An utter delight from start to finish, Simon Bird’s directorial debut is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug. Adapted from Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel, Days of the Bagnold Summer charts the relationship between an oddball mother and son duo over the course of a British summer holiday. Best known for his role as Will McKenzie in raunchy sitcom The Inbetweeners, Bird embraces a wittier brand of humour in this charming British gem.
Sue (Monica Dolan) is a middle-aged, introverted librarian who shares a somewhat uncommunicative relationship with her black-clad, heavy metal loving teenage son Daniel (Earl Cave). Daniel was meant to be visiting his father in Florida, but his dad dooms him to a summer stuck in suburbia when he cancels the trip at the last minute. Sue spends the summer trying to bond with her son, although her attempts are often rebuffed, while also putting herself out on the dating scene once again after her divorce eight years ago. Meanwhile, Daniel spends the majority of summer trying to form a band and lounging around with fellow metal-head Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott).
While the plot may be slight, Days of the Bagnold Summer soars on the back of its brilliantly endearing performances. It’s the kind of film that creates such likeable, lived-in characters, whose company you could happily share for hours on end. Creating a memorable, empathetic character is no mean feat but Dolan achieves it effortlessly with a sensational, sweetly funny and gently affecting turn as timid mother Sue. Newcomer Cave demonstrates impeccable comedic ability along with an impressive emotional range in his turn as pale-skinned, sulky teen Daniel. The pair share an engaging chemistry which is in turns laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, particularly when Daniel starts to reciprocate his mother’s attempts at reconnecting.
There’s a host of entertaining supporting roles too, Rob Brydon is hilariously flirty as a potential love interest, Alice Lowe offers amusingly candid advice as Sue’s sister and Tim Key is in reliably wry form as a seaside fudge-maker in one of the film’s most comical scenes. The cast are aided by a consistently funny, affectionate script from Lisa Owens which resists mawkishness and captures the essence of British summertime. A beautiful, melancholy score from Belle & Sebastian perfectly complements the warmth and tenderness on-screen.
Bird’s impressive, character-driven debut is a superbly acted celebration of introverts and misfits. It charms and delights with its nuanced, whimsical tone, distinguishing Bird as an exciting new British director.