Prior to seeing One Day, I could count the number of films I would consider truly great British romantic dramas/comedies with less than one hand. They would, of course, have to include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and (to a less well-known extent) Wimbledon.

One Day now confidently completes that number to need the full five digits.

Having not read David Nicholls’ novel, upon which the film is based (Nicholls wrote its screenplay too), I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a film that would only show us the lives of two characters over the course of twenty years, one day at a time. Visiting them just once a year, I was worried the audience might not get a chance to invest themselves in the characters enough to appreciate their relationship and how it changes over two decades. But any concerns I initially had were immediately allayed from, literally, day one.

We meet the pair on what turns out to be the first time they are properly meeting each other, with the exception of such moments, as Anne Hathaway’s Emma politely informs Jim Sturgess’ Dexter, as the latter gatecrashing Emma’s birthday in drunken style. This first day, on 15th July, 1988, sees them both graduating from Edinburgh University and celebrating in the early hours of the morning with their fellow graduates. After the rest of their cohorts pair off, Emma and Dexter are left together and head back to her flat. What starts out with expected intentions from both parties soon deteriorates into a brilliant ‘What could have been’ moment, with the pair deciding they would rather remain friends instead.

Over the next twenty years, we revisit them on this day, St. Swithin’s Day, every year to find them in differing stages of their lives and see how they now relate to each other. Dex seems to jump head-first into the hedonistic life of a late-night TV presenter, full of drink, parties, and women, whilst Emma becomes stuck in a rut, working a job she doesn’t enjoy, and keeping her poetry and short stories to herself rather than sharing them with the world. In their separation, neither seems truly happy with their lives, and it’s clear that theirs is a love that deserves the risk of ruining their friendship to discover exactly what could have been.

Sturgess’ performance as Dexter is beyond fantastic and always believable; the role seems to fit him like a glove. He masters both ends of the love-hate spectrum perfectly. We don’t like him in the moments where he is unwittingly hurtful to Emma, but we love him in the times when the pair come together over the years. Though Sturgess’ is not a name that might immediately come to mind when thinking of British talent, a performance like this shows he is one of our finest young actors working at the moment.

Hathaway’s performance as Emma is equally as brilliant. Much has and will be said of her Yorkshire accent, and whilst it may not be flawless through and through, what is interesting and impressive is that the moments where her accent sounds less northern don’t have her American accent coming through, but rather a perfect southern accent. The simple fact that she pronounces the word “wrath” to rhyme with “froth,” which is the Standard English way, is more than enough to win me over. Beyond her accent, she remains utterly captivating to watch from start to finish, in all her moments of sadness, joy, and insecurity. And just like Sturgess, the role is hers and hers alone; I can’t imagine any other actor or actress doing a better job than they do.

The use of music through the film is also excellent. Along with things like the VHS, typewriters, and tiny televisions, we get a soundtrack of songs that tie us in to what year we’re watching that’s enough even to make me a little nostalgic, despite being born after the day Emma and Dexter meet. Rachel Portman’s score, too, is absolutely superb right from the opening scene, and it is of course her original score that complements some of the film’s best moments.

All in all, I cannot think of a single bad thing to say about One Day. The other British films in this genre almost always rely on a strong ensemble cast, typically including Hugh Grant. But this film is so good and has a very different feel precisely because it focuses solely on these two people alone. Our enjoyment of it must therefore rely predominantly upon their performances, and in my opinion, Hathaway and Sturgess could not have been better cast. We love them both from the moment the film begins. As the years tick by, we get to see them both gradually getting visually older and older, and they age wonderfully and realistically.

It’s interesting to see how different a film director Lone Scherfig has created in this to such past successes as Love Actually. Its difference makes it somewhat difficult to compare to these films, and I think a much better suited comparison would be to Nick Cassavetes’ much beloved The Notebook, and it certainly fares well in such a comparison, for both are excellent films. One Day is by far the best British romantic drama/comedy I’ve seen in many years, and it comfortably finds its own little niche within the genre itself and stands tall.