Film Review: Days of the Bagnold Summer

Suburban Necropsy Teen Day Trips

The raging cacophony of modern life was certainly turned down a notch or 9 when the virus coughed its way across the world. Suddenly all the plans we had were hermetically sealed and thrown out the window into Slipknot masked binmen’s trucks, we went back into our homes, washed our metal horned hands for a 20 battle cry seconds, sat down and wondered/ SCREAMED WTF!!! were we to do next?

Not to make light of it all, the lockdown has lasted long enough to affect us in a great many ways, for some it has brought focus on what actually matters in life, not the grand shallow gestures, but the gentle seemingly inconsequental moments, that we may have let slip by unnoticed, and certainly unappreciated.

That all may sound like an odd intro to a new comedy film, but these are odd times, and despite ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ (2019) being made well before the planet convulsed, it’s a simple and timely pure delight, extremely befitting of this hopefully emerging kinder world.

A feature debut directed by Simon Bird ( the wonderfully hapless Will from The Inbetweeners) based on a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart and adapted by Lisa Owen, it follows one of those long torturous dull suburban summers that the 15 year old in us all has experienced at some stage of our life. Certainly I did.

Daniel (Earl Cave) has his devote metal fan hopes turned up to 11 as his long estranged dad has invited him to Florida for 6 weeks summer holidays, to hang out with his new, and imminently due pregnant girlfriend. A great adventure awaits this perpetually dark cloaked teen, festooned in the all black spoils of metal bands, which are surely to go down very well in the heat of Florida, as pointed out by his struggling, yet wholly endearing mum Sue (Monica Dolan).

But alas, the tragic woes of teen doom plague on, and the trans Atlantic journey is not to be. Once again his dad has let him down, but Daniel is too young to see the faults of a dad who was never around for said misgivings to clear from the fog of innocent blind faith affection.

And so begins what seems Daniel’s sentence of doing porridge (prison) in Bromley, though it’s mostly 5pm ketchup sandwiches, or to clarify, breakfast in his pyjamas.

Sue is understandably at her single mum’s wit’s end, trying to keep the ship floating on her own, with her meager librarian salary, and zero financial help from her ex-husband living it up across the water.

On top of that, she has a seemingly directionless teen son, who’s at odds with the world, and himself. He hasn’t found his calling yet, and puts more focus and effort into constantly putting down his mum, than finding a job. As only a mum could, she presses on, regardless of the increasingly petulant and bitter barbs

Unit Still from the feature film ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ by Photographer Rob Baker Ashton

It’s not all bleak though, far from it,  there’s huge charm to the entire story, instantly recognisable uncomfortable and idiotic moments that we have all stumbled through in our tentative first (spinning room drunken) steps into adulthood. When we start to slow down the lashing out at all around us, as if they are emotive feelers measuring/testing the world and relationships around us, setting our footings, as we start to decide who we want to be in life

It’s these overt tender observations that make the movie the success it is. It’s not a laugh a minute romp say like The Inbetweeners movies, but is no less a success, it’s just from a different lower-key perspective.  Well, until the screaming metal bits.

The focus is on Daniel and his developing relationship with his mum, but there are plenty of gem moments as various characters step on to the main stage of Daniel’s emotionally mosh pit life. Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) does a great turn as a teen version of Justin from The Darkness and Daniel’s best friend/potential band manager, Rob Brydon sashays in as a debonair history teacher and circling love interest for mum, Alice Lowe as the beautifully sharp tongued and brutally honest sister, Tamsin Greig as a hippy new age therapist (and Ky’s mum) and even standup Tim Key turns a nice bowl of fudge moment.

As mentioned, this isn’t a bombastic comedy, and is bursting with English reserve and comedic traits of passive-aggressiveness. It takes great confidence to not only aim for that, but to pull it off successfully, and it does so with aplomb. It’s about clashing contrasts in personalities (delightfully apparent in the gentle almost nurturing Belle and Sebastian score, against Daniel’s hardcore metal inner soundtrack), positions, aspirations, successes, failings, regrets, adapting, evolving, self-belief and taking leaps of faith into your own future.

With the central roles of Daniel and Sue, the dynamic they create is so recognisably true, even in the smallest of gestures, it’s sometimes painful, yet despite the suffering, they are ultimately there for each other, and despite generational differences, they are inextricably linked and ultimately unified.

It may not be for everyone, it’s a kind, deeply warm reflective smile on the foibles of life, rather than a scream out loud farce. But for myself,  with the opening scene of Daniel and Sue and their solemn, almost funeral march rise up an escalator, I knew exactly what kind of ride I was in for, and I lovingly embraced it.

8/10 ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ is out on digital streaming platforms now.

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.