Here’s a movie that tells us that the days of summer, like the boys of summer in Don Henley’s song, are going to get outlived by the love they inspire. It’s what happens in this thoroughly sweet-natured, charming and unassuming British film, adapted by screenwriter Lisa Owens from the 2012 graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, with a creamy soundtrack by Belle and Sebastian. Simon Bird (best known for playing Will in TV’s The Inbetweeners) makes his directorial debut.
Earl Cave and Monica Dolan play metalhead teenager Daniel Bagnold and his gentle, sad, divorced mum, Sue Bagnold, failing to get on with each other over an interminable summer in the epically boring British suburbs. Daniel is crucified with disappointment when a summer holiday with his dad in Florida is cancelled and Sue is justifiably afraid that he will take his rage out on her. Daniel has a fractious relationship with his best mate, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott), and Sue isn’t sure how to take Ky’s supercilious mum, a reiki healer played by Tamsin Greig. Things get complicated when, to the delight of her younger sister (Alice Lowe), Sue is asked out on a date by Daniel’s history teacher, a predatory smoothie played by Rob Brydon.
Days of the Bagnold Summer is a coming-of-age movie, a genre that traditionally gives its young heroes their yearned-for sexual success near the end, but then insists that this is superseded by the climactic realisation that what is really important is friendship. (Romcom stops at the romantic success.) The key relationship in Days of the Bagnold Summer is between Daniel and Sue, not a romance or bromance but a matrifilialmance. They squabble about sharing cake when she takes him for tea at a cafe, and poignantly bond over their ailing labrador, Riley.
The excellent Dolan gives us someone who isn’t wretched or grotesque, like a caricature of a Mike Leigh character: she is deeply tender and protective towards Daniel. Before Daniel’s father was on the scene, Sue had a tragically poignant relationship with a gloomy romantic called Ian. He used to be her type of guy, and the movie playfully lets us wonder if Ian might be Daniel’s dad. We can certainly see how Sue might have the same sort of unrequited crush on her own son.
Cinematographer Simon Tindall and production designer Lucie Red create a bright, clean, airy expanse of frustrating summery nothingness for Daniel to get lost in, drifting around the dull, manicured streets and Escher cul-de-sacs while death metal rages in his head. Days of the Bagnold Summer is influenced by US teen films to some degree, but those would always contrive some too-good-to-be-true romantic clinch, however incomplete. This film is too British, and too realist, to do this; rather, it creates a gently satisfying ending for its young hero and his stressed mum. There are terrifically judged supporting turns from Lowe, Brydon and Greig and lovely lead performances from Dolan and Cave.
• Days of the Bagnold Summer is available on digital platforms from 8 June.