Days of the Bagnold Summer review: can two awkward loners make a family?

A single mum and her moody, heavy-metal-obsessed teenager negotiate their strained relationship in Simon Bird’s poignant coming-of-age movie.

► Days of the Bagnold Summer is now available to rent on BFI Player and other streaming services.

Katherine McLaughlin

Monica Dolan as Sue and Earl Cave as Daniel in Days of the Bagnold Summer

Monica Dolan as Sue and Earl Cave as Daniel in Days of the Bagnold Summer

Simon Bird’s first feature as director is a gentle coming-of-ager that acts as love-letter to single mums, introverts, suburbia and the great British summer. He directs from (his wife) Lisa Owens’s delicately written screenplay, adapted from Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel of the same name. The focus on the strained mother-and-son dynamic sets the film apart from the usual weirdo-kid movies we’ve seen before. It may bring to mind other debuts of note such as Richard Ayoade’s Submarine (2010) and Craig Roberts’s Just Jim (2015), but the story pays as much attention to the older generation, offering a refreshingly sensitive depiction of a fiftysomething divorcée. In the purest way imaginable, this is a charming romcom about a mum and her son.

Bird made his name as an actor playing the put-upon Will McKenzie in the Channel 4 sitcom The Inbetweeners (2008-10), written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. Bagnold’s Daniel (Earl Cave) is very unlike the drink- and sex-obsessed lads in that series – a shy, Metallica-obsessed teenager whose first love is heavy metal music. When his father cancels a much-anticipated summer trip to see him in Florida, Daniel is left in a state of depression, and his devoted mother Sue (Monica Dolan) has to pick up the pieces.

Sue is a librarian and a history buff, and herself a little stuck in the past. She has passed on her loner genes to Daniel, and the pair have to learn to deal with their confidence issues. Dolan is convincing as a frustrated, hardworking woman, her performance hitting quietly devastating notes. With exasperated facial expressions and prickly posture, she nails the agitation and sadness of a mum desperately trying to connect with her son. Cave’s understated yet stirring turn as a moody teen speaks to a universal experience: it will have you shamefully picking through memories of your youth and cringing at nasty outbursts and ungrateful behaviour. But affectionate warmth radiates from Cave’s face when he eventually starts to repay his mother’s efforts.

Days of the Bagnold Summer (2019)

Bird neatly conveys their intermittent closeness and division with a blend of idyllic picture-postcard and melancholic images: ice-cream vans atop park hills, rainy days indoors, spontaneous seaside excursions to Southend. Alice Lowe makes an appearance as Sue’s sister, Rob Brydon as a suitor, while Elliot Speller-Gillott as Daniel’s best friend, seems to channel a hugely irritating version of Justin Hawkins from The Darkness. Belle and Sebastian provide most of the soundtrack, their pleasant cadences juxtaposed with raucous heavy metal, but the reliance on musical montages to push the story forward is a tad self-indulgent.

Still, there’s a lot to admire in the attention to the detail of the spaces these characters inhabit. Bird relishes the chintzy 70s decor of Sue’s house and luxuriates in the comforting book-lined rooms of the local library. It’s a promising first effort that evokes filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, Elaine May and Hal Ashby in its fondness for awkward characters with moxie.


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