Romance One Day is an alluring series, except for crucial missing piece

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
One Day was adapted from David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
One Day was adapted from David Nicholls' 2009 novel. Credit: Supplied/Netflix

British author David Nicholls’ beloved 2009 novel One Day has a legion of devoted fans, which usually means a screen adaptation will always be scrutinised. Luckily for the Netflix miniseries, some of that pressure is off.

The benchmark isn’t does this screen version capture the essence of the book. The real question is whether this is at least better than the widely derided 2011 movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess? Yes, it is. Phew.

Starring Leo Woodall (The White Lotus) and Ambika Mod (This is Going to Hurt), this fresh adaptation has the luxury of 14 episodes instead of trying to cram a sprawling, character-driven story into 108 minutes. That breathing space gives One Day a chance to relish in the little moments, to give the world texture.

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The story follows Emma and Dexter, who meet on their final day at university in Edinburgh. They spend a night together and while there is the start of a romantic relationship, the pair part as friends, unsure if they’ll ever see each other again.

One Day was adapted from David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
One Day is streaming now on Netflix. Credit: Supplied/Netflix

We meet them again every year on the same day (July 15, St Swithin’s Day) for 20 years. Sometimes they’re friends, sometimes they’re on the cusp on something more and sometimes they’re not speaking to each other. It’s a compelling premise, charting the coming-of-age of these two people by seeing how their relationship with each other forms who they become as adults.

Their friendships, love lives and family dramas all happen around them in the days, weeks and months we don’t see, but the series creates powerful impressions of the spaces in-between in part because of great casting in the wider ensemble, including Essie Davis as Dexter’s mother, Eleanor Tomlinson as Dexter’s wife Sylvie and Amber Loxley as Tilly.

The miniseries, which counts Nicholls among its writing team, hits the emotional highs and lows of growing up and realising not everything is going to work out for you all time. It’s a sharply observed and very watchable coming-of-age tale, even though it gives some meatier character beats to Dexter than it does to Emma.

Where it falters is that Woodall and Mod, while both strong performers, don’t have electric chemistry with each other. It never feels evenly matched, and she rarely allows you to believe that her yearning for him is insatiable. Perhaps this is due to Emma being short-changed in terms of the interiority and growth Dexter is afforded.

Their characters’ stories are more interesting when they’re apart, which is not really the point of One Day.

One Day is streaming now on Netflix

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