ONE DAY The Importance of July 15th

The upcoming film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess makes a big deal over July 15th

You might not be aware, but today, July 15th, is a very special day in the calendar.  It’s not just because this is day that ‘The Boy Who Lived’ finally swoops into cinemas for his last adventure to the delight of Potheads and boredom of Muggles.

Nor is it simply because today is known as – and this will be familiar to The Simpsons hardcore – St Swithin’s Day. St Whatin’s Day? Well, according to folklore, which, in the age of internet gossip can now surely be labelled as an exact science, whatever way the weather falls on July 15th will continue as such for the next 40 days. Writing this in advance, I’m going to confidently assume that it’s raining today. You gotta love the Irish wint-mmer.

No, the real reason July 15th has gained such significance is because it’s the day of One Day fame. The 2009 novel by David Nicholls begins on July 15th, 1988 when British students Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew wake up from a one-night stand after their college graduation. It then revisits the friends/lovers – separately and together – on that same date, July 15th, over the next 20 years.

The book is already something of a modern popular classic. ‘One Day’ was Britain’s biggest selling book last year – shifting 1m copies – has been translated into 31 languages, and spent three months on the ‘New York Times’ best-seller list.

It was inevitable that Hollywood would come-a-knockin’, and sure enough the movie adaptation arrives here on August 24th (presumably it didn’t open on July 15th due to Pottermania).

Watch The Trailer 

The movie’s pedigree is certainly impressive. For starters it’s adapted by Nicholls himself, who started out as an actor, before becoming a screenwriter (on Cold Feet, most famously), and author. Before now his most well-known book was Starter for 10, which was adapted into a sweet and poignant 2006 movie starring a raft of future British stars like James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch and Dominic Cooper.
The director is Lone Scherfig, who confidently oversaw the wonderful adaptation of Lynn Barber’s An Education two years ago, making a star of Carey Mulligan in the process. The Danish Scherfig’s acute understanding and deft translation of a very British story with a very British sensibility running through it bodes well for One Day, while her own breakthrough feature Italian For Beginners (2000) proves that she can handle romance without getting too icky.

Which leaves the crucial casting of Dexter and Emma. Jim Sturgess – the 30-year-old, British, not-immediately-obvious handsome star of Across the Universe, 21 and The Way Back – was an inspired choice for the difficult, charming man-child Dexter. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looks positively dreamy in promotional pictures, but remains something of an Everyman too.
However, there were some qualms about the casting of the very American, very toothy, ostentatiously pretty Anne Hathaway to play ugly duckling English girl Emma. But c’mon people, this is Hollywood, a place and an industry where Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada or Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That are considered fat and dowdy. I suppose we should just be glad it wasn’t Cameron Diaz or Miley Cyrus put in the role.

To be fair, Hathaway has proved her worth and demonstrated that she can do light and dark, as well as the shades in between. There’s still the question of the accent, and on that front viewings of the One Day trailer probably won’t impress the real life Henry Higgins’ out there.
But given the very difficult task set for her – namely meeting the book’s fans’ impossible standards – Hathaway looks like she’s done a pretty good job, and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The interesting thing about One Day – the book and particularly the movie – is its structure. The time-shifting motif works brilliantly on the page, but while plenty of movies have been set over the course of one day or one night – Reservoir Dogs, Mallrats, Before Sunrise/Sunset, In Search of A Midnight Kiss, Dazed and Confused, The Breakfast Club come to mind – very few, if any, have opted for re-visiting the same date over a two decade period.

In many ways its structure is perfectly cinematic. It covers a wide, dramatically and stylistically different time-frame – the late Thatcher era, Britpop, the Millenium and the troubled Noughties – offering plentiful opportunities for nostalgic looting and co-opting, which is one of, if not the great cultural trademarks of our era.

The book has also been praised for its rare ability to appeal to both men and women; going by the movie’s studiously non-chick-flicky promotional poster, I’d guess the producers are hoping to replicate that cross-gender success. 

The great challenge for Nicholls and Scherfig is to ensure that the iPod shuffle-esque structure doesn’t deprive audiences of the chance to really get to know and care about the two main characters. The performances will have to synch pretty much flawlessly, and Scherfig needs to know when to slow the busy narrative down to give the characters room to breathe and to grow in our affections.

Because, as anyone who has read the book will know, the payoff from investing in the story of Emma and Dexter is immense. In the book, it will quite literally take your breath away. If the movie can build to, and then convey that emotion with the same power, then we could be in for possibly the first great romantic weepie of the new century.

Words – Declan Cashin 

*One Day is released on August 24th.