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Netflix's 'One Day': A Bittersweet Adaptation of Long-Form Love

Updated: Jun 10

One Day by Netflix
One Day by Netflix

The tale of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, college sweethearts whose complicated relationship spans decades, has captured hearts since David Nicholls' 2009 novel "One Day." Netflix's 14-episode adaptation brings this story to the screen with a sprawling ambition, generating decidedly mixed reviews. While some hail it as a magnificent ode to enduring love, others find it emotionally underwhelming compared to its source material.

The Premise: Friends, Lovers, or Something in Between?

Emma (Ambika Mod) and Dexter (Leo Woodall) meet on their 1988 graduation day from the University of Edinburgh. She's a working-class idealist with literary dreams; he's a privileged charmer unsure of his path. Their instant connection, despite clashing personalities, leads them to forge an unconventional bond. Following their graduation night, they commit to a "just friends" policy, checking in on the same day each year – July 15th – as their lives diverge and intertwine over two tumultuous decades.

The Structure: A Unique Challenge for Adaptation

Nicholls's novel unfolds in chapters, each a snapshot of Emma and Dexter's lives on a single July 15th. This format presents a distinct challenge for screen adaptation. While the 2011 film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess opted to condense the timeline, Netflix's series embraces the episodic structure, dedicating each installment to a year in the protagonists' journey. This allows for a deeper exploration of their evolving dynamic and personal growth, but risks diluting the emotional intensity.

One Day by Netflix
One Day by Netflix

The Performances: Strengths and Weaknesses

Both reviewers agree that Mod and Woodall deliver solid, often engaging performances. Mod imbues Emma with a relatable awkwardness and a sharp wit, while Woodall channels Dexter's roguish charm and underlying insecurities. However, some critics find that neither actor truly captures the profound internal struggle or the raw chemistry that made the characters so compelling in the novel. Additionally, the task of convincingly aging from their early twenties to late thirties tests both leads.

Successes of the Adaptation

Where the series succeeds most notably is in its exploration of themes beyond the central romance. It delves into the thorny interplay of class and privilege, with Emma often bristling at Dexter's inherited wealth, while he struggles to find purpose. Additionally, the show celebrates the full spectrum of life experiences, not just romantic milestones. We witness Emma and Dexter navigate career triumphs and failures, personal losses, and the messy dynamics of long-term friendships and other relationships. The series wisely avoids portraying these side relationships as mere obstacles, instead offering poignant glimpses into different kinds of love and loss.

Where it Falls Short

The primary criticism leveled at the adaptation is its failure to deliver the same emotional intensity as its source material. The novel famously evoked both laughter and gut-wrenching tears. While the series captures moments of humor and heartache, it struggles to achieve those true 'sucker-punch' moments that leave audiences devastated yet strangely satisfied. This may stem from the episodic structure, which diffuses the tension and longing, or from the performances not fully conveying the internal turmoil of the characters.

One Day by Netflix
One Day by Netflix

For Fans of Long-Game Romance

"One Day" aligns itself with a rich tradition of stories about long-form, will-they-won't-they romances. Fans of "Normal People" or the "Before" trilogy may find something compelling here, though with less focus on passionate highs and lows. It's more about the bittersweet evolution of connection, the ways we are shaped by those we love, and the acceptance of life's inevitable imperfections. Those hoping for the sweeping romantic catharsis of the novel may be disappointed.

A Mixed Verdict

Ultimately, Netflix's "One Day" is a technically well-crafted and ambitious adaptation. However, it lacks the singular emotional impact that made the novel so beloved, making it a mixed success. It's a testament to the enduring appeal of Emma and Dexter's story, but also highlights the challenges of translating literary intimacy into a visual medium.

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Craving a fresh take on the rom-com genre? Look no further than That Love Podcast, featuring over 200 audio drama episodes for your listening pleasure on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and beyond. Don't miss out - click here to explore!

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FAQs for One Day

Q: I loved the "One Day" book! Should I watch the Netflix adaptation?

A: If you're expecting an exact replica of the novel's emotional power and intensity, you might be disappointed. The series takes a broader approach, exploring secondary characters and themes beyond the central romance. If you're open to a re-interpretation with its own strengths, then it could be worth a watch.

Q: Are the actors as good as Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in the movie?

A: Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall bring their own charm to the roles, but opinions vary on whether they capture the same depth and chemistry. You'll have to decide!

Q: I don't like slow-burn romances. Does the series drag?

A: The episodic structure, with each episode set on a single day per year, does mean the relationship unfolds more gradually than in the film. If you enjoy character development and long-form storytelling, you might find it captivating. If you want instant gratification, it might not be for you.

Q: I heard the ending is different? Is that true?

A: Without giving away spoilers, the ending, while still poignant, remains more open-ended than the novel's definitive conclusion.

Q: Does it still have tear-jerker moments?

A: While the series tackles serious themes and emotional upheavals, it might not evoke the same level of raw gut-wrenching reactions the novel is known for.


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