Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s “One Day”…
In 2009, David Nicholls published “One Day,” a story that appears, at first, to be about the 20-year relationship between two unlikely best friends: Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew.
But through their friendship, Nicholls challenges the idea of fate and life’s unpredictability.
“One Day,” begins when two recent college graduates meet in Scotland on July 15, also known as St. Swithin’s Day, in 1988. St. Swithin’s Day, as Dexter explains to Emma, is supposed to predict the weather for the rest of the summer. If it rains on July 15, stormy days will follow. But if there is sunshine, then clear blue skies are ahead.
The legend serves as a metaphor for Emma and Dexter’s friendship. Throughout the next 20 years, they experience a wave of ups and downs that test their everlasting bond.
In 2011, Nicholls helped turn his romance novel into a movie starring Anne Hathaway, with a Yorkshire accent, and Jim Sturgess as the two leads. The author wrote the screenplay for the flick.
Thirteen years later, the story has been adapted again — this time into a 14-episode series on Netflix with Ambika Mod from “This Is Going to Hurt” and Leo Woodall of “The White Lotus” stepping into the roles of Emma and Dexter.
Similar to the format of the book and movie that came before, each episode of the Netflix show — which came out Feb. 8 — chronicles the events of July 15 from a different year.
Nicholls, who served as an executive producer on the project, told Esquire that the miniseries form provided “freedom” for the story.
“In the film, the chapters, the days, become story beats that are part of a larger arc: links in the chain. In a series, each chapter, each day is a story in itself, with a beginning, middle and an end. (It often has) its own style and tone; a solo piece, a romantic comedy, a darker drama, a farce. Which is a terrific freedom for the screenwriters,” he said.
Although there are some timeline tweaks from the novel and film, the main peaks and nadirs that Emma and Dexter navigate in their careers and personal lives are all included in the series.
However, the show does slightly diverge from the source material in the first episode and finale, making an already poignant love story even more painful.
“It’s so unbelievably heartbreaking — you feel a bit robbed,” Woodall told Netflix’s Tudum. “I found it quite hard to snap out of it after we finished.”
Read on to learn how the final scenes in the “One Day” TV show compare to the movie and the book that started it all.
How does ‘One Day’ end?
Nicholls ends his romantic drama with an agonizing and unexpected twist. After finally confessing their feelings to each other, Emma and Dexter share a few blissful years of love and marriage before it comes to an abrupt end. On one July 15, Emma is fatally struck by a car while riding her bike.
In the next chapter, Dexter is overwhelmed by his grief and his life starts to unravel as he resumes binge drinking.
With his father’s support and the desire to make Emma proud, he puts his life back together and focuses on being a reliable dad for his daughter. Two years after her death, he’s also in a relationship with the manager of the cafe he opened with Emma’s help, named Maddy.
The novel concludes with a flashback to Emma and Dexter’s first meeting, finally revealing all the events of that fateful first day of their relationship. The 2011 film ends similarly, with the two planning to stay friends.
In the 2024 Netflix series, Emma still dies young after a fatal car accident. But the flashbacks we see throughout Dexter’s healing journey differ. In fact, the final scene of the movie and book is shown at the beginning of the show.
After deciding not to sleep together in Episode One, Emma and Dexter get to know each other, share a few laughs and fall asleep side by side. The next morning, Dexter delays leaving and chooses to spend more time with Emma. They walk around the city and decide to climb Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.
After climbing down the hill, they initially agree their encounter will be a one-time fling. A few minutes later, they change their minds and race back to his apartment, but they are interrupted by his parents. He refers to her as his “friend,” and she leaves. He chases after her and they exchange numbers, thus launching their decades-long friendship.
The movie and book save this scene for the end, so the finale of the Netflix adaptation opens with a different flashback.
We travel back in time to the first Christmas Emma and Dexter spent together in December 1988, after meeting just a few months prior. They lie on the floor, and Emma reads Dexter a passage from Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” — a quote that also ushers in Part Five of the novel, which starts right after Emma’s death.
“She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year;… her own birthday and every other day, individualized by incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought one afternoon that there was yet another date of greater importance, her own death… A day which lay sly and unseen among all other days of the year… but not the less surely there. When was it?”
Emma asks Dexter if he understands the paragraph, and he explains that everyone has a birthday and a death day.
This is the moment that he revisits as he grapples with her tragic death in the final episode. He recalls this conversation when his dad takes him in after a night of heavy drinking. Dexter seems to realize that July 15 now represents both days for him — the birth of an unbreakable bond and Emma’s death.
He turns his life around after this low point, and while the show omits the Maddy storyline, the final scenes ring true to the novel.
On July 15, 2007, Dexter returns to the University of Edinburgh grounds where they first bumped into each other. He also visits Emma’s old apartment.
In a full circle moment, he brings his daughter, Jasmine, to Arthur’s Seat, and she suggests they make the trek to the top.
As they walk, he remembers Emma playfully teasing him to catch up when they climbed the hill in 1988. On their way down, Emma told him she had a fun time, but she didn’t want to have another fling or stay in touch.
“We had one really nice night together, and that’s all,” she said. “I’ll always remember it.” They agreed to be friends, and she told him she wouldn’t just be a “footnote” in his life story.
Back in 2007, he retraces the steps he ran when he told Emma in 1988 that he wanted to see her again.
The series ends where it began. Emma and Dexter say bye a few times in 1988 before he turns around and leans in for a kiss. The show then plays a sequence of all the passionate kisses they shared on July 15 over the years as the screen fades to black.
Mod told Tudum that she didn’t know the ending would feature a montage of the couple until she saw the final episode.
“That was new for us,” she said. “It so encapsulates what that moment is trying to do and what the book does so well. It’s very hopeful and beautiful. It really took my breath away.”