There’s a shot about eleven minutes into Days of the Bagnold Summer that perfectly encapsulates the whole film. The soundtrack plays heavy thrash metal but the images move from a quintessentially English park, then to a children’s playground being litter picked and finally to a regular suburban house before, topping off the little montage perfectly, a milk float trundles across the screen. This is a movie that explores the dichotomy of lives defined by what what we listen to, watch, read, wear and hope for yet lived in the mundane surroundings of a normal existence… in Orpington.
On the surface of it, the movie is about fifteen year old Daniel who is a metal head but refuses to be identified as such (seemingly because he hasn’t thought about it but really because teenagers who aim to be different don’t like to be categorised) and his strained relationship with his mother who epitomises what it is to be ordinary. His mum Sue is also fighting to be something else though, her tragedy being that she doesn’t really know what. Both of them want more but neither know how to get it.
I use words like tragedy but while this is bittersweet and in places (in one place in particular) really moving, as a rule Days of the Bagnold Summer is gently comedic. The tone is actually really well managed as despite Daniel and Sue’s relationship being painfully fractious (almost entirely because of him) there is humour in the quirks of their conversation. The narrative plays out the events of one family Summer (Bagnold being their surname) after the son’s trip to Florida to visit Dad is put off so that his distant parent can concentrate on his new children. Right from the start it is evident that Sue is catching the sharp end of Daniel’s disappointment around this but his unpardonable behaviour becomes more forgivable as you learn more about his other frustrations. It is also quite sweet and endearing seeing his hesitant steps towards realising some of his vague ambitions. I won’t say more about this but look out for a nice little scene with Nathanael Saleh who played young John Banks in Mary Poppins Returns.
Monica Dolan, who if you don’t know the name you’ll recognise from a range of things including Alan Partridge, Pride and ITV’s recent Vanity Fair, portrays Sue and up and comer Earl Cave is Daniel. Both of their performances are perfectly observed. Playing things a bit more broadly are Tamsin Greig, Rob Brydon (cast against type) and Alice Lowe in various supporting roles but the film belongs to the central duo.
The film is directed by Simon Bird who rose to considerable fame as nerdy Will in The Inbetweeners. This is first feature film behind the camera and it promises much for this new direction in his career.
Days of the Bagnold Summer might find it’s resolution a little quickly but generally it is a charming and quirky treat. Watching two people failing to have the Summer they wanted might just be perfect for all of us failing to have the Summer we wanted. Stream or download it now.