‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ review: an intimate portrait of parenthood from Simon Bird

The first-time director spins a bittersweet tale of family strife, starring Earl Cave in a breakout role

Fans of Simon Bird’s TV work in The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner might be surprised by his first feature film as director, which he doesn’t actually appear in. Adapted from Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel by author Lisa Owens – Bird’s wife – Days of the Bagnold Summer is a modest but nuanced comedy drama about a horribly relatable mother-and-son relationship. No one in this fundamentally sweet film says anything as potty-mouthed as Friday Night Dinner’s famous “shit on it!” – let alone a truly rude Inbetweeners-ism like “clunge” or “bumder”.

Daniel Bagnold (True History of the Kelly Gang’s Earl Cave, son of Nick) is a gawky 15-year-old looking forward to spending his summer in Florida, where his dad now lives with his new family. He’d clearly benefit from a change of scenery, but minutes into the film, these plans are scuppered by his flaky father, consigning Daniel to another six weeks stuck in his dull English hometown with frumpy mum Sue (W1A’s Monica Dolan).

Buttoned-up Sue Bagnold doesn’t understand her son’s taste in heavy metal music and “gruesome” band T-shirts – in a visually nifty early scene, we see her parallel washing lines split between Daniel’s all-black apparel and her own safe, beige clothing. But she can definitely tell that Daniel is struggling when he falls out with his more confident best friend Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) and becomes increasingly inert and withdrawn. The casually cruel way that Daniel speaks to his mother, who’s clearly very caring, authentically captures that painful teenage phase when no one on earth seems more unbearable than your own parents.

Days Of The Bagnold Summer
Monica Dolan and Earl Cave in ‘Days Of The Bagnold Summer’. Credit: Altitude Entertainment

Daniel might be unkind to his mother at times, but Days of the Bagnold Summer is far too warm-hearted to allow any of its characters to behave too abominably for very long. Even its de facto baddies are pretty harmless: Bird’s Friday Night Dinner co-star Tamsin Greig expertly delivers the subtle oneupmanship of Ky’s new-agey mother Astrid, while Rob Brydon is more cheesy than evil in a handful of scenes as Douglas, a local cad who gets Sue’s hopes up.

Though Daniel’s dreams of fronting his own metal band do sort of come true – albeit in an unexpected and very small-scale way – this isn’t really a coming-of-age story because Bird is just as concerned with showing us Sue’s glimmers of personal growth. Wrapped in a suitably wistful Belle & Sebastian score, it’s a film about taking small steps forward that succeeds because its co-lead characters are so sympathetically drawn and beautifully performed. There may be no emotional earthquakes here, but every little tremor feels beautifully true.

Details

  • Director: Simon Bird
  • Starring: Tamsin Greig, Rob Brydon, Grace Hogg-Robinson
  • Release date: June 8 (Digital)
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