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  Days of the Bagnold Summer Look After Your Mum
Year: 2019
Director: Simon Bird
Stars: Monica Dolan, Earl Cave, Tamsin Greig, Alice Lowe, Rob Brydon, Elliot Speller-Gillot, Grace Hogg-Robinson, Nathanael Saleh, Alfie Todd, George Wilkins, Lesley Harcourt, Tim Key
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: It was all set to be a great summer for teenage Daniel (Earl Cave), as it had been arranged for him to spend it in Florida with his father and his pregnant, ready to give birth stepmother. He was already dreaming of how exotic it would be to live in the United States for a couple of months when the telephone call came: the trip had been cancelled. His dad didn't think it would be appropriate for Daniel to head over so close to the baby's arrival, so maybe next year would be better. Although he won't acknowledge it, Daniel has been let down by his dad even from before the divorce from his mother Sue (Monica Dolan), but she knows him all too well, and is determined to cheer her son up...

Days of the Bagnold Summer began life as an acclaimed graphic novel (or comic book, if you prefer) by Joff Winterhart, which might beg the question, if it was perfect for the printed page, what would be the point in adapting it for the screen? You could ask that of many a work that was successful in book form that didn't really fly when transplanted to another medium, but in the best cases you could perceive what it was that attracted the people involved to the source, because they would bring out its best qualities and justify its presence as a moving image, as here. Quite often that was down to the performances, director Simon Bird operating from his wife Lisa Owens' screenplay.

Bird was best known for his efforts in the arena of sitcom, and brought similar talents of an older generation with him to this. It was not a massive, ensemble cast by any means, as at heart this was a small tale of the relationship between a single mother in middle age and her troubled and troublesome son, but where the material could have landed squarely on cold drama, or at least with everyone playing a caricature for maximum cruel laughs, it was not that kind of film. If this project had an ace up its jumper sleeve, it was Dolan, who had already proven herself on the stage and to an extent on television, but here was offered a showcase for the full range of her talents, to a point.

That point being a beautifully observed portrait of a deeply ordinary woman, who in many a different fiction would be a figure of eye-rolling fun, yet here thanks to Owens' writing and Dolan's acting became the absolute heroine of her story. She was so acutely observed that you may find yourself wincing when Daniel, not knowing any better or how to cope with his fragile ego, lashes out as Sue, because we completely understand she is a million miles away from the villain he is regarding her as, purely thanks to him needing an antagonist in his life to blame his issues on. We can see he is heading towards teenage depression if he is not careful, and what made it worse was that so could Sue and was at a loss as to what to do. She adopts a no-nonsense approach, offers a shoulder to cry on when necessary, but is continually rejected.

We get little glimpses of Sue's inner life, and what has made her into this sturdy but not as confident as she would like to be person: perhaps the most pertinent is the occasional references to her first boyfriend, many years before, who we discover in passing committed suicide. This obviously affected Sue more than she can say, but she has never had anybody to share her grief with, so is forced to brush it off, or not mention it at all; her son may be teetering on the edge of this with his death metal obsession as a crutch and a barrier to anyone who might touch his emotions in a positive way. Dolan was award-worthy, and Cave (son of rock star Nick Cave) was also impressive as we initially bristle at his surliness, until he allows his mother to soften those hard edges. The supporting cast, as indicated, were a shade caricatured, Rob Brydon as a would-be Lothario and Tamsin Greig as the hokily spiritual, subtly critical next door neighbour, but Bird had an absolute winner with Dolan, who elevated what could have been banal to a genuine empathy. Music by Belle and Sebastian.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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