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To fall in love in just ‘One Day’: Review

I can clearly remember watching Normal People in 2020. The world outside my bedroom window had been turned inside out by the coronavirus, and within just a week my school days had been brought to an abrupt end. Days became strange: I missed the friends and family I could no longer see in person, and I worried about the future. Normal People seemed to perfectly respond to my longings and doubts. Not only stylishly paired back, beautifully sound-tracked and thoughtfully acted, the series spoke about love in its most vulnerable form. Sad but beautiful, it promised that human connections would be strong enough to withstand the battles of real life. 

Fast forward four years and I am in Spain, scrolling through Netflix for something to watch. The first thing I come across is the recent adaptation of David Nicholls’ bestselling novel One Day. A massive fan of Nicholls’ books, which capture the blunders and pains of adolescence with irresistible warmth, One Day is the only book of his I have not read. The 2011 adaptation felt underdeveloped, with Anne Hathaway’s attempts at a Northern accent a constant distraction from the chemistry of the central relationship. After watching the trailer for the new series, however, I was quickly convinced to give it a go, and within the space of just one afternoon – let alone one day – I had fallen swiftly and surely in love. 

The first episode opens with the musings of Philip Larkin: ‘Where can we live but days?’. Thus begins the series of fourteen half-hour episodes that tell the story of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley – one a moneyed socialite, the other a nerdy Northerner – who meet at their graduation ball in Edinburgh in 1988. We revisit the two friends on the same day for twenty years: July 15th, St Swithin’s. If it rains today, so they say, a wet summer will follow. And so with Dexter and Emma, the events of just one day will have the power to forecast the rest of their lives.

Much like Normal People, the cinematography is beautiful: we are taken through the sun kissed streets of Rome; up and down the hills of Edinburgh; into Parisian bistros and onto Grecian beaches. There are oranges and pinks following Dex and Em wherever they go; in their happiest of highs, or their loneliest of lows. The acting is deeply thoughtful, with the fresh-faced leads Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod rendering the two characters utterly heartbreaking, even when behaving their worst. Be warned: the world of One Day is not all sunshine and romance. Be prepared to shout at the screen in frustration; to hate Dexter for one small moment, only to cry with him the next. 

Perhaps the series’ greatest triumph is the soundtrack, which guides viewers from the House of Love days of the late 80s, into the 90s of groups like The Charlatans, Blur, and Suede, and ends in the early 2000s with Badly Drawn Boy. While hints to the year of each episode are made visually and in the dialogue – Emma bets that she will never own a mobile phone, and Dexter’s blaring blue blazer, quiffed hair and single earring absolutely scream the 80s – it is the music that sustains the story’s chronology. The carefully composed soundtrack makes Dexter and Emma’s relationship universal with songs revealing our ongoing preoccupation with affairs of the heart, whether it’s 1968 and Irma Thomas is singing ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)’, or 1996 with Longpigs confessing ‘the love that I’ve clung to / more often than I’ve let it show’. 

One Day, like Normal People, has touched me in a way that very few other programmes have. Perhaps it is the moment in which we come across these shows that gives them their extraordinary power and meaning. On my year abroad, far from the familiarity of home and the comfort of friends, One Day does not feel like a romance so much as a fierce affirmation of the power of love and friendship to endure change, traverse distance and survive setbacks. To watch this show as a student on the cusp of graduation equally lends it a certain magic: it helps to know that the chains formed of our todays will tether us to our tomorrows. Emma reads a line from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, proclaiming that ‘it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been’.

One Day defies the boundaries of the romantic. It is a story as much about struggling to hold onto love as about being lucky enough to find it; about the times we lose as much as the times that we win; and most importantly of all, it is a reminder that there is little in this world that compares to the feeling of loving and being loved by our friends.

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