Tag Archives: One Day

Page and Screen: One Day (Part Three – In Praise of Jim Sturgess)


Anne Hathaway’s performance in One Day may be flawed and ultimately a letdown, for cinemagoers and fans of the book alike, but she has one huge advantage over co-star Jim Sturgess; people know who she is. The film needed an enticing lead for audiences in countries where the book is less popular and Hathaway is undoubtedly the star on the billboards. Having seen the film though, it’s Sturgess who is the star lighting up the story. Even if you’ve read One Day or you’re intending to see it, you may well be wondering “Jim who?” and typing his name into Google.

However chances are that anonymity will soon be a thing of the past for Sturgess. One Day’s sprawling fan base will only grow with the release of this month’s adaptation. Legions of existing fans will either love or loathe his portrayal of arrogant but good natured charmer Dexter Mayhew. It’s the sort of role that can transform an actor’s lifestyle as well as their career, catapulting them from regular work in relativity obscurity, to a recognisable and desirable face of the mainstream.

Already Sturgess has appeared in a number of national newspapers, giving interviews to promote the film. In The Telegraph in particular he gives some revealing answers about his origins and his filmmaking philosophy. In 2008 he flirted with Hollywood, appearing in films like 21 and The Other Boleyn Girl, only to draw back for the next few years to make independent films, like 2009’s Heartless, which he truly believed in.

Sturgess came to prominence in Across the Universe, a love story told through the songs of the Beatles. His director for that film, Julie Taymor, is full of praise for him still, hailing his “movie star looks”, “reality” and “strong sense of self”. Taymor’s film provided the perfect breakthrough for Sturgess, harnessing and fusing together interests that until then had competed for attention and focus in his life.

At the age of fifteen, Sturgess formed a band with a group of schoolmates. He had grown up immersed in the musical world, turning to acting only for distraction at school. Then at university in Manchester he fell into making short films whilst trying to become a musician. Deciding to become an actor he moved to London at the beginning of the new millennium, only to accidentally join a band again. Although Sturgess admits to disliking his character Dexter at first in One Day, it’s easy to see where he might have been able to draw inspiration from when playing a character unsure what to do with his life.

After impressing in Across the Universe, Sturgess starred alongside Kevin Spacey in the gambling thriller 21. He played a gifted MIT student who is recruited to a group of bright young things, manipulated by Spacey, that intend to make a fortune in Vegas counting cards. 21 is a slick and enjoyable watch but still our leading man remained under the radar, choosing to take a step back from big budget productions. This is despite an accomplished performance as a big-headed, youthful genius of the sort Jesse Eisenberg would later play in The Social Network to far wider acclaim.

What now for Sturgess, after the game changer that is One Day? Will he step back into the shadows again? As I’ve been writing this article news has broken which suggests that this time he will embrace the mainstream, whilst not abandoning his principles.

According to Total Film Sturgess has joined the ever swelling cast of Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s genre blending epic. He’ll star alongside Hollywood A- Listers like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, as well as fellow promising Brit Ben Whishaw. All the actors will play multiple roles in a film that will tell several stories, interlinked by reincarnation and other themes, across time and space.

In taking on another transformation of a much loved, highly praised and commercially successful novel, Jim Sturgess is once again willingly accepting a heavy load of responsibility and risk. But with Cloud Atlas he is joining an even larger scale project than One Day, with greater creative ambitions too. Even if it really does prove “unfilmable” Cloud Atlas will cement his reputation as both a brave and talented actor, surely destined to continually outshine the likes of Anne Hathaway.

Page and Screen: One Day (Part Two – Alternatives to Anne Hathaway)


In Part One I reviewed One Day and compared it to the phenomenally successful book it’s based upon. This is Part Two, in which I suggest alternatives to Anne Hathaway.

I know, I know. There is no alternative to Anne Hathaway, I hear you cry, members of the “I need Anne Hathaway like oxygen” club. She is undoubtedly a very pretty lady. I certainly did not object when she took her clothes off in Love and Other Drugs and she’ll no doubt look superb in leather in The Dark Knight Rises. She is also talented. She’s won deserved critical acclaim for her performances in Rachel Getting Married and The Devil Wears Prada etc, etc. Whatever her limitations in the accent department, Anne is what you’d call a hot Hollywood property, if you were the type to say such things.

However I think there were stronger candidates for the role of bookish Yorkshire lass Emma in One Day. This is categorically NOT because of her dodgy accent. Ok maybe it is a bit. But there was something disappointing about her performance that went beyond her misguided Emmerdale education.

Director Lone Scherfig has said that whilst One Day: The Book was in love with Emma, One Day: The Film is fascinated by Dexter, and whether he’ll pull through as an alright bloke in the end. For much of the film Jim Sturgess is acting like a dick on telly or being staggeringly ignorant of the emotions of his friends and family. Nevertheless it’s his story, his need for redemption from himself, which drives the movie. In the book we feel, or I felt, more anchored to Emma’s cruelly suffocated potential and deflated ambition. We’re waiting for Dexter to get his act together and save her from her own low confidence.

Perhaps the fact that the film is more centred on Dexter is not just down to changes in emphasis, tone and content Nicholls had to make in the script. Maybe Hathaway’s miscasting also had a role to play in that, in my view harmful, shift. Sturgess excelled as Dexter Mayhew despite the weaknesses of the big screen version. Hathaway was not bad as Emma Morley. But these three (coincidentally British) actresses might’ve been better…

1)

Carey Mulligan worked with One Day’s director Lone Scherfig on her breakthrough picture, An Education. In my opinion she was perhaps the best Emma on offer. She is usually seen as more middle class characters with prim English voices but she would have nailed the studious, quietly creative and brilliant nature of Emma. You can imagine her hunched over a typewriter or book, looking shy, cute and inexplicably alluring. Basically she could play a convincing bookworm with strong principles. She also has the acting chops to deal with Emma’s heartache and traumas later in life. And when she whips off the glasses and comes out of her shell towards the end, when things start going right, audiences would be plausibly wowed at the blossoming beauty. Hathaway looked like a movie star dressing up as geeky and common.

2)

Rebecca Hall starred alongside James McAvoy in Starter for Ten, another David Nicholls book he adapted himself into a movie, with considerably more success. Starter for Ten works well as a whole. It’s predictable but extremely enjoyable stuff. Hall’s character is a constant figure in the background, a determined student activist, who McAvoy’s University Challenge contestant eventually realises he’s meant to be with. She’s adept at being a student and shows an Emma Morley-esque kind nature throughout but the two characters are oceans apart. Could Hall do shy Emma? Her flourishing acting career shows her diversity. My bet is she’d have been as good as Hathaway at least.

3)

Gemma Arterton has been a Bond girl, as well as mastering the regional dialect of the West Country to play frank seductress Tamara Drewe. She’s got double the amount of ticks in the accent column thanks to her role as another Dorset heroine; Tess in the BBC’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. After Tess Arterton will be no stranger to epic romance but like Hathaway she might be too conventionally pretty to pull off library lover Emma, who got a first in English and History from Edinburgh.

Let’s hope Hathaway makes a better Catwoman…

Page and Screen: One Day (Part One- The Review)


Novels can be described as “cinematic” for different reasons. The prose might have a lush, vivid attention to detail that would translate into award winning visuals on screen. There might be a twisty, zippy, unpredictable plot on the page probably perfect for a gripping thriller. The author may have managed to conjure a succession of particularly fresh and engrossing action scenes or mastered the art of quick witted dialogue. Just because a book is successful and it earns the description “cinematic” however, does not necessarily mean it will work well as a film.

The adaptation of David Nicholls’ 2009 word of mouth sensation One Day has encountered a great deal of critical hostility with its release this week. Some will muse wisely that such disappointment is inevitable with cinematic renderings of much loved books, especially when so many people have read it. And One Day really has been a sensation, reaching into almost every demographic. In 2010 it was the highest selling British novel and its distinctive orange cover continues to be a permanent and prominent landmark in Waterstones stores everywhere, even without the help of the star studded film.

One star in particular, of course, has stolen the headlines. The moneymen behind One Day will be hoping that there really is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to the ever swelling chorus denouncing American beauty Anne Hathaway’s erratic Yorkshire accent. Most critics have labelled it “distracting” at best and for those that have read the book, falling head over heels in love with lead character Emma in the process, Hathaway’s looks will be no consolation, as her casting in their view trampled on the beloved protagonist’s origins.

For the few of you that haven’t somehow heard about the book’s premise, One Day follows students Emma and Dexter, or Em and Dex, as they graduate from Edinburgh University in 1988, right up until the late noughties. But the unique selling point is that we only drop in on their lives, together and apart, on the same day each year; July the 15th, St Swithin’s Day. It’s on this day that Emma and Dexter almost “do the deed” after graduation and the date continues to have significance throughout their lives and the friendship that follows.

The reviews and summaries of One Day universally categorise it as a protracted “will they, won’t they” rom com. Fans of the book though will expect more than that from the film because of its qualities on the page. David Nicholls wrote something that was not only immensely readable but perceptive, poignant and powerful too, taking in a panorama of growing up and culture in the late 20th century.

For all its merits, One Day does undeniably share similarities with chick lit or trashy airport fiction. However despite its enticing plot and moving emotion, it almost always feels real and complex. Its dialogue is lifelike and witty, its characters’ feelings convincingly muddled. Heavy themes are softened by wry humour. It’s a book about youth simultaneously slipping away unnoticed and lingering problematically well into adulthood. No matter what happens to your career or shifting ambitions or inspirations, sometimes the people you care about most are the ones that were there from the beginning. Most of all it’s a story about life; every dizzying high and sickening low.

So do I think it works as a film? Twenty minutes in I had written it off. From the start there were bad signs. The actor’s names appeared scrawled across the screen in an atrociously pretentious font, completely at odds with the tone of the sourcematerial. Aside from such minor aesthetic quibbles though the inescapable fact was that the concept, dropping in on just the one date every year, did not make a smooth or effective transition from ink to celluloid. I began to form an opinion that didn’t even rate One Day as an average romantic comedy.

Back to that word “cinematic” then. It was the fresh idea of parachuting into the story via the same date annually which many book reviewers had labelled “cinematic”. On the page it did feel filmic, partly due to the pace but mainly because of the added intensity. Emotional punches usually came from nowhere because we’d skipped twelve months of Emma or Dexter’s lives. With the written word we also steadily accumulated information, so that we literally got to know them. But the first few years flash by at the cinema and we don’t care at all.

Why doesn’t the novel’s unique selling point work on film? One reason is simply the economy required by the runtime. Nicholls wrote the screenplay, as he was too reluctant to hand over control of Emma and Dexter to anyone else, but he has had to be ruthless with their experiences. And he did a much better job adapting his own Starter for Ten, which is currently on BBC iPlayer, starring James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall.

We miss out on the heartfelt letters between Em and Dex that both cements their friendship and hints at a stifled romance. Emma goes straight to work at a Mexican restaurant on screen, whereas in the book after graduation she tries to chase a dream working with a theatre company, whilst he, equally unsure about his future, travels in India.

The other key reason the jumps in time don’t work is because we lose the inner voice occasionally provided on the page. Nicholls does not resort to it often, preferring to let events and dialogue suggest meaning and propel the plot along, but now and then we see inside Emma’s head. We’re reminded how caring and clever she is but how confused and scared she is too. And we also glimpse Dexter’s heart now and again; he cares about her beneath the raving, off the rails exterior. I began to understand why some critics had called for a jumbled order to events, as in 500 Days of Summer.

Thankfully for the film it ends strongly. There are enjoyable performances from both Rafe Spall and Romola Garai, as Em and Dex finally grow up too late. The years gradually tick over and we do get to know the characters that seemed alive almost instantly in the book. The dialogue gets less expositional because the background has been established with the disappointing opening. For me the turning point was a moment when Dexter, superbly played by Jim Sturgess, lifts his mother, who is suffering from cancer, up the stairs to bed. It’s the first time in the film that heartstrings are properly pulled and the first convincing scene of character development.

There are a number of scenes in the film where I cried and several more in which I laughed. Like the book, the film is both sad and funny. However as diehards will be quick to point out you do not laugh as much or cry as much, at the film. It also lacks the depth of its literary parent. But by the end the narrative was certainly hitting some strong emotional notes.

One Day the movie ended as an above average, emotionally involving romantic comedy, which ultimately didn’t do the book justice. And I’m not sure those that haven’t read the book will even think it’s above average.

The final word then is, of course, on Anne Hathaway’s accent. She apparently watched Emmerdale to school herself in Yorkshire tones. She would not fit in on Emmerdale. Her accent is off-putting and her overall performance is incomplete. Hathaway is a very fine actress but there’s no doubt she was miscast here.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this One Day feature and I’ll explain who might’ve done a better job. And in Part 3 I’ll sing the praises of Jim Sturgess, who overshadows Hathaway throughout.

(In defence of the beautiful Anne, her voice makes no detrimental difference to the film once she stops trying too hard.)

Adapting good and successful novels: One Day, A Very Private Gentleman (The American) and Room


I’ve discussed the business of adapting books into films before on this blog, and indeed the increasing phenomenon of the adaptation as opposed to original screenplays. I’ve bemoaned the lack of creativity in the film industry, leading to such a focus on both true stories and transformations of already existing fiction dominating this year’s Oscars, for example. But for all my ranting and raving there’s something irresistible about a good adaptation, because if your source material’s good there’s a good chance your interpretation of it will be. It’s like a kind of quality guarantee.

Then again it’s a treacherous tightrope to walk, especially when you’re bringing not only a good novel but a commercially successful one to the screen. Films based on novels with a huge and devoted following will benefit from the diversity and commitment of that fan base at the box office, but perhaps also suffer critically if they don’t capture the brilliance of the book.

After mingling the words in your mind and arranging them on the page, watching their finely tuned order blossom into a bestseller and basking in the praise and revenue, it must be hard for an author to relinquish control of his characters, no matter what the financial compensations. This is presumably why many decide to remain attached to the cinematic versions of their creations as writer or producer or something, even with the risk of their original being tarnished and overshadowed.

David Nicholls did just this for the adaptation of his immensely successful One Day, choosing to write the screenplay himself. There is now a trailer online for the film, which can be seen over at Empire Magazine via this link: http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=30843

I was absolutely absorbed in One Day when I read it and funnily enough I think I read it in roughly one day. It’s one of those books that you have to try really hard not to call a “page turner” because of how limp and cliché that sounds. It really is difficult to put down though. It became an ever present feature of the landscape of bookshops for a long, long time and still lurks prominently in the shadows. No doubt it will enjoy a revival with the release of the film. It was not the usual sort of addictive trash either. There was an organic originality to the concept, a humour and truth to the writing. The two main characters, Dexter and Emma, were fabulously realised. It was at once epic and emotional, experimental and accessible.

It did divide critical opinion, but the overwhelming consensus was that it was a cracking read, a verdict echoed at tills across the country. It’s the story of Dexter and Emma, who meet and sleep together one day at the end of their time at Edinburgh University. In bed they discuss the future, their hopes, fears and dreams for it. The novel follows them on the same date of the year, whatever they’re doing, for every year that follows their meeting. It mostly focuses on their relationship as friends but also charts their development as people, journeying through alternative aspects of British history like dodgy 90s TV along the way.

It was quite a few months ago now that I read One Day but I am still excited about seeing its rebirth in cinemas. It will be difficult to bottle up the simultaneously intimate and epic feel of the book for the audience, but as I’ve said before what really matters is capturing the spirit, the essence and sentiment of a story. The trailer certainly seems to strike some of the right emotional chords, as One Day really was enormously touching and moving as well as gripping. It may simply be that my age, one of transition between worlds, allowed me to inhabit Dexter and Emma’s shoes perfectly and marvel at the rollercoaster of their lives, grounded in those student beginnings. But then again, One Day shows snapshots of its key characters at a variety of ages, so anyone should be able to jump right in and live their human journeys. Perhaps that is part of the secret to its appeal.

Three Cs are very important for a good adaptation: cutting, casting and creativity. Nicholls would certainly have had to ruthlessly cut chunks of his already lovingly crafted and edited novel for the screen, as well as find the right leads. Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are the chosen ones, and they seem to fit the bill in the trailer, in spite of wavering accents on occasion, as Empire point out in their commentary on the footage. I’ve also recently seen and reviewed The American, starring George Clooney, which was based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Screenwriter Rowan Joffe changed aspects of the story rather dramatically, including its conclusion, for a modern and cinematic update to the book. Despite my gripes about the increasing frequency of adaptations, it is possible to be really creative and bold with them, with the added benefit of a proven base material to work with. Joffe was certainly creative, as was Clooney, who needed to exhibit the right physical mannerisms to convey the book’s character in miniscule brush strokes, compared to Booth’s first person narration.

Having now both read the book and watched the film, Joffe appears to have done a good job in creating The American. And as I’ve said, perhaps what is most admirable is that he has created something, not merely transplanted the book to the screen, which can be the worst mistake when adapting something that’s already celebrated art. The original novel, written in the first person about a gun maker nearing retirement, was impossible to adapt as it was. It needed more drama and would lack the charismatic voice of the page. It needed new sources of charisma.

The film does drop key themes of the novel. Interestingly as a student of history, Booth’s recluse (known as Signor Farfalla or Mr Butterfly, as his cover is painting them) is outwardly repulsed by the idea of history and progress, unless it is the history of ordinary men. And yet his narration repeatedly comes back to the idea through imagery, symbolism and anecdotes. Mr Butterfly claims that he is truly influencing history by providing the weapons for assassination with deft craftsmanship behind the scenes. But what the novel hints at, which a film couldn’t do in the same way, is that the narrator is struggling with the idea that after his retirement no one will remember his life’s work. If he has altered history it is unnoticeably so. He never says as much but the light implications are there and extremely fascinating.

Booth was also a constant traveller, as well as a writer of history, which might explain Mr Butterfly’s anecdotes of the world and some of his eye for detail, along with his warped fascination with the past. One of the ways the film captures the incredibly vivid and visual style of the book is through director Anton Corbijn’s direction. Corbijn used to be a photographer, and in the film this becomes Clooney’s character’s cover and he never gains the nickname Signor Farfalla, only The American. This somewhat spoils Booth’s unassuming character blending into any background, but the essence of him remains the same and the parallels with the striking visuals of the film and the descriptions of the book are appropriate.

The American is a very minimalist and restrained production. You get more from the book in terms of the character, but still not a great deal, so Joffe reflects this with the dialogue. This is still a man in isolation with a unique existence, who forms meagre relationships that are still too much for a man of his profession. He is growing too susceptible to these ties with age. What I liked particularly about The American is that it stands alone from the book and one can be enjoyed without the other, just as well as the two together. They are distinctive and different but enjoyable entities of subtlety.

Of course some books should simply never be adapted. Something about them cannot be replicated and without this something any adaptation becomes a pointless exercise. A bad adaptation of such a book is painful and a great shame. I think that Room by Emma Donghue, shortlisted for last year’s Booker Prize, is such an un-adaptable book.

It’s been a while since I finished reading Room, and in any case my observations and insights would not compare to fellow blogger Tom Cat’s: http://tomcatintheredroom.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/room-emma-donoghue/

I will briefly say why I think any adaptation would fail however. Room is reliant on the first person narration of Jack, a five year old who has been imprisoned since birth in a small room with his mother. This is the controversial novel inspired by the Fritzl case. I was sceptical about reading it and presumed it to be an exercise in creative writing drawing rather shamefully off of ghastly deeds in the media.

After I read the first pages of Room however I was hooked enough to buy it. And Jack himself is never abused. The novel is bleak and harrowing at times, but usually because of what Jack doesn’t say. The obvious implications, for example when Jack counts the creaks in his mother’s bed from his hiding place of the wardrobe, are the chilling thing for the reader.

What Room is really about is a unique five year old, nurtured with extremely intimate and confined love from his mother. As Tom Cat points out in his review, the philosophical points potentially there to be explored are many. Instead of really delving these depths however Room is more intriguing for its characterisation of Jack and the original voice Donoghue gives him. He makes incredibly perceptive observations about the modern world through both his innocence and ignorance. Occasionally his impressive vocabulary doesn’t quite sit right and convince, despite it mostly being explained away by his intense education from an early age; sometimes Jack obviously uses Donoghue’s word or phrase rather than his own. But the fact that this only happens now and then is a remarkable achievement.

For the most part Room is a heartbreaking, funny and thrilling story that takes a fresh view of modern life and culture. Everything good about this story derives from Jack’s completely original and skilfully executed narrative voice though. Many of the reviews of Room call its concept unique, but it really isn’t that astounding, simply ripped from extensive news coverage. It’s the clever angle from which Donoghue approaches her story that’s so wonderful and this couldn’t be transformed into film, no matter how they attempted to do it. Voiceover would not work; we are witnessing the thoughts tumbling through Jack’s head not a commentary of events. Jack’s innocence wouldn’t transfer to the screen, so neither would the appeal and success of the novel.