Days of the Bagnold Summer
- Emma Simmonds
- 8 June 2020
Actor Simon Bird makes his directorial debut with a well-fashioned but familiar comedy
Heavy rock and family rows enliven an otherwise tender look at suburban disappointment from actor-turned-director Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners, Friday Night Dinner). With Belle & Sebastian trilling almost ironically on the soundtrack and the environs presented prettily, we meet morose, Metallica-obsessed teen Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave) who is a lousy fit for almost every place we find him in, whether it's the pastel pink of his loving home, or the naff stylings of a seaside jaunt.
Dressed perpetually in black and staring gloomily out from under his long, greasy locks, Daniel was promised six weeks in Florida with his father and his new family but, when those plans fall apart, he's left aghast at the prospect of a summer spent with his librarian mum Sue (Monica Dolan). A feud with his only friend (Elliot Speller-Gillott's Ky) leaves him further isolated.
It's based on Joff Winterhart's graphic novel, which has been adapted for screen by Lisa Owens. Working with cinematographer Simon Tindall, debut director Bird demonstrates a keen eye for framing and staging in a precisely shot film. The Bagnolds' world often looks lovely – it's a soft, serene view of suburbia. Despite his dad's rejection, Daniel's life is rather nice, but it'll be a while yet before he sees it that way; meanwhile, Sue gets all the blame. The film mines comedy from its stilted interactions and Daniel's sometimes humiliating plight. His mum, too, has personal problems to contend with as she cautiously re-enters the dating scene.
With coming-of-agers a little too common, it's refreshing that the focus is shared between Daniel and Sue. If Daniel is pretty one-note in his superficially presented suffering – it's as if Bird doesn't want to worry us – then the film does better at rounding out Sue. Dolan is undoubtedly the star of the show here, turning in a beautifully nuanced performance, playing a woman doing her best in serially trying circumstances. The son of rock legend Nick Cave, Cave Jr. undoubtedly looks the part as the despondent Daniel; if he seems uneasy in places it works within the role.
The supporting cast are a livelier bunch of old comic hands. Alice Lowe and Tamsin Greig are terrifically employed as Sue's hairdresser sister, who tells it like it is, and her hippie chick mum friend, whose discounted reiki session proves surprisingly effective, while Rob Brydon is fun as a smarmy schoolteacher with unsavoury designs on poor Sue.
There's authenticity in the anguished parent-child interactions; the pair exist on entirely incompatible planes, and we feel their frustration at how difficult that is to overcome. Days of the Bagnold Summer doesn't feel hugely ambitious as it treads familiar ground and keeps things reasonably light, but it's finely tuned and funny and Dolan deserves to front a film again.