2011– 107mn – 12A

Directed by Lone Scherfig. Written by David Nicholls. Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Rafe Spall, Romola Garai. Review by Walter Nichols.

One Day was one of the publishing sensations of 2009. Its distinctive white and orange cover absolutely ubiquitous, the novel tells the story of best friends Emma and Dexter, seen through July 15 of every year, starting with their university graduation night in 1988 – when they meet – and spanning twenty years. Emma is a working-class Yorkshire lass, well read and full of idealism; Dexter is a posh southerner, whose only ambitions are to be rich and famous. Through the New Labour 1990s, the best friends – and possible soulmates – grow closer and further from one another, see each other’s lives go up and down, and maybe – just maybe – get together in the end. Depending on who you ask, the book is either facile chick-lit or great mainstream popular entertainment. Either way, a movie version was inevitable.

The film, directed by An Education’s Lone Scherfig, casts Jim Sturgess as Dexter and, infamously, American star Anne Hathaway as Emma. To put what you’re already thinking to rest: no, her accent isn’t that bad, although it’s not very good either (Northern accents are tricky). Hathaway is miscast, but mainly because she’s Anne Hathaway. While Sturgess convinces in every frame as Dex – and essentially steals the film – one never quite believes in Emma. It’s Anne Hathaway playing the character of Emma. She’s too famous, too American, too glamorous to blend into the role. Even though she’s the lead, she’s by far the most boring of the film’s characters, behind even Rafe Spall’s brilliantly failed comic Ian and Dexter’s secondary squeeze, played by Romola Garai.

The film is good, but falls a far cry short from the greatness of the book. Beneath the high concept and the rom-com paperback simplicity of its story, Nicholls’s novel is a shrewd, insightful, original snapshot of a certain generation of British people at a certain time: their ambitions, their fears, their insecurities, and how those changed and evolved as they grew from idealistic 20 year-olds freshly out of Edinburgh University to divorced 40-year-olds living in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s satire disguised as chick-lit. And the book makes the most of the one-day-a-year structure: each chapter genuinely feels like a vignette of Emma and Dexter on that one day, the weight of the year previous and that to come – those ellipses – contributing to the magic of the storytelling.

In the film, each new day is announced with an on-screen title (“July 15, 1988”), but that’s the only real use of the device. If the titles were erased, the film would feel like any boringly structured rom-com. It has none of the weight, or the depth, of the book. This is both Scherfig’s fault – she directs the film with no direction or conviction, seeming merely to want to make it pretty and mellow – and Nicholls’s – his script transitions poorly from year to year, and cuts out several key dramatic moments. The end result is affecting and sweet but oddly humourless, as well as utterly unsurprising. And the final payoff, as in the book, feels completely unearned.

Star rating: 3 out of 5 stars