Days Of The Bagnold Summer review: a quietly impressive debut feature

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Simon Bird makes his directorial debut with Days Of The Bagnold Summer – and it’s a really impressive piece of work.

I distinctly remember coming out of a screening of Captain Underpants  – bear with me – with the same kind of appreciation that I have for Simon Bird’s directorial debut, Days Of The Bagnold Summer. In the case of the DreamWorks animated movie, I loved the fact that it deliberately contained its stakes. It had little shrift with saving the world, rather that it pulled its story down to two friends, who have a fear of being separated into different classes at school.

In the case of Days Of The Bagnold Summer, based on the graphic novel by Joff Winterhart and adapted for the screen by Lisa Owens, I loved the fact that it kept things similarly small.

Here, it’s a coming of age story, both for 15-year old Daniel and his 52-year old mum, Sue. The simple set up is that, when Daniel’s dad cancels a potential visit to see him and his new sibling in Florida, both Daniel and Sue are faced with a long summer holiday sharing in a quiet suburban house. A house where Ikea furniture breaks up the otherwise bleak and empty rooms.

Yet this isn’t a downbeat, kitchen sink drama. Rather it’s that rarest of things: a sporadically very funny drama, that finds a mother and son who clearly love each other, trying to connect. Daniel has aspirations of being in a heavy metal band, but is a quiet introvert. Sue is divorced, but protective of her son – even when he’s not very pleasant to her – to the point of trying to explain his missing father’s actions. Even when the same missing father won’t send a cheque through the post.

Bird frames the film in an unfussy manner, with long-held, well-composed shots that allow space for his cast to do the work. And heck, do they reward his trust.

Earl Cave, as Daniel, is excellent, giving us enough to just about like and understand, whilst being clearly conflicted in his attitude to his mum. The standout for me, though, is Monica Dolan as Sue. She does the kind of word that, should the film gather enough profile, will surely warrant awards contention. She’s outstanding. Sue’s an introvert too, one who life hasn’t played a fair hand to. Dolan conveys this with subtlety and skill, whilst also finding positivity and laugh out loud humour. That the film affords her and Daniel equal attention is to its immense credit.

There are supporting turns from Alice Lowe, Tim Key, Tamsin Grieg and Rob Brydon too. They tend to be primarily in the moments where Daniel and Sue are apart, which are still very good, but not for me the absolute strength of the movie. No, that lies with an exploration of the complex relationship between a mother and son, that’s put across with a mix of warmth, hostility, humour and humanity. And when the pair of them head off to the seaside to try and break the monotony of day after day in the same house? Well, Bird and Owens really capture something there.

I really liked this. Its running time is economical, and its focus on doing something small very well is both admirable and successful. Lots of people talk about how having containable stakes that people can actually relate to can help a movie. Days Of The Bagnold Summer actually proves it.

Days Of The Bagnold Summer is available on demand now.

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