There’s something unique about the suburban British summertime experience. In all its banality, it’s something many Brits can empathise with — or console each other over. Long days, hot weather, few people around and a quiet town — it’s all deeply familiar.
Nobody seems a better fit to direct a film about this than Simon Bird, whose directorial debut builds on his experience as prim British teen Will in The Inbetweeners and Adam in Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner. Adapting the graphic novel of the same name by Joff Winterhart with quiet flair, Bird is keenly observant. The result is a lived-in film that will resonate with parents and teenagers alike.
Days of the Bagnold Summer
Director: Simon Bird
Release date: June 8, 2020 (VOD)
Morose 17-year-old Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave, son of Nick Cave) lives with his librarian mum, Sue (Monica Dolan). He’s devastated when a visit to his father in Florida is unexpectedly cancelled, leaving the two of them to get through the long summer months together. Introverts who are completely alien to each other, Daniel and Sue seem to have a suburban disaster ahead of them.
But much like its characters, there’s more than meets the eye with Days of the Bagnold Summer. This slow-burn plods along with the candour of a Jim Jarmusch film, meeting vibrant, Wes Anderson-style set pieces. Elements of Winterhart’s graphic novel shine through — it may seem unusual that an anticlimactic summer is the subject of this dynamic form (usually focused on more heroic tales), but that’s all part of the film’s charm: making an adventure out of the everyday.
With a sentimental soundtrack from Belle and Sebastian, the film is both a homage to the British experience while also universal to teenagers worldwide: almost everyone has spent time longing for something more exciting to happen to them while life ticks on uneventfully. The most relatable elements of the film were the most fun: my favourite part was seeing Daniel hand out CVs to get a summer job, visiting iconic fixtures from Ed’s Diner to bridal shops and post offices. I’ve not enjoyed a montage so much in a long time.
The chemistry between Dolan and Cave feels completely prosaic and that’s part of the film’s charm. Dolan is wonderful as the middle-aged divorcee who whiles away her days at the library. Plain and shy, she’s happy just getting along with things and doing her best. She’s accompanied by an excellent supporting cast, with Rob Brydon as a splendidly fishy history teacher and Tamsin Greig as a flamboyant, deeply spiritual yogi.
Daniel’s best friend Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillot), an eccentric young man, brings out the element of theatricality that Daniel would perhaps aspire to if he could let go of his constant state of teenage mortification. They have the usual spats, but in a genre that is often so focused on girls’ experiences, it’s refreshing to see the internalised conflict of a vulnerable teenage boy. Daniel might seem intimidating but he actually has a heart of gold.
Their family name is about as unfortunate as things get — “Believe it or not, Bagnold is an improvement,” laments Sue on a date. But in an industry saturated with the idea of a perfect, nuclear family, seeing an average household just muddling through is not only fun, but honest down to its details, and better for it. Sue nervously chatters to herself when put on the spot in the library; she hangs up a line of brightly coloured washing for herself directly opposite a line of dark Metallica garb belonging to her son. Just your ordinary, slightly oddball family.
Daniel’s disappointment at his father soon turns to loathing as he finds out about a new baby half-sister, but for all that he grows closer to Sue, too. A series of vignettes show the two of them trying to understand each other’s worlds and it’s touching to see Sue make a conscious effort to connect with her son. A day trip to the seaside perhaps doesn’t work out as well as anticipated, but between skimming stones and an encounter with an over-enthusiastic fudge seller desperately trying to cajole an indifferent crowd, the scene is a delightful series of mishaps. Days of the Bagnold Summer isn’t short of laughs, and there are genius one-liners that I defy you not to enjoy.
Although backed by Altitude films, Bagnold could easily have been a Fox Searchlight product in pre-merger days. It’s close to films like Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks which both consciously take their time getting acquainted with the protagonists. A quirky soundtrack, spacious, wide-angle shots and a sparse use of extras all work together to convey the sense of two loners brought together in a wide world.
Bagnold is the sort of film that makes you think that you spent your best days when nothing really happened at all. You may have always been expecting the next big thing or wishing you were somewhere else, but what happened in the moments in between were the most important. An ode to wonderful ordinariness, Bagnold took me back to a time which I can look back on with fond memories.