Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 25 minutes, Director – Simon Bird
When his plans to visit his Dad in Florida during the summer holidays collapse at the last minute 15 year old Daniel (Earl Cave) is forced to spend six weeks with his devoted, yet drab, Mum (Monica Dolan)
If it weren’t for it being based on Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel of the same name you would be forgiven for thinking that Days Of The Bagnold Summer screenwriter Lisa Owens had recorded the genuine conversations of a 50-something year old mother and her son, and had the cast of the film perform the lines verbatim. While the central characters of the film, Daniel (Earl Cave), a 15 year old metalhead, and his devoted mum Sue (Monica Dolan), a mild-mannered, seemingly drab librarian, could easily seem like stereotypes there’s something about the accuracy of the characters, and the performances that bring them to life, that avoids caricature and instead hits some form of recognition for the audience.
Daniel finds himself lost and more out of place than usual when his plans for the summer holidays collapse and vanish in an instant when his father’s expected child prevents him from travelling to Florida to meet him – something which Daniel believes is simply down to the fact that he isn’t wanted there. Therefore he finds himself spending six weeks at home enduring both the British summer and his mum. “But we’ll have fun” she insists to little response from her baggy-clothed son. Throughout the film Daniel shows very little response to his mum’s comments and questions. He often replies with one or two word answers. Yet Cave’s performance shows the sadness and anger behind his characters often dead-pan or miserable look.
Yet, aside from this and the seeming loneliness of the two central figures there is a fair deal of humour to be found within this film. Directed by Owens’ husband Simon Bird this is a different type of comedy to what some may be used to from the star known best for his TV acting roles in The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner. There’s a light-hearted sense to the comedy that goes in hand with the equally light elements of drama that the film also introduces. Catching the conflicts and connections that surface amongst families during the British summertime. Throughout the film there are rising tensions between Sue and Daniel, both reaching a breaking point as things don’t quite go the way they would hope over the course of the quick 85 minute run-time – something which is heightened by the lingering sense of summer in the background of the film. However, their bond is still clearly shown. There’s something about these two recognisable figures that you almost instantly connect with, never laughing at them but always with the actors.
On a number of occasions the film does specialise in what’s become known as ‘cringe humour’. Lingering on the awkwardness of the interactions of the two titular Bagnold’s as they try to converse with the outside world. Predominantly this comes from the perspective of Sue as she has doorstep conversations with the excessively relaxed and easy-going mother of Daniel’s friend (played by Bird’s Friday Night Dinner co-star Tamsin Greig) or goes out on a date – to the amusing disgust of teenager Daniel. While some do come close to being so awkward that the laugh almost doesn’t quite happen there are still a number of successful hits throughout the film. None coming close to the brief appearance of Tim Key channelling the energy of Michael Scott with the cringe levels of David Brent. Luckily there are plenty of one-liner gags and interactions free from awkwardness that also provide laughs. All creating a fine blend of naturalism for the viewer to connect with, yet still managing to allow them to escape to another world that the entire collaborative team pour care and effort into creating.
This is a wonderfully upbeat and joyous piece. Celebrating families and their summer holiday struggles. Not a great deal happens throughout the film, yet it certainly avoids the dread that Daniel feels as his Mum reassures him “I’m afraid you’re stuck with boring old me for six weeks, but we’ll have fun”. Fun may not be something that this film aims for, but it certainly has cheer and enjoyment and a truly funny streak running throughout it, with a number of laugh out loud moments coming from the heartful relationship between the two fantastically performed central figures. With both lead actors bringing to life a wonderfully natural and caringly written screenplay. This is a pure joy from start to finish, and at the heart of it is a genuine, believable relationship between two almost perfectly written people.
From start to finish Days Of The Bagnold Summer is a fantastically natural thanks to a brilliant screenplay and two equally accurate central performances from Dolan and Cave, both of whom create a genuine bond and relationship that brings you into their lives and takes you along for a joyful and funny 85 minute summer.