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‘One Day’ presents deeply moving story of romance and heartbreak

Limited series on Netflix is second adaptation of book by David Nicholls

“One Day” embraces the mundane, depicting characters struggling with everyday complications, giving them a sense of relatability. 

Courtesy of Netflix
“One Day” embraces the mundane, depicting characters struggling with everyday complications, giving them a sense of relatability. Courtesy of Netflix

Many people have had that one person that they just cannot seem to move on from. No matter how hard they try, their thoughts seem to drift into reminders of a coveted past. These feelings of hopeless romance and missed opportunities — often felt while reminiscing on past crushes and relationships — are the defining themes of the series “One Day,” released on Netflix Feb. 8.

Following a chance encounter during their graduation ball at the University of Edinburgh, Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) and Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall) spend one night together on July 15, 1988. Dexter, characterized by Emma as a playboy, is mesmerized by her nature. During their night together, Emma rejects the prospect of sex and instead makes conversation with Dexter. The next day, the two exchange numbers before going their separate ways for the summer holidays.

Throughout the 14 episodes, viewers witness the relationship between Emma and Dexter ebb and flow as the series follows their respective lives over 20 years. Each episode centers around the events of the same date, July 15, each in a different year. 

Viewers watch as Emma initially struggles to pursue a career in writing, while Dexter attempts to figure out his goals in life — much to the chagrin of his parents. The viewers don’t see them again until 1990 when they both settle down in London to pursue their respective careers and begin lives of their own. After a brief encounter ends in a heated argument, they lose touch again before reuniting several years later at a mutual friend’s wedding, restarting the uncertain cycle of their back-and-forth relationship.

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The limited series is the second adaptation of David Nicholls’s 2009 book of the same name. The first adaptation, a film released in 2011, starred Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Emma and Dexter, respectively. Unlike the movie, however, the series is not limited by its runtime and is able to translate more of Emma and Dexter’s story to the screen.

Although the series only focuses on the day July 15, viewers are still given extensive glimpses into the lives of Emma and Dexter. Moments that feel insignificant at first are shown to have lasting implications for the relationship in the long run. The series is masterfully crafted in that way: it foreshadows enough for viewers to have a sense of what will happen, but leaves the central plotline — Emma and Dexter’s relationship — tumultuous and unpredictable. By stretching out its unpredictability, “One Day” captivates viewers by showcasing the numerous adventures, experiences and journeys Emma and Dexter endure before they are reunited with one another. 

The show embraces the mundane, depicting characters struggling in the workplace and dealing with affairs and complex feelings of grief — giving them all a sense of relatability. Emma struggles with her relationship with Ian (Jonny Weldon), during which she continues to have feelings for Dexter, all while engaging in a workplace affair with her boss, Mr. Godalming (Mark Rowley). Meanwhile, Dexter tries to process his mother’s (Essie David) deteriorating health and the infidelity in his own relationship. It is almost too easy for one to insert themselves in the places of either Emma or Dexter.

This sense of realism, compounded by the performances of Mod and Woodall, is part of what makes “One Day” so compelling. In one particular scene, viewers can sense the immense sadness and disappointment in Dexter’s expressions and voice as he lies about having tonsillitis to escape further despair before a dinner with Jean-Pierre (Edouard Chény), Emma’s new French boyfriend. 

In such scenes, viewers feel as if they are watching real interactions between two people, rather than actors reading off a script. Authentic moments, like the one described above, occur numerous times throughout the series in a variety of locations: parks, fancy dinners and even over phone calls. Although these situations are unique to Emma and Dexter, audiences are still easily able to reminisce on times when they experienced the same emotions as the two protagonists.

Emma Morley, a character who is white in both the book and the movie, is portrayed by Mod, an actress of Indian descent, in the series. This choice is interesting, as “One Day” never shows Emma’s family on-screen and Emma seldom mentions them herself. Unlike numerous other series and movies, however, the absence of overt cultural references is a breath of fresh air in “One Day.” The series shows that characters of color do not always have to be defined by their ethnicity — the events that happened to Emma can happen to anyone, regardless of their cultural background.

With a total runtime of just under seven hours, “One Day” is the perfect weekend binge. The nuanced characters of Emma and Dexter, coupled with their entertaining yet relatable lives, make for an accurate portrayal of young adult qualms. The imperfect story of their perfect romance is unforgettable and the final episodes of the series will move and impact viewers, reminding them that romance and life are equally unpredictable.

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