- Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s ‘One Day,’ which is streaming now.
- The new romantic drama has the same tragic ending as the original book and 2011 movie adaptation.
- Here’s what “One Day” author David Nicholls and the Netflix cast have said about the twist.
Netflix may have made several changes to its TV adaptation of “One Day,” but one thing stays the same. Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) dies at the end.
The new romantic drama, based on the bestselling novel by David Nicholls, follows a 20-year-long relationship between Emma and Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall), with each episode taking place in a different year on St. Swithin’s day, which is observed in the UK on July 15.
The series starts in 1988 at a graduation party at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. As the story progresses, we see Emma and Dexter become friends, pursue their dreams, fall in love with other people, and grow apart. After Dexter divorces his first wife Sylvie (Eleanor Tomlinson), Emma and Dexter finally get together.
In episode 13, the pair get married and try for a baby, but before they are successful, Emma dies after she is hit by a car while riding her bike. Fans of the “One Day” book or 2011 movie adaptation were likely prepared for this devastating ending since the twist occurs in both stories.
Here is what Nicholls, Mod, Woodall, and the “One Day” executive producer have said about the shocking ending.
Nicholls said that the story is a simple “will they or won’t they” story without Emma’s death.
After the release of the movie adaptation in 2011, Nicholls told Vulture that the film’s creators did not suggest changing the ending.
“You need to do something shocking, or else it’s just a ‘will they or won’t they’ story of best friends who could be something more, and that’s the oldest story there is,” he said. “I don’t think you could do it any other way.”
Nicholls wrote in an essay for The Guardian in 2021 that “One Day” is inspired by a passage from Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” which Emma reads out to Dexter in a flashback scene in the Netflix series finale. The quote concerns life’s one unpredictable anniversary: the day a person dies.
Nicholls said that he first encountered the passage when he was 17 and then remembered it when he came up with an idea for his third novel 22 years later.
“There it was again; that ordinary day that turns out not to be ordinary at all,” he said.
Hence, it was likely that Emma and Dexter’s relationship was doomed from the very start. July 15 is inititally special because its the day that the pair meet, but it is also the day Emma dies.
“One Day” Executive Producer Nicole Taylor said she considered changing the ending.
Taylor told Hollywood Life that she thought about changing the ending because many fans disliked Emma’s death when the novel was released in 2009.
“You just want to throw the book out the window. It’s devastating. So it felt right to re-interrogate that choice,” she said. “But ultimately, it felt like the right choice for the adaptation because it belongs in that story.”
She added: “There was no other ending that would land the meaning of the piece overall as well as that, but I didn’t do it lightly.”
Taylor said she spent a lot of time on the season finale, which takes place after Emma’s death, to ensure the audience understands the story’s meaning.
“I think it would actually be irresponsible and sort of reckless and quite nihilistic to just have that happen and then that’s it. You have to make some kind of meaning out of it,” she said, referring to Emma’s death.
“The story has a dramatic structural integrity, and it’s about the kind of cosmic nature of these relationships that make no sense,” she added.
Mod and Woodall both think Emma’s death is necessary for the ending.
Mod told RadioTimes before the series premiere that the ending would anger many people, but it was necessary for Dexter’s arc and the overall story.
“It starts with her story and it ends with his, which I think is a really beautiful progression,” she said.
Woodall told Tudum earlier this week that the series has a hopeful ending despite Emma’s death.
The final episode shows Dexter’s recovery from his grief across three years, including returning to Edinburgh in 2007 with his father and daughter with his ex-wife. In the final scene, there is a montage of Dex and Em kissing throughout the years.
“It’s a very wholesome way to leave them,” Woodall said.
Mod added that she and Woodall didn’t know about the kissing montage until they watched the episode.
“It so encapsulates what that moment is trying to do and what the book does so well. It’s very hopeful and beautiful,” Mod said of the montage.
“It really took my breath away,” she added.