Days of the Bagnold Summer
This is a must-see for anyone who has ever lived through their children’s teenage years. Adapted from the 2012 graphic novel by Joff Winterhart and directed by Inbetweeners actor Simon Bird (Will) in his debut, it tells the story of an interminable summer experienced by an archetypal odd couple.
Daniel (Earl Cave) lives with his librarian mum Sue (Monica Dolan) who seems to have got stuck in the 70s era with her glasses, slacks, baggy cardigans and synthetic blouses. Daniel is every mum’s worst nightmare at 15 – a monosyllabic metal-head whose wardrobe is limited to shades of black, face framed by long lank locks. Conversation is limited to grunts or flashes of fury. He so reminded me of Kathy Burke’s Kevin, where actions speak louder than words.
Sue is a single parent, understandably annoyed that her ex has swanned off to Florida and hitched up with a much younger woman, bought a red sportscar and is now about to become a father again. When Daniel’s much anticipated trip to see them for the summer is inevitably cancelled his fury and disappointment are articulated in typical teenage manner.
Stranded together in her immaculate home in a boring suburban town the film studies how two people can be physically linked by an umbilical chord but miles apart emotionally – social distancing before it became the norm! Poor Sue can do nothing right – the mortification when she goes on a date with his history teacher, a smarmy Rob Bryden at his best, her inability to understand Metallica lyrics: ‘it’s poetry!’ resonates so clearly with my teenage years when my constant refrain was, ‘God you don’t understand anything!’
Sue’s best intentions – endless offers of sandwiches, fish and chips or burgers, an abortive trip to the seaside, efforts to buy shoes for a family wedding (a recurring leitmotif) – are treated to silent derision. Even the efforts of his fellow-Goth best-mate Ky (Elliot Speller Gillot) to cheer him backfire. Daniel is totally isolated and obsesses about joining a thrash metal band: his efforts to fulfil his dream have unexpected and comic results.
There is more comedy from the other supporting roles – like Bryden much more well-known actors. Tamsin Greig, always good for a comic turn, is Ky’s mum and an alternative therapist, something so incomprehensible to Sue that it makes her feel inferior, while her younger extrovert sister, always trying to get Sue out of her shell, is Alice Lowe, writer and star of that dark British gem of a movie Sightseers, also reviewed on this site. But it is the lesser known Dolan and Cave who steal the show with their understated yet heartfelt performances as damaged mother and son tiptoeing round each other in their respective bubbles.
Yet there is hope and we see it unfurling like one of those slow-motion videos of petals opening. Cake is the glue – or rather the icing on it – of their relationship; something they can share even when things are rock-bottom.
This is a pleasurable watch in these long days of lockdown. My younger self would have identified with Daniel (must ask my son what he thinks), my older self is drawn to poor old Sue; yet altogether there is a redemptive air about his coming-of-age movie that never feels like it’s going to let you down.