Nearly ten years ago, director Simon Bird‘s wife gave him a copy of a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart. Many years later, when he was looking for a feature project to work on, that novel Days of the Bagnold Summer, jumped out at him.
Sue Bagnold is a hard-working single mother and librarian, living with her son Daniel in a pleasant, middle-class suburb. With summer approaching, 15-year-old Daniel is excited at the prospect of spending it with his father, and his father’s new, younger, pregnant wife, in their Florida home. When his father suddenly cancels the trip, Sue self-deprecatingly tells him he will just have to spend the next six weeks “with boring old me”.
And so we proceed to witness the summer that Sue and Daniel spend together, annoying each other, bemusing each other, and ultimately learning about each other.
Lisa Owens’s screenplay jumps out of the screen. Here is an authentic and undecorated story of the mother-son relationship. It is also a portrait of two people at watersheds in their respective, and collective, lives: Sue learning to be more than just a dowdy middle-aged working mum; Daniel finding his way through the labyrinth of adolescence. Bird has maintained the look and feel of the graphic novel, keeping shots mainly two-dimensional without losing detail. He is a master at bringing out the beauty in the quotidian.
Veteran actor Monica Dolan hands in a platinum-level performance as Sue. New-comer Earl Cave (son of Nick!) is outstanding as Daniel. Two characters that could so easily have fallen into caricature are rounded out to perfection by these talents. The mother-son chemistry alone is worth the price of admission. True to the original text, there are very few supporting characters, yet each of these is a star-turn: Tamsin Greig as reiki-specialist Astrid; the ubiquitous Rob Bryden as bounder Douglas Porter. But stealing the show in every scene is Elliot Speller-Gillott as Daniel’s eccentric best-friend, Ky.
Hysterically funny, nerve-hittingly real, moving, charming, and intelligent, Days of the Bagnold Summer is a quiet masterpiece. Originally screened last year during the British Film Festival, it is now receiving its much-deserved theatrical release here in Australia.
Days of the Bagnold Summer opens on February 18th