A tale of single parenting and heavy metal
If, like me, you are a huge appreciator of comic books and the music of Belle and Sebastian then Simon Bird’s directorial debut is an easy sell. Adapted from Joff Winterhart’s original graphic novel, it tells the story of an awkward teen and his equally awkward mum during the English Summer holiday. Daniel’s (Earl Cave) head is full of Heavy Metal dreams but his hopes of visiting his father in Florida are dashed by the new arrival of his stepsister. Now he’s stuck with his mum, Sue (Monica Dolan), as we begin to see what soul he had in the first place slowly sucked out away.
Bird, known for his awkward characters — most notably Will in The Inbetweeners — not only manages to capture the characterisation and humour of Winterhart’s original material but laces the film with a wedding buffet of influences. From other independent comic book adaptations, American Splendor (2003) and Ghost World (2001) to Mike Leigh and Wes Anderson, Bird never loses the tale’s Britishness and sense of cringe humour. Despite following two equally depressing characters, Days of the Bagnold Summer remains surprisingly optimistic due to how thoughtful the story is and how (ironically) colourful the characters are as cameos crop up from the likes of Rob Brydon, Alice Lowe and Tamsin Greig.
Both Dolan and Cave imbue their characters with an incredible amount of angst and sympathy that delivers one of the most tender and thoughtful British comedies in years. Dolan’s Sue is the heart and soul of the film as she just about manages to tease her son from under the metal-clad veneer he creates for himself. This is a film that hints briefly at the promise of adventure and a potential change of direction for Daniel — as an angst-ridden teenager, he’s blind to what he already has in his safe, middle-class existence and aware of little else outside his bubble.
We feel for Sue and her efforts as Daniel sparks to life briefly when his father phones… only to disappoint him further as we are focus on her reaction to the phone call. Her drab attire and bulletproof skin takes the brunt of her son’s mood swings — she is the ultimate mum — loving, caring and, for to most part, can take the flak. The epitome of English politeness, Sue tries to do her best for her only child. Most of the time he’s miserable, his personality just about managing to surface when he hangs out with his charismatic best friend, Ky (a scene-stealing Elliot Speller-Gillot) who seems to be channelling Justin Hawkins from The Darkness. In one scene his cousin, Katie (Grace Hogg-Robinson), makes the mistake of referring to him as a Goth. ‘I’m not a Goth,’ he responds, ‘Oh… ‘kay. What are you then?’ she asks. ‘Dunno’ is the reply.
The comedic timing is wonderful, making the most of the contrast between the humdrum suburbs and Daniel’s taste in music as the roar of death hilariously contrasts action and scenery. Milk float / Metal. Bicycle / Metal. Washing-up / Metal. Laundry / Metal… vacuuming. One such scene has Sue painfully whistling Barry Manilow’s ‘I Can’t Smile Without You’ as it transitions into his song. The music stops as she slams the door shut. They’ve arrived at the seaside.
UK film distributor, Altitude produce yet another wonderful piece of cinema that reminds us of the days when British film delivers without wallowing in self-pity like our central characters. Although you may feel a little short-changed by the end, this is more a testament of such relatable people we genuinely want to spend more time with, and just give a hug.
Days of the Bagnold Summer is released on VoD from June 8th
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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