Reviews Television

‘One Day’ sees life through a romantic lens

York, UK – One criticism often lobbied at movie and TV romances, with their cliches and repeated tropes, is that they feel like they’ve ‘been done before.’

In the case of Netflix’s new limited series “One Day” – it literally has, in the form of a 2009 novel and 2011 film.

Yet there’s something about the new series that feels timelessly relevant and uniquely poignant to a whole new generation becoming enthralled by the fateful tale of Dex and Em.

Perhaps the reason lies in just how meticulously well put together every aspect of the show is.

Ambitious Emma Morley from working-class Leeds is expertly portrayed with both warm emotional vulnerability and jaded stubbornness by Ambika Mod. The privileged upper middle-class Dexter Mayhew is rendered as both delightfully charming and deeply troubled – sometimes even cruel – by Leo Woodall.

As the romance develops between them, the show navigates class consciousness with dexterity and subtly.

The cinematography constantly contrasts the ease with which Dexter casually, almost accidentally, stumbles into opportunities through wealthy acquaintances while Emma works humiliating jobs to stay afloat.

The divides between the pair are deafeningly loud yet voice themselves in small, intimate social transactions. When Emma has to work at a tacky restaurant, he doesn’t understand why she ‘wants’ to be there or why she can’t just ‘take a break’ to catch up with him when he unexpectedly shows up.

He later chastises her for giving up her dreams when he doesn’t understand that these aren’t accessible to her in the way that his are.

The show sometimes drifts into cliche: the privileged character with all the opportunities but no integrity or drive and their working-class counterpart with ambition but no means – and a possible reversal of fates between the two.

Even then, this dynamic is still handled in such a way that it remains compelling viewing.

Other anxieties and obstacles reveal themselves through intricate and grounded dialogue. Dexter sees Emma as a source of stability and support – she’s the person he always turns to when he needs someone the most. For Emma, this instils justifiable insecurity that Dexter sees her only as a second choice. The new interpretation of Emma as a South Asian woman also adds an interesting new dimension to this particular dynamic.

This is a story that, from its inception, consistently rejects ease. It’s essential that the story is told through the medium of each episode following the same date one year apart spanning the late ‘80s to early ‘00s.

Not only does this provide intrigue in the act of piecing together what has happened between each episode, but it allows the show to completely transcend the quintessential features of a romance with derivative conflicts and neat resolutions.

Instead, ‘One Day’ centers around misunderstandings, the life-altering implications of a few second’s bad timing, our aspirations and realities, how our backgrounds and experiences affect relationships, friendship, grief, love and all the things that change the trajectory of our lives.

Ultimately, the show is not about romance, but rather uses a romantic relationship to beautifully explore life itself. 

Matty Ennis is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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  • The point about the show using romance to explore life itself is so interesting! Really intriguing review Matty!