One Day fans can breathe a sigh of relief. This adaptation of David Nicholls’ mega-selling 2009 novel really improves on the 2011 film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. In fairness, it helps that Nicholls’ book has an episodic format that lends itself better to a TV series than a two-hour movie. But it also helps that this version has no crimes against dialect to rival Hathaway’s laboured Leeds accent.
Nicholls’ novel revisits friends with chemistry Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew on the same July day for 20 years. Steered by lead writer Nicole Taylor (Jessie Buckley vehicle Wild Rose), this glossy Netflix adaptation follows that format pretty faithfully. For most of the series, we check in on Emma and Dexter once a year, but things speed up at the end to wind up the story in 14 episodes. Their roughly 30-minute runtime is possibly inspired by another series based on a popular romantic novel, 2020’s Normal People, but either way, it works well here. Though One Day never achieves Normal People‘s searing emotional intensity, it’s still an affecting portrait of two people whose flaws and fortunes ebb and flow until they’re finally in sync.
Bookish, principled Emma (Ambika Mod) and rakish, privileged Dexter (Leo Woodall) first connect in 1988 on their final day at Edinburgh University. They don’t actually sleep together, but there’s enough of a spark for them to keep in touch as their lives take divergent paths. Dexter breezes into a meaningless career as a faux-geezery TV presenter and Emma parks her dreams of becoming a playwright to train as a teacher. While Dexter coasts through his twenties on charm, short-term romances and coke, Emma gets stuck in a consolation prize relationship with geeky would-be comedian Ian (Jonny Weldon).
One Day captures the buzz and boorishness of the Britpop era through Dexter’s terrible post-pub TV show and a banging ’90s soundtrack featuring Elastica, Cornershop and Massive Attack, but at heart it’s a character study. As Dexter is undone by his entitlement and lack of direction, Emma gradually learns to step out of her way and channel her intelligence into something meaningful. Rod and Woodall, who previously shone in This Is Going To Hurt and The White Lotus respectively, are both so compelling that mid-season episodes focusing solely on one character don’t feel like throwaways. Crucially, they also sparkle when they’re on screen together.
Because the series focuses so closely on its leads, some supporting characters including Emma’s effervescent bestie Tilly (Amber Grappy) are underdeveloped. For the same reason, perhaps, comedic scenes featuring the wider ensemble cast have a slightly broad, sitcom-like vibe. Fortunately, there aren’t enough of these to be off-putting, so One Day glides as confidently as Dexter to its big emotional climax. Even if you remember what happens from the book, you’ll still come away with moistened eyes wondering, gulp, what might have been.
‘One Day’ is available on Netflix from February 8