One Day – Attractions and Decisions in Netflix’s British Romantic Series

SERIES REVIEW – An unforeseen encounter on the closing day of their college years entwines the paths of two students (Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall) for decades, in the screen adaptation of David Nicholls’ explosively successful novel. The story captivates with its trajectory, the characters are intricately developed, and the emotions are depicted so authentically that the series transforms into an absorbing journey, even if at times it seems to drag on.



Netflix’s “One Day” leans on two literary quotes that together reveal the project’s core. One is too spoiler-heavy to mention here. The other, from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” reflects: “Imagine a day being plucked from your life, pondering how differently everything might have unfolded. Pause for a moment to consider the lengthy chain – whether made of iron or gold, thorns or flowers – that would have never bound you had that first link not been forged on that memorable day.” Though this line is spoken at a supporting character’s wedding, unmistakably, it’s fundamentally about our leads, Emma (Ambika Mod, This Is Going to Hurt) and Dexter (Leo Woodall, The White Lotus). Their bond indeed spans long: the series narrates nearly two decades over 14 episodes, culminating with an unexpected twist. Nonetheless, the spark between Emma and Dexter provides enough illumination to make the journey largely enjoyable.



Adaptation and structure


Nicole Taylor’s adaptation from David Nicholls’ 2009 hit, “One Day,” unveils a delicately woven narrative. Following their university’s final day in 1988 (and in the series’ opening episode), Emma and Dexter meet at a party, embarking on a flirtation that Dexter sees as a one-night stand but for Emma, becomes an uplifting, all-night conversation about hopes and dreams. Though the evening is pleasant, neither anticipates that this night will fundamentally change their lives; only we, the viewers, are privy to this since it’s the series’ premise. “One Day” achieves a perfect harmony between fated epic romance and grounded, quarter-life drama, holding this balance quite well for a while.

Subsequently, each episode revisits the duo annually on July 15. Sometimes they’re together, arguing in a trendy restaurant or sharing a bottle of cheap wine in the park. Other times, they’re apart, connected only by phone calls or letters, or during particularly cold stretches, not at all. As their years progress from their twenties into their thirties and beyond, Dex learns that money, charm, and good looks can only shield him from life’s disappointments and tragedies for so long. Meanwhile, the idealistic and intellectual Em searches for her place in a world that seems less committed to her artistic and activist ambitions.



Heroes and dynamics


Among the two, Emma is the more fascinating character. Her wit is so sharp it could almost sting – especially during that fate-altering first conversation where she teases Dexter’s travel plans and whimsically predicts his future at 40 in a sports car with a third wife who’s “not exactly a brainiac.” Yet, it’s Ambika Mod’s witty yet effortless delivery that truly charms. As Emma matures from her anxious twenties into her serene, confident thirties, she becomes even more compelling.

Dexter, cast from the start as the quintessential charming playboy, finds fewer opportunities for character growth. However, Woodall lends him enough likability that Dexter’s ease naturally counters Emma’s sharpness. Despite their differences, they complement each other perfectly. While Dex and Em insist they’re just friends – even convincing themselves of this – the camera captures how they truly see each other. Directors Molly Manners, Kate Hewitt, and their colleagues subtly capture Em’s fingers tracing the rim of a wine glass, Dex’s back as water cascades down in the shower, and the intense looks they exchange, noticing intimate details about one another.



The path of attraction and self-development


The screenplay skillfully illuminates that the attraction between the protagonists can only propel them forward until they each achieve the personal growth necessary for themselves and one another. At its pinnacle, the drama suspends us in the exquisite torment of longing for Em and Dex to come together, all while understanding they probably shouldn’t. Yet, when they finally do, Dexter succinctly sums up their saga in four words: “We grew up together.” “One Day” is less a tale of how two individuals fall in love and more about how they ultimately become right for each other.

Ironically, despite the series emphasizing the importance of timing, its pacing presents the biggest challenge. Extending the pair’s story over 14 leisurely episodes allows for a romance that feels authentic, as authentic as it can be under a premise suggesting some sort of destiny. Em and Dex evolve not as fictional characters typically do, in dramatic and irreversible jumps, but as real people do, incrementally, with plenty of detours and backsteps along the way.



Stretching it thin


However, it’s undeniable that 14 episodes simply feel like an overextension, even when each episode is only about half an hour. By the seventh episode, I found myself feeling more exhausted than excited about the prospect of seven more episodes. True, television has often elongated the will-they-won’t-they saga far longer; recall Jim and Pam’s nearly 30-episode journey to their first kiss in “The Office.” But Dex and Em are not just one storyline within a larger ensemble. They are the singular focus of “One Day,” prompting even the most ardent romantic to wonder whether their story could have been condensed into fewer episodes, or perhaps even a single feature-length film. (Then again, given how the 2011 film adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess fared, perhaps not.)

And then, just as “One Day” begins to satisfy all that anticipation and longing, the series boldly concludes. Em and Dex’s narrative had to end somewhere, but the exit chosen by Taylor (or more accurately by Nicholls, as it was lifted from his novel) is bound to be polarizing. It aims for something profound about the enigmas of time – to cherish whatever we have of it, whether looking back at a golden past or forward to an uncertain future. Yet, it feels more like a sidestep or perhaps a missed opportunity. Despite the series lavishing loving detail on the couple’s courtship, it seems far less interested in exploring the intimacies of enduring love. By the final episodes, we’ve seen Dex and Em outgrow youthful crushes and romantic fantasies, and Woodall and Mod have undeniably demonstrated the chemistry to go the distance. It’s “One Day” itself that ultimately seems to lose its nerve.

-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-



One Day

Direction - 7.2
Actors - 7.4
Story - 6.8
Visuals - 7.5
Ambience - 7.1



Netflix's "One Day" unfolds a romance that spans decades, following Emma and Dex from their last day at university, marking the start of a pivotal relationship. The series' unique format, checking in with the characters annually on July 15, offers a distinctive glimpse into how the protagonists and their relationship evolve over the years as they face personal and shared challenges. Although the series' length and pacing may test viewers' patience at times, Emma and Dex's story reflects deep human emotions and a fidelity to real life that ultimately delivers a poignant and thought-provoking experience, despite a potentially divisive ending.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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