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One Day – Series vs Film

Netflix gives a worthy shot at adapting David Nicholl’s best seller One Day all over again, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

One Day, David Nicholls’ best seller, traversing through the bittersweet love life of two charismatic protagonists who just passed out of university, was always begging to be made into a movie. If Dexter is a reckless, aimless 20s-something man, who’s yet to come of age, his love interest Emma is a feisty, firmly opinionated woman who’s keen to build a career as a writer. 

Dexter and Emma are strongly drawn to one another but resist consolidating their relationship and are content to remain best friends over the years. They discuss each other’s doomed romances, unstable careers and understand each other’s vulnerabilities effortlessly. The story unfolds on the same day over multiple decades and portrays the transformation in their lives.

The novel was adapted into a film in 2011 for which David Nicholl himself wrote the screenplay. Despite the merits of the book and its racy-yet-breezy narrative structure, the Jim Sturgess, Anne Hathaway starrer does little to hold your attention. It struggles to dive into the headspace of its characters; the timeline transitions leave you cold and the performances are perfunctory, at best.

It’s a shame that an approximately 110-minute film, with solid source material, struggles to depict its two pivotal characters with any earnestness. The heartbreaks and the personal lows struggle to make an impact. The many significant people in their lives – Tilly, Ian, Callum, Alison – remain sidekicks and you don’t feel for them. 

In addition to the music score that captures the spirit of the story to a certain extent, the film depicts changes in the protagonists’ physicalities from 1988 to 2011 effectively, more so with Jim Sturgess’ Dexter. However, the good news was that David Nicholls learnt his lessons well, as he took charge of his novel’s adaptation for a Netflix show (for which he was an executive producer).

With every day in a year translating into an episode, you explore Dexter and Emma in all their flesh and blood. While Dexter is as confused and ignorant as ever, you realise Emma can be snotty, ambitious, and vulnerable – at once. Her persona strikes a chord with you more than Dexter’s in the show. As an underdog, you root for her and realise what it takes for a nobody to become somebody. 

Emma was a cute little girl with an angelic appeal in the film version, the web show informs you that she can also be quite unpredictable with relationships. You sense a greater degree of self-respect and her Indian origins, Ambika Mod’s authoritative portrayal add another layer of appeal to the character. Leo Woodall is instinctively charming and does even better to make the viewer focus on his performance beyond the good looks.

With the show, there’s a lot to savour beyond Dexter and Emma, the staging is so intimate and unhurried, the dialogues are crunchier and there’s a concerted effort to make it a cinematically enriching experience. Even on a psychological level, you understand why the duo made hasty decisions even while knowing their innermost desires.

It’s a rarity for a novel to get a second chance at an adaptation, especially when the film version ended up as a failure. One hopes the rave reviews for One Day’s Netflix version inspire creators to dig up many more novels that deserve to be retold for a newer audience.

(One Day, the film, can be rented on Prime Video while the web show is now streaming on Netflix)

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