Can Brit Lit Classic 'One Day' Survive Hollywood?

David Nicholls's much-loved 'One Day' is the latest novel to undergo the Hollywood treatment. But it looks as though the book's charm may be lost in translation.
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David Nicholls's much-loved 'One Day' is the latest novel to undergo the Hollywood treatment. But it looks as though the book's charm may be lost in translation.

Substandard summers inevitably prompt nostalgia and yearning for the more memorable sunshine years. Seasons are defined by experiences and for many, although the temperatures peaked around Easter in 2009, in the (relative) heat of the year’s summer nights an alternative orange illumination to the sun’s rays enlightened many a room at dusk. Like a Stieg Larsson novel now, a tube journey was rarely taken without noticing someone with their nose in David Nicholls’ international bestseller One Day. Ubiquitous as it was conspicuous, its orange cover alone, with the silhouettes of protagonists Dexter and Emma, or Dex and Em, captures the melancholy, longing and chemistry that the pair share during their post-university relationship. Inside the orange paperback their lives are covered from the day they first met at Edinburgh University (15 July, St Swithin’s Day) over the course of 20 years on that very date, and the empathetic dissection of personalities and relationships subsequently struck an emotional chord with its following. Having read it in two days, One Day is a certified page-turner without veering into Dan Brown cliff-hanger, chapter finale territory. Funny and endearing, its use of flirting and banter as defence mechanisms against genuine emotions is tragi-comic yet familiar, and how such facades dictate the fate of others in the book is fascinating without ever teetering on the unrealistic.

So as with Nicholls’ previous novel Starter for Ten (2006), it has been adapted into a film with Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess playing the cad Dex and Anne Hathaway embodying the frumpy Yorkshire first-class honours student Emma Morley. On 24 August it is likely that those fond of the novel who choose to venture to their local multiplex to watch Dex and Em come to life, do so with great trepidation. Trepidation because One Day is not a generic rom-com. One male friend, who admittedly revels in melancholy, confessed that it took him ‘days’ to come to terms with the book’s events. And Sturgess confirmed the cultural following the book and its protagonists had generated, when a friend of a friend informed him at a barbecue that Dex was ‘incredibly important’ to them.

One male friend, who admittedly revels in melancholy, confessed that it took him ‘days’ to come to terms with the book’s events.

One Day’s minute development of Dex and Em ensures that the book can’t be meddled with and the coup of having director Lone Scherfig (An Education) at the helm as well as Nicholls adapting his own book, having dealt with poignancy effectively for the BBCs Tess of the D’Urbervilles 2008 mini-series, prioritises the adaptation’s integrity. Veterans of reading the book will also have been heartened by being able to effortlessly pin-point replica moments from the book in the film’s TV spots. Hathaway and Sturgess meanwhile are supported by a reputable collection of character actors with Rafe Spall as unfunny funny man Ian, Romola Garai as the bitchy Sylvie, Jodie Whittaker is Tilly while the unusual pairing of Patricia Clarkson and Ken Stott (together at last) were cast as Dexter’s parents.

However, it is Hathaway’s casting which has predictably rankled devotees of Nicholls’ absorbing novel, obviously since her dialect is of the New Jersey type, exacerbated since it is noticeable that her accent in the film’s trailer and clips, slips into an American drawl. Hathaway is already accustomed to jingoistic negativity, after she was selected to play a pre-fame Jane Austen in 2007's Becoming Jane, yet was an inspired choice as she and James McAvoy’s Tom Lefroy produced a believable chemistry and disregard for eighteenth-century decorum.

Hathaway’s casting...has predictably rankled devotees of Nicholls’ absorbing novel, obviously since her dialect is of the New Jersey type.

The outrage has not quite been on the scale of Renée Zellweger’s casting as the eponymous heroine in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but Film4 possibly see Hathaway’s inclusion as a box-office fillip not only in the UK but across the Atlantic. She has being prolific on the American talk-show circuit the past week (even rapping like Lil Wayne on Conan) and while her infectious energy endears her Stateside audience, purists who observe the Hathaway Rap and conscious of Hathaway’s non-chameleonic acting range will find it bizarre that this is Emma Morley.

Furthermore, the originality of this rom-com is tempered by its international trailer’s incongruous voiceover of an American narrator as well as the ill-advised inclusion of One Republic’s ‘Good Life’, which does spin it as a generic rom-com. Audiences unfamiliar with the original material should know that despite his sweeping hairstyle, Sturgess will not be mimicking the awkward buffoonery of Hugh Grant’s Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Its release is anticipated with nervousness rather than with bated breath. So many questions await: have the filmmakers gauged the novel’s importance efficiently? Will Elvis Costello’s original material overshadow or complement the romantic tension? Is Hathaway miscast? Is Sturgess too obnoxious? One Day has original potential, but the commercialisation that a sweet English novel has been subjected to may leave a sour taste. Even being friends with the cinematic One Day, as Dex suggests to Em on their first night, may be unmanageable.

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