Review: Days of the Bagnold Summer

This charming tale of a mother and son’s meandering summer holiday from The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird in his directorial debut could easily wander into mediocrity, but instead becomes something all the more endearing.

Daniel (Earl Cave, son of Australian rock icon Nick) is an angst-fuelled teenage metalhead, clad head to toe in black. He hates, well, just about everything.

He can’t wait to escape his small town and his mother for the summer to visit his deadbeat dad in Florida. However his plans are scuppered by the birth of his father’s new child.

Far from ecstatic about his new sibling, he now has to spend the holidays at home with his long-suffering mother Sue (Monica Dolan). She’s just about the polar opposite to Daniel, what my Mum would describe as ‘a wet blanket’.

It would be easy for these two characters to fall into being caricatures, especially Daniel. Instead, he’s carefully fleshed out, with tiny details such as repeated trips with mum to find some smart shoes for a wedding and her insistence on having the corner on his bit of cake every time they eat out, building up a detailed picture of the pair’s dynamic.

Sue is given less space to develop as a character, as if we’re seeing her through her uninterested son’s eyes. She’s everything he and his music taste hates.

She wears sensible knitwear and works in a library, a picture portrait of middle England conservative-ism, but Dolan gives her depth through a delightfully sympathetic performance.

The empty suburban streets and flat colour palette will paint an all-too-familiar picture for many: of summers growing up in small, middle-class British towns. Entire days spent longing for something interesting to happen, for a spark of life to break the monotony of suburban idleness.

Sue attempts to bring this spark to her son’s life herself, to find the bonding moment that will break them out of their monotony, but her efforts are rebuked at every turn. A trip to the beach ends badly, and her romantic encounters even worse.

The way the pair are framed emphasises the distance between them, often both in the same shot but separated into different rooms, Daniel almost looks offensive in most scenes, his band merch a harsh tonic against the beige surroundings.

As the small day-to-day humiliations and jabs build up, their differences seem even more irreconcilable. A trio of notable British comedians – Tim Key, Alice Lowe and Rob Brydon – in the supporting cast liven up the proceedings, although the scenarios border on becoming repetitive as the film progresses.

It’s a far stretch from the gross-out adolescent humour that director Bird is recognised for after his turn as Will in The Inbetweeners, in fact it’s far closer to the sensibilities of an American indie comedy, especially with the twee soundtrack by Belle & Sebastian.

It might not be anything overtly special, but this feature is sure to be achingly relatable for many, and shows Bird to have a promising future as a director.

Related Articles