Right, all can be revealed. I attended an advance screening of the film One Day on Thursday, August 7. It is released next Wednesday, August 24. Before attending this screening, which was not the first, by the way, but a big one, at a West End cinema and full of real people who must have secured tickets through magazine and newspaper offers (because, to generalise wildly, they all seemed to be young women), I was asked to sign an embargo form. This is common practice with film screenings of big movies, and – based on the number one bestselling novel One Day by David Nicholls, which has sold a million copies in the UK alone, and has been translated into 40 languages – One Day is a big movie. I was surprised to have to sign an embargo, however, which forbade me from talking, writing and Tweeting about the film. just two weeks before release. (Usually when this happens, it does so only when a film is screened way ahead.) Anyway, I dutifully signed it, as, I was told, entrance to the screening depended on me doing so.
Boring detail: the embargo form was emailed to me with my e-ticket, but, oddly, I couldn’t open the document. The film company, Universal, assured me that I would be able to sign the form on the day. In the queue at the Vue cinema, Leicester Square, I was indeed handed a form, which I cursorily read and signed while standing there, using my bag to lean on. I handed it in: usual drill. We must assume that everyone else in the screening signed the same piece of paper. However, I only found out after the event that this embargo was a super-embargo – as well as agreeing not to talk, write or Tweet about One Day, I had also agreed not to mention on social networking sites that I had even attended the screening!
This, for me, was a whole new level of film company paranoia. Obeying the standard part of the embargo, which ran until August 17, today, I Tweeted after the film that I would not be Tweeting about One Day until August 17. Playfully, people asked my opinion, and a short dialogue about films versus books ensued. At no point did I reveal my thoughts about the film. It was only a few days later that I learned about the super-embargo I had blindly signed. I removed my Tweets about One Day, although the horse had pretty much bolted. I then wrote to the film company expressing my annoyance at this new kind of embargo. What harm could come of me saying that I’d seen the film, I asked? And what next? Critics covering their faces with scarves and hoods on entering cinemas to see advance screenings? It struck me as preposterous, and I was assured by Universal that it was an edict from the US studio. It always is, of course. That’s where the studios live.
I am 100% against film piracy. I’m with them on that. And I understand why films are protected by embargoes when they are screened so far ahead of their release. The studios have lost control of what used to be called “word of mouth” but which is no longer spread by mouth. The moment a film is seen, it can be “reviewed” by citizen journalists with phones and blogs, otherwise known as the public. It can be “reviewed” from inside a cinema, while it is showing, and broadcast to others in the queue outside. As such, with advance interest in films running to an all-time high thanks to the internet and the instant dissemination and broadcast of information, you can’t expect them to just roll over. If I sign an embargo, I stick to it. This time, I accidentally broke it, but only because it was an insane embargo which I couldn’t print out.
Here’s why a studio might be jumpy about One Day – it is based upon a beloved book. A beloved book that has been out for two years, during which time it seems to have sold, constantly. I haven’t read the beloved book, as you’ll know I’m not a big reader of novels, preferring non-fiction, but I know plenty of people who have read it – and I saw them reading it on public transport, especially last year when it came out in paperback – and they all seemed to love it. (Except one or two who didn’t.) That’s how it sold a million copies. Books can burn slowly. Films cannot. They live or die, in box office terms, over a single weekend. And once word gets out that the film of One Day is just a perfectly serviceable British romantic comedy, it may be that some people who love the book won’t go and see it after all.
Adapted by Nicholls himself, I’m assuming that we’re in safe hands in terms of capturing the story and the mood of the book. The gimmick is that a pair of friends’ will-they-won’t-they relationship is told over two decades by way of revisiting them on July 15, St Swithin’s Day, each year. I can see how this might work on the page, with each new chapter moving a year on. However, onscreen, with captions to indicate the shifts in time, it’s harder to reset your imagination. If I’d directed it – and I didn’t, Lone Scherfig (An Education) did – I’d have opted for black screens between each “chapter”, with a simple caption stating the date. As it is, we get soft cuts, and artistic typography for the captions, and it doesn’t help the viewer, I’m afraid. After all, not that much changes in terms of fashion or haircuts in a year, so it’s much more difficult to make the jump. On the page, I guess it’s much easier.
It’s fine. It’s a good story. Much of it is given away in the trailer anyway – except the ending – so it’s not so much “if” as “when” for Emma and Dexter. They don’t sleep together on July 15, 1988, graduation day in Edinburgh, and thus become platonic companions rather than lovers. She starts out frumpy but gets less frumpy. He starts out a bit of a prick, and becomes more of one. I will say no more than that. Jim Sturgess does “being a prick” pretty well. But Anne Hathaway, for all her obvious charm, can no more hide her exquisite beauty behind some glasses and funny clothes in One Day than she could as the frumpy PA at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada. This is a casting problem. And she is a problem in another respect: she’s not English. Emma is from Yorkshire; I only worked this out about a third of the way into the film (not having read the book – did I mention that?), when Hathaway suddenly sounded a bit northern, having sounded blandly “English” up to that point. It’s definitely an English accent she does, but it’s not a northern English one, or at least, only some of the time, which is a distraction from the drama.
I know why we cast Hollywood stars in our films, but at least in Four Weddings, Andie MacDowell was supposed to be an American, and there was humour and story to be derived from that. Hathaway was great as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, but that was an “English” accent she had to do, and on olden days one, which helps. Hey, if I’m distracted by her accent in One Day, imagine how irritating it’s going to be for those one million British fans of the book!
I’m sure the film will do fine. It is perfectly OK, if you like romantic comedies. There is some good support from Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson, and Rafe Spall is the highlight of the whole film, but the episodic format means we get all too little of anybody apart from Emma and Dex. Apparently there is more in the novel about Dex and his mum (Clarkson), but you get more room to breathe in a book. Things are always squished in a film.
If you have read it, you’ll be duty bound to see how the film turns out. But you’ll know the story, and the ending. So in a way, even though you’re the reason they made the film in such record time, and then got all worried about news and opinion of it being leaked, you’re also the most likely to complain. Ironic really. But that’s the market.