Writer: Lisa Owens
Director: Simon Bird
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Adaptations of graphic novels tend towards the fantastical, think 300 with its extensive CGI or V for Vendetta’s tone of Gothic melodrama, but Joff Winterhart’s story of a lonely single mother and her Metallica-loving son is a small-scale domestic affair. Adapted for the screen by Lisa Owens and directed by Simon Bird, Days of the Bagnold Summer defies expectations of graphic novels but never quite breaks free of its cosy confines.
Unable to join his father in America for the summer, heavy metal fan Daniel is forced to stay at home with his librarian mum Sue. Resenting what he sees as her constant interference, the pair move uneasily around each other as Daniel wallows in his teenage grump. But Sue is determined to break the deadlock, while trying out a few new activities of her own.
There is a pleasing ordinariness to Owen and Bird’s film that focuses on the everyday experience of town centres, coffee shops, days out and lived-in homes, where life isn’t defined by big dramatic events, but comprised of routine, occasional shopping trips and tiny moments of interaction that can define your day. Bird makes the film’s locations look real but nonetheless places of happy co-existence whether mother and son are in a chain diner or their own kitchen.
Owens’ script has some nice lines, but Days of the Bagnold Summer suffers from an unsympathetic central character. The sulky teenager finding his place in the world is a rather hackneyed trope and for most of the film the audience has no reason to like Daniel (Earl Cave) or invest in his story; his mother may be a little annoying but his aggressive selfishness and unvarying rudeness to her make it hard to care about his own trajectory. What works on the page seems rather two-dimensional on-screen.
Monica Dolan’s Sue is the film’s saving grace, so good at these contained lower-middle class characters, Dolan invests her with considerable pathos as she struggles to communicate with her overly difficult son. There is a lovely blossoming of Sue’s personality as she tries some new outlets to break the monotony of her life – a date with Daniel’s history teacher, a gym class and even a Reiki session – and while these subplots don’t amount to much, the nervous bravery that Dolan channels through Sue is both credible and sweet.
There are cameo roles for Rob Brydon as a slimy teacher who charms Sue on a date but by talking across her Brydon ensures you don’t invest in their success, and Alice Lowe as Sue’s hairdresser sister is a more vigorous presence encouraging her sibling to get out more, while Tamsin Grieg has a some good lines as the fey mother of Daniel’s best friend.
Days of the Bagnold Summer has some sweet moments as mother and son find their way back to a contented companionship but the switchover from hostility to truce is unexpectedly sudden. Something is lost in translation from page to screen, and while Dolan is always a delight and Bird invests the everyday with a warm glow, there’s not quite enough in the narrative to sustain momentum.