Do you remember the long summer holidays away from school at the tender age of 15? For many of us, we now look back at this time through the rose-tinted specs of adulthood. But the truth is these breaks were often painful, disappointing and challenging for both us and our parent/s. Our hormonal confusion and desire for freedom clashing with relentless boredom and frustration. Leading to uncomfortable conversations, brief moments of pleasure and embarrassing trips to town with our parent/s. Where our burgeoning need for independence was rudely invaded by an adult wish to ‘spend time together’ browsing clothes. However, this reality rarely finds itself reflected on film. With many movies opting for tales of rebellion, defiance, sex and drugs over the tedious and frustrating realities of teenage life. However, with ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ these realities find a delightful new voice.
Most people will know Simon Bird from his TV roles as ‘Will’ in The Inbetweeners and ‘Adam’ in Friday Night Dinner. However, Bird has also strayed into both writing (Chickens) and directing (Ernestine & Kit) in recent years. With Days of the Bagnold Summer his debut feature film in the director’s chair. Working from a screenplay written by his wife Lisa Owens based on the graphic novel by Joff Winterhart.
Bagnold Summer excels in a delicate yet bright portrayal of a changing mother/son relationship. One that has become fragmented as teenage life takes hold, with communication stilted and unsure. Earl Cave and Monica Dolan play Daniel Bagnold and his gentle, insecure but loving mum, Sue Bagnold. A woman who works as a librarian, her divorce from Daniel’s father still haunting her confidence. While metal music-loving Daniel strives to reconcile his love for his mum, with a father who has built a new life in Florida.
The summer starts with Daniel preparing for a trip to visit his dad in the US; his subdued excitement ultimately left crushed by the trips sudden cancellation. As his dad and new young partner welcome a newborn child into their family. With Daniel unceremoniously left on the sidelines, his mum having to pick up the pieces of his disappointment. In a summer where both mother and son are forced to face the family separation of the past and their hopes for the future. Through a series of touching, engaging and humorous events involving Daniel’s best mate, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) his reiki obsessed mum (Tamsin Greig) and a slippery history teacher played by Rob Brydon.
While sitting firmly within the coming of age genre, Simon Bird’s ‘Bagnold Summer’ transcends many of the familiar teenage stereotypes. With a film that centres on themes of adult and adolescent loneliness. Both mother and son lost in their own worlds of self-isolation, while remaining unable to share this with each other in finding solutions. With Daniel taking his anger and frustration out on his mum, while his mum desperately searches for a new way to connect with her son.
If all this sounds serious and slightly ‘Ken Loach’ in construct, fear not. As this is a film that shines with beautifully timed, laugh out loud comedy, wrapping the audience in a genuinely delightful two-person play. While embracing a deadpan realism that is rare in coming of age comedy/drama. Bird’s direction allowing Cave and Dolan’s sincere and unsentimental performances to take centre stage. In a film that gently allows the audience into the lives of a mother and son who reflect the real experience of so many families.
Ultimately Simon Bird provides us with a directorial debut of layered emotion and humour. One that beautifully reflects the summer holidays many of us will have experienced as teens. While equally celebrating the love of a mother and son caught in a loop of loneliness. Their lives in lockdown, as they both scream for new experiences, adventure and meaning. Delivering a film that feels quintessentially British, yet relatable to all. With its narrative, style and performances, nothing short of an understated triumph.
Director: Simon Bird