When I first heard that David Nicholls’ novel, One Day, had been adapted for film to be released this August, I was initially filled with an overwhelming sense of glee. If you haven’t heard of One Day, you probably should have. First put to print in 2009, it has gained a massive momentum of readership within the past couple of months, and has become a number one international bestseller. And rightly so – it’s a brilliantly absorbing read. The narrative follows the lifelines of the two central characters, Dexter and Emma, from their university graduation to 20 years on in an entertaining montage of life, love and everything in-between. Most of the world agrees – it’s grand! But does that mean it should be made into a film?
My initial reaction of, “great book! Great film! Right?” Is not necessarily an accurate gage of the reality of such a project. In fact, great book, shoddy film is more often the case. This is especially true of recent adaptations of written favourites like Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Although both films had massive Hollywood budgets and featured powerhouse actors as their protagonists, (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road and Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love) star power alone could not save these sinking films.
…a great writer seizes a moment that the reader recognises and innately appreciates… the filmmaker has an infinitely trickier task.
Come to think of it, no metaphorical inflatable device known to man could have saved these films. But why were they so fated for disaster? Perhaps it is simply because they should never have been adapted for film in the first place. Some novels, as great and as cinematic as they may appear in our mind’s eye, should remain just there, in that claustrophobic yet unrivalled theatre of the mind.
This is, of course, a very easy statement to make in retrospect – after the billions have been paid out and the scathing reviews have gone to print. But my opinion is that a great writer seizes a moment, a sequence, a feeling in his/her literary grip that the reader recognises and innately appreciates – while the filmmaker has to conjure this sort of reaction within a presented visual territory; an infinitely trickier task.
One Day does provide a tantalising plot, something that may prove to be its saving grace.
Books with beautiful moments are difficult to physically create, and are therefore almost always destined to disappoint. But what can translate into a successful film is a thrilling plot. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Shawshank Redemption are all films that follow this formula, and are perhaps even preferred over their original literary form.
One Day does not reference any prison escapes, hobbits, or dark lords, but does nonetheless provide a tantalising plot, something that may prove to be its saving grace.
What I fear is that the production will spoil whatever potential the book has by getting all “Hollywood”. Like the aforementioned adapted-for-film-flops, the film version of One Day features the mega-star Anne Hathaway and the reasonably well-known Jim Sturgess as the internationally beloved “Dex and Em.” Sturgess is a good pick, still not ludicrously famous he should be wanting to prove his salt as an actor, while I think he’d be able to pull off the whole painfully-cool-yet-terribly-afflicted vibe that Dexter’s character calls for.
Anne Hathaway is totally Hollywood.
However, Hathaway? Although her role in One Day will comply with her niche of playing a shunted nerdy girl, as she has done in an exhausting number of films previously, (The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.) Anne Hathaway is totally Hollywood. Plus, from the snippets of the film the official trailer provides, her British accent isn’t all that convincing.
So I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Maybe Sturgess and Hathaway will prove themselves to be the perfect Dex and Em and do the novel justice. But film adaptations of books are like sequels, or seafood tacos: most definitely a gamble.
One Day is due to be released in the UK on 26 August.
Image courtesy of David Nicholls