The giddy height of summer, the exuberance of youth, relishing the prospect o that lengthy six-week break away from the tedium of a classroom only to gradually find such initial enthusiasm being zapped as precious time wears on. A wealth of potential that could easily dissipate, boiling down to just cutting a frustrated figure in the familiar confines of home, drowning out what is deemed to be the bland noise of your parents.
Looking to flesh out the admittedly finite detail of Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel, I have great confidence in declaring there’s nothing in between in the quality stakes about Simon Bird’s feature-length directorial debut.
Dragging his feet or rushing forward in drab shopping centers as he allows the intense music genre of heavy metal to pierce his eardrums on a regular basis, injecting much-needed energy into what he considers a meaningless existence, the lengthy locks of Earl Cave’s fifteen-year-old introvert Daniel are a great measuring stick of the considerable distance between himself and his mom’s tastes. Played by Monica Dolan, the life of Sue’s long-time librarian could easily draw comparisons with a dusty book on the shelf, both not being taken out for quite some time.
Remaining resentful towards Daniel’s now Florida-based dad and his selective tendencies to financially support them, yet it’s the person Daniel truly pines for only to have his hopes swiftly dashed. His sudden wave of disappointment only turns up the volume of the indifference between this suburban mother and son dynamic, but they’re both too set in their ways to recognise they are both craving a boost in self-esteem and excitement. Respective opportunities lying in an advert to be a frontman of a new band as Daniel’s outlandish best pal Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) cheers him on, with Rob Brydon’s kooky history teacher a welcome flirtation for Sue.
Such an unhealthy divide and lack of understanding is highlighted to a rather poignant effect by director Simon Bird. The questionable outdated wallpaper littered within the interiors of their modest home, with its position of camera exaggerating how far away this family is from being on an equal footing, creating an environment fit for laugh-out-loud awkwardness and stifling bitterness.
Peppered with a gentle soundtrack by Belle and Sebastian that could leave you daydreaming, that is always at odds with the thumping sounds Daniel’s more attuned to. It underpins Bird’s more lovingly observed imagery that instantly triggers the craving for Summer effectively, with low angle-shots of ice-cream vans on top of hills and its protagonists surveying the sheer breadth of the seaside, created to reinforce the refreshment they crave.
Renowned for his stellar sitcom work which has almost exclusively been for Channel 4. Bird’s sudden reliance of montages particularly in the second half coupled with the broad strokes of certain characters (Tamsin Greig’s spiritual neighbour for one) whose development ultimately falls off the pier, does occasionally leave his debut stretched in its narrative structure. But with such impressive performances at the heart of the film, it thankfully does little to hurt your engagement. Even when he’s unleashing his angst, there’s a real degree of charm about Earl Cave’s breakout role of Daniel that pierces through his all-black aesthetic, offering plenty to layer a character that could so easily be one-dimensional. Whilst Monica Dolan’s Sue toes the line between comedy and drama impeccably. She may deem a basic black shoe the pinnacle of fashion, but her performance is brimming in vivid colour.
As much a coming-of age story for its teen as it is for its adult. ‘Days Of The Bagnold Summer’ is a warm and sharply observed snapshot of British suburbia.
Directed by: Simon Bird
Written by: Lisa Owens
Cast: Earl Cave, Grace Hogg-Robinson, Tamsin Greig, Rob Brydon