film’s lack thereof. This brings an emotional tie to Dex’s character and feelings at the given moment. Nowadays, the film industry has been popping out so many plain Janes instead of what the audience, at least me, really wants: visual masterpieces using colour as a prime tool to convey the message subtly.

My experience of watching the One Day series was mesmerizing and by far my favourite rendition of the story. I would go as far as to state it is better than the book itself. I was entirely captivated and heartbroken from start to end, deeply invested in the pair and their lives, even with previous knowledge of the plot. The series expanded so much on both of the characters, touching my heart in a way that I’ll never truly move on from. The last three episodes tore me limb from limb and had me pausing to wipe tears away to correct the blurry vision and blow my nose from the amount of snot streaming out — it was not my cutest moment. If you’re looking for a real, tragic, and heartfelt coming-of-age story filled with love and loss, joy and sadness, triumphs and failures, then this is a must-watch! Even when comparing the word count for each of the three sections, it is clear which one version captivated me the most. 

Graphic by Avery Chilton

Avery Chilton

The Griff


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