ONE DAY: 12A
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
DIRECTOR: Lone Scherfig
STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall
STOP any girl between 20 and 35 years old in the street and ask her if she’s read One Day. Chances are, she’ll say yes.
Ask her if she thinks Anne Hathaway is Emma Morley – our geeky, gauche, ugly duckling – and chances are, she’ll say, no.
The reason why millions of people fell in love with Emma and her 20 year on-off love affair with best friend, Dexter, is because every single person who’s read it can relate in some way: love, missed opportunities, fate, career disasters; it’s all in there.
The yearly narrative is a gift that lends itself naturally to cinematic scenes and with author David Nicholls behind the screenplay, the only way to ruin this otherwise perfect union would be to commit a casting gaffe of epic proportions.
Sadly, that is what happened.
With novels that reach cult status, especially on the scale of One Day, perfect casting is crucial. The producers got at least half of it right with the wonderful Jim Sturgess in the role of our arrogant anti-hero, Dex.
With all the media pre-occupation over whether Hathaway was right-slash-wrong for our heroine, it gave the relatively unknown actor carte blanche to outshine his A-list counterpart and he did – by miles.
In stark contrast to Emma’s character assassination at the hands of a tongue-tied Hathaway, the only word for Sturgess’ performance is “perfect”.
From the self-assured swagger of his youth to his downward Yuppie spiral, he nails each of Dexter’s mistakes with an accuracy that makes Hathaway’s acting seem one-dimensional in comparison.
The problem with sticking America’s sweetheart in the role of Emma is that putting a pair of 1980s NHS-issue glasses on her pretty little face does not a Morley make.
In fairness to Hathaway, some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Nicholls. At the novel’s heart is Emma’s voice: strong, opinionated and unfalteringly realistic as she struggles through her self-conscious 20s.
But for reasons unknown – and despite all of his screenplay control and general loyalty to the dialogue of the book – Nicholls slashes the critical stages in Emma’s life which put her on a moral par with Dex and his numerous indiscretions.
The effect is devastating. The point of the story is neither of the characters are supposed to be perfect, they’re real people with flaws who make stupid mistakes on their way to finding each other.
But the film gives Emma the Hollywood treatment by making her do no wrong – an unforgivable error that eradicates so much of what made the character rounded.
Which brings us to that criminal attempt at a Yorkshire accent, an aspect that could have so easily been avoided by the fact there is not one word of a mention in the film that Emma is supposed to be northern.
Why no-one stopped Hathaway abusing a horrifying combination of accents – ranging from mid-Atlantic to Received Pronunciation with a stop-off in the God Awful – is beyond comprehension.
A standard American-doing-an-English accent would have been irritating but acceptable. But when every line is a smorgasbord of incomprehensible dialects, the effect ranges from distracting to the outright fist-biting.
Was any of it salvageable? Sure – as a vanilla rom-com in the style of Richard Curtis, it’s fine. And despite the Hathaway disaster, the casting team showed much sense in the choice of Rafe Spall as irritating comedien Ian and Patricia Clarkson as Dex’s mother.
But if you’re looking for the power and effect that touched millions of readers, you won’t find it here. What makes it all the more sinful is it could have all been avoided, had they chosen a British actress and stuck to the perfect format that was handed over on a plate.