One Day – whose story?

SPOILER WARNING – If you haven’t read the book and/or seen the film, and you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read this!

A couple of nights ago, I watched the film of David Nicholls’ One Day with MiL and SiL. We enjoyed it, despite Anne Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent (the less said about that the better) and thought it did the book justice. Thinking about it later though, I realised that, for me at least, the perspective had shifted.

Reading the book, I felt it was Emma’s story. I suppose it could be simply because as a woman I identify with the heroine, but I think it’s more than that. We start from her point of view and the main plot is her struggle to establish herself in London and become the person she wants to be. Dexter is part of her story, but he’s an increasingly annoying, self-absorbed prat for at least half the novel. I did like him much more once he married Sylvie and he is a very sympathetic character in later chapters. When they got together in Paris, I remember thinking there are too many pages left for a happy ending, but I didn’t expect to lose my protagonist. (To be honest, I expected Dex to mess things up or for something from his past to separate them.) The novel then carries on without Emma, which I found quite disorientating (much like Dexter finds life without her, which is perhaps the point). Nicholls highlights an often overlooked factor of death – it hits you out of the blue and then the world just carries on – and this is one of the most interesting aspects the novel.

However the film, for a variety of reasons, felt like Dexter’s story; it made me like him. Perhaps it was simply because I knew what was going to happen so I didn’t invest as much in Emma; perhaps it was because of the omissions (Em’s affair with the Headteacher, her interview at the publishers etc); perhaps it was because Dexter’s faults were glossed somewhat (the day with his dying mother was far gentler in the film); perhaps it was because Jim Sturgess is a very pretty boy… This is not to say it was a bad film or even a bad adaptation. Despite being very faithful to the text (what was omitted wasn’t necessary and not every detail can be adapted for the screen), it felt like a different story. For someone like me (who rarely dares to watch films of books I’ve enjoyed) that’s probably a good thing.

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