Back in the summer of 2009, no matter where you turned, somebody was bound to be reading a copy of One Day. Whether it was commuters on trains or sunbathers on beaches, the book was everywhere.
A novel by David Nicholls, it told the slow burning and improbable love story of Emma ‘Em’ Morley, a chippy working-class northerner, and Dexter ‘Dex’ Mayhew, a pampered southern toff.
They meet at a boozy graduation ball at Edinburgh University on St Swithin’s Day and the book revisits their lives on the same day (July 15) over the next two decades.
It sold six million copies and was quickly turned into a forgettable movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in the leading roles.
It’s fair to say that the film is mostly remembered for Hathaway delivering the worst onscreen English accent by an American since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
It was good news for Netflix, and its new adaptation, that the movie didn’t exactly set the bar very high. The even better news for the viewer is that this series impressively raises it.
Told over 14 highly bingeable episodes, it will come as a huge relief to everyone that, despite having grown up in Hertfordshire, the female lead, Ambika Mod, has an impeccable Leeds accent.
When we meet Em (Mod) and Dex (Leo Woodall) it’s 1988, years before swiping right on dating apps became a thing. After spending a chaste night together where Emma reveals her plan is to make the world a better place, while Dexter just wants to be rich, they agree to stay in touch.
In the absence of texting and videochat, at first they communicate with good old-fashioned letter writing (well, Emma writes long and worthy letters while Dex sends snappy postcards as he bums across Europe).
Over the course of the first few episodes, Emma’s dreams of being a writer remain unfulfilled as she ends up working in a cheesy themed restaurant. Meanwhile, golden boy Dexter becomes the star of the sort of laddish late-night TV that populated our screens in the 1990s, fronting shows like Largin’ It and Get In.
In the early years, we witness how Em is consumed by desire for Dex despite being appalled by his vanity and lack of depth. For his part, he is intrigued by her intellect but she’s not pretty enough to lure him away from the blonde model types he prefers to hop into bed with.
The novel has been adapted for Netflix by Nicole Taylor (best known for the BBC drama Three Girls, about the Rochdale grooming gang scandal), who cleverly turns each episode into a neatly packaged stand-alone story.
Woodall is simply charming as the lovable but deeply troubled floppy-haired Dex, while Mod’s Em transforms before our eyes from mousy and unfulfilled into a confident career woman.
The series is boosted by a splendid supporting cast, including Jonny Weldon as Em’s awkward boyfriend Ian and Tim McInnerny as Dexter’s despairing dad. The show isn’t without fault, playing predictably to the tired trope of northerners being good old salt-of-the-earth types, while southerners are pretentious and shallow.
It also takes a great deal of suspension of belief to think that a promiscuous pretty boy like Dex would have given a plain Jane like Em the time of day in the first place – let alone hung in there for 20 years.
But, move past that, and you’ll enjoy the best series of 2024 so far, and one that’s expected to be as huge a hit as the BBC’s Normal People (albeit with far less sex) and as big a career launching pad for its two impressive stars.
Some are close to 40 minutes, others are just 19, and all are set to a wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack. There are times when the characters don’t talk for several minutes, allowing the song lyrics to speak for them instead, something that shouldn’t really work and yet does, beautifully.
Being able to take a character from a wide-eyed hopeful graduate through to the cusps of middle age is a big ask of any actor and it’s a credit to the two leads that they pull it off with aplomb.