Days of the Bagnold Summer review: A bittersweet charming debut
Monica Dolan: 99
Matthew Turner | On 12, Jun 2020
Director: Simon Bird
Cast: Monica Dolan, Earl Cave, Alice Lowe, Tamsin Greig, Elliot Speller-Gillott, Rob Brydon, Grace Hogg-Robinson
Adapted from the graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, Days of the Bagnold Summer marks the directorial debut of Simon Bird, best known for playing Will in The Inbetweeners. Utterly charming and blessed with a pair of terrific central performances, it’s an extremely accomplished piece of work that marks Bird out as a director to watch.
Taking its cue from the graphic novel, the film unfolds in vignettes, as 50-something single librarian Sue Bagnold (Monica Dolan) and her sulky teenage metalhead son Daniel (Earl Cave, son of Nick) spend the summer together, after Daniel’s six-week trip to Florida to see his father is unexpectedly cancelled.
Perpetually moody, Daniel takes out his anger on his long-suffering mother while hanging out with his best friend Ky (Uncle’s Elliott Speller-Gillott) and toying with the idea of joining a local metal band. Meanwhile, encouraged by her sister (Alice Lowe), Sue decides to go on a date with Daniel’s history teacher, Mr Porter (Rob Brydon).
It’s always a pleasure when a much-loved character actor is cast in a leading role and that’s doubly true here for Monica Dolan. She’s simply wonderful as Sue, bringing depth and pathos to what seems on the surface to be an instantly familiar part, while never slipping into caricature. There’s a warmth and a humanity to her performance that really stays with you.
Cave is equally good as Daniel, comfortably nailing the stroppy teenager stuff, but also showing glimpses of what’s underneath – his rarely seen smile is a joy in itself. In addition, there are a series of delightful supporting turns from accomplished comic actors Alice Lowe, Rob Brydon, Elliott Speller-Gillott and Tamsin Greig, as Ky’s New Age-y mother, Astrid.
Lisa Owen’s script brilliantly captures the feel of the graphic novel, painting a portrait of a mother and son that is instantly relatable (to the point where you’ll feel a sharp twinge of guilt if you had a stroppy teenager phase) and the textbook definition of “bittersweet”. Accordingly, there are some great gags (the metal band subplot is a gift that keeps on giving), as well as a number of moments that will hit you, as the kids say, right in the feels.
An accomplished comic performer himself, Bird pitches the tone exactly right throughout the film. That’s no small feat, not least because it’s easy to see how another director might have over-indulged his cast. On top of that, Bird has a real eye for the quietly emotional moments, most notably the gentle shifts in the dynamic between Sue and Daniel as they gradually bond.
The film’s look is pleasing too, courtesy of Simon Tindall’s summery cinematography, and the general aesthetic is heightened by a lovely score from Belle & Sebastian, occasionally interrupted with loud blasts of metal music when Daniel’s in a strop. In short, this is a delight and not to be missed.