Twenty Years. Two People. One Movie: The romantic Sweep of One Day
Falling in Love with a Love Story
“The wit of David Nicholls’ writing appealed to me,” says One Day director Lone Scherfig. “But what compelled me was just how much of a real love story the piece is – and at a level you rarely come across.”
“It is a love story,” affirms David Nicholls, the author of the internationally praised bestselling 2009 novel One Day and also the screenwriter of the 2011 movie adaptation One Day. “It’s also about friendship and family, nostalgia and regret, and the way that our hopes and dreams don’t quite come true – at least, not in the way that we’re expecting them to. There is a bittersweet quality to it.
“I wanted to write an old-fashioned – I suppose it is that – romance showing the ups and downs of a relationship over a long period of time.”
Nicholls spent two years working on the novel. “I was writing other things alongside it,” he notes. “Also, it required a lot of planning beforehand, like a jigsaw puzzle; planting seeds in one year of the story that turned into plot points in another. I had to work out what was going to happen on the many July 15ths. I didn’t write One Day as a screenplay in disguise but I love writing dialogue and fiction, so perhaps inevitably there was a filmic quality.
“Writing One Day was a real pleasure. I wrote the first half and then took a break from it for about six months; then went back to revise the first half and carried on to the second half.”
Film producer Nina Jacobson, well-versed in recognizing books’ potential as movies and shepherding them to the screen, was struck by how much One Day affected her as she read it. She says, “I fell in love with the characters. The story is very universal. These characters, Emma and Dexter, and their journey truly speak to the way in which you transform after graduating from college and living your life; who you are then, and who you are twenty years later.
“It takes us time to grow up and until we do, we can’t necessarily be with the person we’re meant to be with. That time is necessary, yet it’s also something you can’t get back. So there is a wistful tone to the story.”
Seeing the novel’s potential as a classic movie romance, she worked to secure the film rights – promising Nicholls that she would keep the story within its original British setting while he adapted the book into a feature script. “Nina has been a great champion of the story,” says Nicholls. “She is a force of nature! I’m amazed that it all came together so quickly.”
Jacobson offers, “At many studios, the inclination would be to Americanize it and not to keep the U.K. setting and keep the characters British. To me, that would have meant compromising the specificity of the book and the singularity of the characters; the setting is part of the appeal.
“We sought out creative partners whose inclination would be to not make that change.” The film was soon set as a co-production in the unique partnership of Random House Inc.’s Random House Films division and Focus Features, with the U.K.’s Film4 co-financing. The security engendered by this confirmed backing early freed up the filmmakers to concentrate on getting the movie made.
The writer had made the page-to-screen progression before, as his novel Starter for Ten became the movie Starter for 10. The narrative of One Day was more ambitious but, as Nicholls reflects, “There’s a challenge involved in trying to condense twenty years of a character’s life into a novel anyway. When you have to condense it even further, into maybe two hours of screen time, you just have to accept the fact that you’re going to lose things. Having said that, One Day is a very faithful adaptation in terms of both the mood and the tone – as well as the storytelling style.”
Jacobson clarifies, “Dex and Em are seeing each other more than that one day a year, but we are seeing them once a year. That’s how it is in the book, and in the movie as well.
“With him being the writer first and last you always knew that even if you had to condense, say, three different bits of the book into two pieces of the movie, that the big themes of romance – and Dex and Em’s respective emotional and spatial journeys – would absolutely still come through.”
Talk of directors soon turned to Lone Scherfig, whose film An Education was then becoming one of the most-discussed pictures of the year, ultimately receiving 3 Oscar nominations including for Best Picture. But Nicholls and Jacobson had also seen the director’s earlier features Italian for Beginners and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, and well remembered them.
Nicholls comments, “It was clear that the qualities she has as a director were ones that One Day was going to need; integrity, and a sense of how to modulate the highs and lows of the story.”
“Lone was our first choice for the movie,” says the producer. “You watch her films, and you see how she has an incredible command of character and of performance, and of the intimate moments between people.
“We knew that she would find the nuances in the characters and their evolution, and communicate all of that while capturing time and place – without losing sight of Emma and Dex as the essence of the story. It would be a matter of conducting the orchestra while making sure the melody didn’t get lost.”
Scherfig was prompt to commit, and just as promptly began envisioning the right lead actors with Jacobson, who was keen that “the casting of the movie should feel right on the money – given how many people read and loved the book.”
As it happens, notes Scherfig, Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway had read the script “at an early stage. She liked Emma so much that she flew to London to talk to me and tell me why she should have the part! Anne shares Emma’s humor and strength. She is a highly experienced actress who lends huge warmth and fragility to the part, more than anyone else I can imagine.”
Hathaway muses, “If you’re lucky, you can find a story that really moves you. If you’re lucky, you can find a character who speaks to you. With One Day, I found both.”
She reports, “Nina Jacobson had sent me the book, which had been published in the U.K. but not yet in America. I read the script before I read the book. I will always remember the experience of sitting at my kitchen table and reading it – the script seemed like it was on fire, as if lit from within. I was so entertained; all these unexpected things happened throughout. I could envision the whole film so vividly. I could hear Emma’s voice, her northern English accent; I related to her, and I loved her.
“I didn’t think they were going to see any American actresses, so when I found out that Lone would be open to meeting me, I was very grateful.”
Scherfig describes Emma as “witty, insecure, hard-working, and bookish. There’s always the question that we and she are asking; is Dexter too privileged for her, is he too self-assured? With her vast range as a performer, Anne captures those doubts but also all of Emma’s more tenacious qualities – and her ability to see through Dexter’s façades.
“Her interpretation of Emma is empathetic and nuanced. Anne’s warmth and courage as an actress are extraordinary; these are rare qualities that she shares with some of the great stars of classic British and American cinema.”
For Hathaway, “these two characters were vividly and truthfully drawn in David’s writing. You feel instantly that you know them. When they feel something, you feel it too. The emotional moments hit you hard because you’re so invested in Em and Dex as individuals – and as a couple.
“Each of them has their own priorities, their own individual arc, and then their relationship has an arc as well. You’re watching them make mistakes that are understandable; you think, ‘I’d probably do that as well.’”
Nicholls comments, “Emma Morley is a complex character who puts in the effort to achieve her life’s ambition. We see her through an initial disappointment in terms of her seemingly unrequited attraction to Dexter and then through working in a Tex-Mex restaurant – Loco Caliente – and later as a schoolteacher, before she finally comes into her own as a writer of children’s books.
“Anne Hathaway has the vulnerability and intelligence that Emma Morley needs. Through Anne, you see Emma grow and change. She is spot-on.”
Hathaway states, “I believe in Emma; I wish I knew her. She is a girl that I recognized as true, and I hoped that if I could then everyone watching the film could too.”
Actor Jim Sturgess adds, “Dex tells Emma that she’s ‘the smartest person I know.’ Well, there’s a lot of Emma in Anne. She has an intellectual wit, as has Emma. On the set, I’d often find myself sitting next to Anne; I’d be reading a foolish magazine and she’d be reading some highbrow novel – that’s Em and Dex right there! She’s lovely, and we got on straight away.
“I was glad to get to act opposite someone who cared so deeply about the story – which is a lot of fun but also very emotional – and these characters.”
Sturgess got to act with Hathaway because, as Jacobson recalls, “When we first saw Jim audition opposite Anne, one of the most striking things was how natural they felt as friends, and how much you wanted them to be together. For a movie romance, those are the essential ingredients.
“Anne greatly identified with Emma, and Jim immediately understood how layered a character Dexter is as well as how extensive his emotional journey is. Jim shares Dexter’s humor and laid-back elegance, and understood how to play the character’s less-sympathetic moments in a way that you can comprehend and forgive Dexter his mistakes – which are many.”
Scherfig adds, “Jim is extremely musical and collaborative. He will modestly downplay his efforts, but I found him to be thorough in his preparation with a real attention to detail including in the psychological sense.”
Nicholls comments, “What we have in Jim Sturgess is an attractive actor of great charm and warmth – I’ve always admired him in the movies I’ve seen him in – who is able to take the edge off some of the worst of Dexter Mayhew’s behavior.”
When asked to evaluate his character, Sturgess is inclined to give Dex his due. The actor reflects, “I felt it was important not to judge him too harshly. He was a hard character to pin down, because he changes so much throughout the film and I don’t think he really knows who he is. He wants to enjoy life to the fullest.
“But he’s different things to different people, which I feel we all are in life. Dex starts off as a bit of a lovable rogue and a carefree student; for example, to his mother Alison [played in the film by Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson], he’s a sort of passageway back to her youth and she enjoys his antics and his spirit.”
The same cannot be said of Dexter’s father Steven, who is portrayed in One Day by Olivier Award winner Ken Stott. Sturgess admits, “Steven sees his son as having become obnoxious. Dex does get clouded by the world of celebrity in his career as a TV presenter, but changes again when he becomes a husband [to Sylvie, played by Golden Globe Award nominee Romola Garai] and father.”
Sturgess never lost sight of what mattered most to Dex, even when the character himself does. He offers, “This story realistically approaches what ‘love at first sight’ is. The most consistent thing which Dexter remains all the way through the film is being the love of Emma Morley’s life. That is a stabilizing force. How, then, does he choose to handle it? This is the journey that he takes in the story.”
That journey, says Hathaway, “is such a big part of the story of One Day. Dexter has never really been all that challenged in his life. At the beginning of the story, he has a sense that he belongs everywhere, a sense that everything is going to turn out just fine, and for a while it does. When things start to go a bit badly for him and life happens, he doesn’t know how to handle it. He gets lost, and we watch him with the hope that he will find his way back.
“As a fellow actor, it was eye-opening to see Jim’s approach to the work; he’s very soulful and has an enormous heart and openness about him, but at the same time he’s so hard-working and creative. All of his own qualities lend themselves to Dexter; Jim brought so much to the part. His Dex is heartbreaking.”
Beyond the chemistry required for a movie romance, Scherfig found that “Anne and Jim seemed to forge an understanding that they would do whatever they could to make this project special. There is great chemistry and respect between them, an uncomplicated enjoyment of each other’s company, which I think the viewer will be able to feel.”
With the leads in place, Nicholls realized that they would be taking ownership – at least temporarily – of his characters. He notes, “A book only belongs to the novelist – it’s their story. They decide what the characters say and how long it is and even, sometimes, what the book cover looks like.
“A movie is entirely collaborative, and you have to embrace that.”
For her part – and, for her part of Emma – Hathaway was delighted to have an abundance of source material. She confides, “If I could control anything in this business, I would try to have a book written along with every single script that you get. Because usually you have to fill in gaps yourself. On One Day, when you didn’t know what the subtext of a scene was or might be, you could just go right to the book. I found this to be an invaluable resource.
“Since the book and the script were both written by David, there was considerable overlap between the two. The book was the sort of material that you love returning to. I read it several times, and each time I would fall in a little deeper, and new things would surprise me.”
Nicholls continued to hone his screenplay adaptation through the winter and spring of 2010. He reports, “A novelist doesn’t get to leave the house very much; screenwriters have to go to meetings and come up with solutions. It’s much more collaborative.
“You do debate things, and go back-and-forth many times in great detail, but it was pretty stress-free. Nina and Lone were a delight to work on it with.”
Scherfig remarks, “Whether you are reading David’s book or his screenplay, you feel as if you are reading something written by a friend. I think the screenplay adaptation is particularly extraordinary because he has both a big, profound love story and the ability to focus you on what’s mattering to these people in their ongoing lives.”
After a cast and filmmakers read-through of the shooting script, which Nicholls described as “terrifying and exciting at the same time,” filming was ready to begin.
By the time the movie One Day began filming, the novel One Day was already a bestseller around the world. It had been sold for publication in 31 different languages – a rarely reached benchmark for a book these days – and would go to #1 on the bestseller lists in the U.K., Italy, and Sweden; #2 on Germany’s; and #3 on Russia’s.
When the book was first published in June 2009 in the U.K. by Hodder & Stoughton, David Nicholls’ novel was heartily embraced by reviewers and the public. Becoming a must-read, it hit #1 first on the hardcover and later on the paperback Sunday Times bestseller charts. The novel won the Galaxy National Book Award for Popular Fiction Book of the Year. To date, nearly 400,000 copies have been sold in the U.K.
One Day was published in the U.S. as a trade paperback original in June 2010 by Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House, Inc.’s Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Word of mouth had already spread across the pond, and the novel commenced a 12-week stint on The New York Times Trade Paperback Fiction Bestseller list, rising to the #4 position. There currently are 600,000 copies in print of the Vintage paperback and e-book editions.
Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin noted that the book had become the “no-Sweden, no-vampire fiction hit of the summer.”
Rave reviews accrued through year’s end, as The New York Times Book Review named the novel among the 100 Notable Books of 2010; Entertainment Weekly named it one of “The  Best Fiction [Books] of the Year,” with Henry Goldblatt citing it as “a luscious, beautiful, and ultimately devastating portrait of two soul mates;” and the book also made best-of lists from Barnes & Noble and Amazon, among others.
The latter site hosted numerous reviews from readers who had never posted one prior. Many readers confessed to have read the book in, appropriately enough, one day.
Nicholls states that the book “is not autobiographical, though of course I have my own memories of the two decades that we follow Em and Dex through.
“I wanted to convey the intimacy of leafing through a photo album, and the emotions that each snapshot calls forth. In this telling, the snapshot is that one day – July 15th – of a year. You’re much the same at 23 and 43 – and yet you are so very different.”
The book has, he notes, “appealed to people both younger and older than myself. They have identified with it, and that’s been a great surprise and delight to me, as it’s quite a personal book and a personal story. But people have written to me, ‘I have my own Dexter, and the book made me get in touch with him again,’ or ‘I have my own Emma, and I’m married to her.’ I believe that people have responded to this story because there hasn’t been a years-spanning romance like this in a while.
“I hope people who have enjoyed the book will love the film as well. My two big loves growing up were books and films, and it’s always been hard to separate the two.”
St. Swithin’s Day
The “one day” of the book, the film, and Dexter and Emma’s love and lives is July 15th, which is also the date of St. Swithin’s Day.
In British folklore, there is a rhyme that reads;
St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain no more
The feast day of St. Swithin (sometimes written as St. Swithun) falls every year on July 15th. Legend has it that if it rains on that day, then it will rain every day for forty days; and that if the sun shines on that day, then the weather will be beautiful for forty days.
The legend is rooted in a real man; St. Swithin himself was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop at Winchester Cathedral in the ninth century AD. Although tradition dictated his being buried inside Winchester Cathedral, he was a humble man; on his deathbed, he asked if he could be buried in the churchyard so that the rain could fall on him and so that people could walk close to him. Although his wishes were initially respected, nine years after his death the body was moved to a shrine within the Cathedral. His displeasure was registered when a massive storm broke and continued for forty days. The legend began, and endures to this day.
David Nicholls adds, “I was also inspired by Billy Bragg’s fine song ‘St. Swithin’s Day,’ which I first heard back in the 1980s.”
Production on One Day began in July 2010; filming progressed through St. Swithin’s Day and into the weeks beyond.
Places of the Heart
Eight weeks of filming One Day took the cast and crew to locations in and around London, Edinburgh, and Paris through the summer of 2010; this was most appropriate, since Dexter and Emma’s story unfolds over summer days. Ultimately, the production shot at over 50 different locations.
Lone Scherfig muses, “We moved around all the time, experiencing so much, yet it was always July 15th…”
“It was a very ambitious schedule on a not-giant budget,” reflects Nina Jacobson. “Fortunately, our crew found their footing quickly. Each department met and exceeded the demands we placed on them.
“The locations we selected were part of conveying where our characters are at that moment in their life. One or both of our lead actors are in every scene, and sometimes it was a race to finish at each location in time.”
For Anne Hathaway, the peripatetic pace was welcome because “shooting on location helps you to embody the atmosphere of the scene and tell the story. I was very excited to be working in London, Paris never disappoints, and we had a great time in Edinburgh.”
In Edinburgh, the production managed the feat of getting an entire shooting crew to the top of Arthur’s Seat – 823 feet above the city – for a couple of days of filming. Some of the heavier equipment had to be transported up by helicopter, but the majority was carried up, Sherpa-style, by all hands on deck. Other Edinburgh locations included Moray Place and Parliament Square.
The England locations were numerous; the production headquartered at Ealing Studios, where such classics as The Ladykillers and It Always Rains on Sunday were made. The production also filmed at another storied studio, Pinewood Studios, the decades-long home to the celebrated Pink Panther and James Bond series; managed to secure Westminster Cathedral for a wedding sequence; filmed at the landmark Big Ben clock tower by dawn’s light; and set up shop at vivid street locations around Waterloo and Dalston.
The combination of the book’s massive popularity and the two leads’ star appeal drew heavy spectator traffic wherever the unit ventured out into the London streets. Jim Sturgess remarks, “People would come up to me and ask, ‘Is this bit in the movie?’ or ‘Who is playing so-and-so?’ This was the first time that I’d played a character who has a strong reference point to others’ imagination.”
Scherfig was intent on making London into a key player within One Day. She marvels, “London is so eclectic and full of life, and I do have a strong sense and recall of the periods we’re depicting. Throughout the 1990s, London was a highly energetic place and because Emma and Dexter live hectic lives in that era, I wanted to render the scenes quite full-on and expressionistically.
“The city and the era itself helped to define the style of the film, with small tonal and visual adjustments for each sequence and each year.”
Key members of the filmmaking team were cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac, production designer Mark Tildesley, and – reunited with the director following An Education – costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux.
In France, filming took place at the Palais Royal, for a tête-a-tête between Dexter and his mother; at the venerable Gare du Nord, arguably the busiest train station in Paris; and up and down the Canal Saint Martin, among other locations depicting two different years in the story. The first is 1990, when Dexter is spending a year living in Paris teaching English and is visited by his parents; the second is 2001, when he goes to visit Emma, now an established children’s books author who is residing in the city.
Scherfig further quantifies the differences by explaining that “Dexter’s mother’s Paris is the posh Paris; Emma’s is the bohemian Paris.”
Sturgess enthuses, “I’ve always wanted to shoot even just one scene in Paris. It’s so vividly conveyed in the book; to be suddenly standing in the streets that you’ve read about was a thrill.”
A bonus filming location for everyone – particularly the two leads – was along the Brittany coast, in breathtaking Dinard and its environs. The French town provided the locations of harbor exteriors and a shimmering seawater pool, as well as the beach La Guimorais. Although the book’s setting for Dex and Em’s holiday scenes is Greece, Jacobson comments that the production “needed to find somewhere a little closer by to where we were working overall. Dinard is incredibly romantic, and feels as exquisite and extraordinary as Greece.”
Scherfig reminds that “this is an all-summer film, and to be able to play out one of the summer sequences in Brittany added a rare beauty and softness to that particular day in our love story.”
Twenty Years, On Call
Anne Hathaway notes, “Lone is so detail-oriented and so specific; she is involved in everything. The hair, the make-up, the clothes...”
Lone Scherfig confirms, “Shooting One Day was a fantastic challenge for each of the departments. The film opens at daybreak in 1988 and ends at dusk in the summer of 2011, travelling through all the intense, witty, and moving moments in David Nicholls’ story. I felt fortunate and privileged during our summer of work.
“Many members of the crew have lived through the same times and places as our main characters. So the film is packed with subtle layers and authentic details, be it a curtain swaying in a breeze from the Thames river; Emma’s much-too-warm boots; or a track coming from Dexter’s car radio.”
With the story spanning two decades, the time periods would rarely not be referenced, but the march of time needed to be gradual and subtle. Hathaway remembers initially “thinking, ‘Oh, how much fun this is going to be.’ The closer I got to doing it, I realized that it was going to take specific, carefully measured nuances for each year.”
Accordingly, the leading lady spent a lot of time with the design teams working out what her character’s progression should be. She remarks, “We had to decide exactly what Em’s habits were at all different points of her life, and figure out how we were going to reflect them.
“If you’re playing a character at one point and then years later, it’s easy to imagine a host of changes and that you would do something quite dramatic. With this film, everything had to be noticeable but also subtle; you have pockets of growth in your life, and sometimes you have a pivotal year that changes you.”
Hathaway reveals, “With this crew, I felt like I was taken care of all the time – and thank goodness, because of course we didn’t shoot in order; there was one day of filming where I shot four different years…
“We had to calculate every decision. What were Emma’s habits at different points of her life? It wasn’t enough to find ‘a look;’ we had to ask ourselves, ‘Why did she choose this?’ or ‘Where was she when she made the decision to cut her hair off?’”
On the tonsorial tip, Jim Sturgess adds, “By which haircut I was getting, I could just about tell where Dexter was in his life. We spent a lot of time with the hair and make-up and costume departments before we started shooting – and then again on every day of shooting – in order to get all these looks right.
“I predict that I look better as Dex at age 43 than I myself will at that age!”
Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, who was again (after An Education) travelling through time on-screen with director Lone Scherfig, was careful not to plan “a documentary of a whole load of different fashions. First and foremost, we want audiences to be going through the emotional journey with these two believable characters. But because we couldn’t have our extras looking ‘2010,’ you’ll see them in what people were wearing; huge shoulder pads, pleated trousers, and colored jeans.”
Rafe Spall, who plays “Ian, a really bad stand-up comedian” and Emma’s first boyfriend, offers, “I say, bring back the 501 jeans! We’re far enough out of the 1990s now to be able to comment on the decade, and One Day will be one of the first films to capture that. But, seeing all the extras dressed in the ‘90s clothes – wow.”
Turning to the lead characters, Dicks-Mireaux sized them up early and often. She reports, “Dexter, because he has money, makes the obvious choices in fashions. Emma is more complex; at the beginning of the story, she is wearing things that are slightly old-fashioned. Change really comes for her in Paris, later in the story. At every turn, Lone and Anne and I discussed what Emma would wear and what she wouldn’t. We concluded that Emma wasn’t keen on trousers, for instance.
“While we would do many wardrobe fittings, it became apparent that we had to evaluate the complete look; the clothes with the hair and make-up.”
To that end, hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac is praised by producer Nina Jacobson as being “truly at the top of her field. I was blown away by her ability to capture the fullness of a younger face, and the thinning of the face as one gets a little older.”
Primorac saw the challenge of One Day as “telling this story year by year not only with the sheer number of years covered, but also with two ordinary people. The approach with their looks had to be gentle rather than strong. Given that we meet them in their early 20s, it’s not so much about wrinkles on the skin as it is what they’ve been through; with age comes knowledge and experience, and that’s reflected in people’s faces. I try to make them look ever-so-slightly older in each year. It was especially interesting with Dex, because he learns some things the hard way.
“Lone and Odile and I discussed how even though this is recent history that we all remember, we still had to be objective. Shapes and looks of the times had to be taken into account, so we studied magazines of the period from Vogue to Blitz to The Face, which was especially influential at the time. We also spoke to, and looked at photographs, of real people and friends of friends online. I would make collages on the floor, to see how we could progress. We did dressed-up tests with the actors, and then figured out what we all thought was the best way forward.”
With the actors already so invested in their portrayals, Primorac found that “when I first met with them together, there was an understanding between them, as two artists, of Dex and Em’s story – in addition to an incredible chemistry. They only cared about their characters, not about what would suit Anne and Jim, and that was a gift.”
Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s work also inspired Primorac, who says that he “seamlessly paints such a beautiful picture of every part of the story; he varies his palettes, which guides the story along emotionally and also conveys the passage of time.”
Scherfig says that Delhomme “embraces and is inspired by the reality and by the surprises that occur when you work in a city as lively and varied as London. His sense of style is extraordinary, and he would easily identify the small visual elements that should differ from one of the film’s summer days to the next. It was almost like we were shooting a series of individual short films back to back, but the overall film has a style of its own. This is very much because of Benoît’s ability to always have fresh eyes even though he already has such a wealth of experience.”
Hathaway notes that “while the film looks lush, what’s happening in the story always feels real. The beauty of a moment is heightened by Benoît’s cinematography.
“[Production designer] Mark Tildesley also has an amazing eye, and I want him to come and design my home because every choice he makes is perfect!”
For Tildesley, the key to taking on the assignment “was to envision the story in three stages; early, middle, and end of all the years in which we’re coming back to Emma and Dexter – because there wasn’t that much difference between, say, 1992 and 1994.
“Lone wanted links, and touchstones for the characters; for example, there is a mirror that you first see in Emma’s flat early on. She has bought it in a junk shop, and you’ll find that it travels with her throughout the story. We wanted things that were concise, and based in and with the characters.”
As with many on the filmmaking team, Tildesley found that personal memories would on occasion influence his approach. He notes, “I was in college around the same time Em and Dex are, so that was like a time warp. I got some of my old photos out to look for inspiration in them. Sometimes, coming onto the finished sets felt just…weird.”
David Nicholls agrees, “Seeing aspects of one’s life ending up recreated is bizarre. Emma’s student bedroom was so similar to the ones I remember; the accuracy and attention to detail from Mark’s department, and from Lone, impressed me.
“If I were in the art department and knew that something wasn’t actually going to be in the shot, I wouldn’t bother with it. They don’t share that philosophy.”
In finishing the movie, Scherfig enlisted another An Education veteran, film editor Barney Pilling – who, because of their shorthand, began his work while shooting was still underway – as well as Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman.
The latter’s score is complemented by a soundtrack that echoes what Dex and Em would be hearing during their lives and times – curated by music supervisor Karen Elliott – as well as a bonus musical component; Elvis Costello, the iconic singer/songwriter whose artistry has resonated for decades, saw an early cut of the movie. Costello was so affected by the picture that he conceived an original song to be heard on the soundtrack; “Sparkling Day,” for which he wrote the words and composed the music, is performed by the artist with his band the Imposters. “It’s a very beautiful song,” marvels Scherfig.
Nina Jacobson comments, “The way Lone tells this story feels original and authentic, natural and organic. The performances that she has gotten from our actors are extraordinary.”
Anne Hathaway assesses working with Lone Scherfig as “a real lesson in everything. Lone would always make a choice that I couldn’t predict, whether it was a location or a scene approach.”
Jim Sturgess concurs, “Lone would have me play a sad scene with humor, and a funny scene with poignancy; she would change it up, encouraging you to try different things. This way, she had options on how to shape the piece. I trusted her completely.”
Hathaway comments that “about halfway through filming, I stopped trying to imagine the scenes in my head. I concentrated on knowing my lines and understanding why Emma was saying them – and then kind of left everything else up to Lone. Each day was dynamic because of her.”
Sturgess adds, “Because of that, for us each day on the set would feel like the first day on the set. Lone is possibly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. But she also cares about every single person on the set, and navigated us to the right tone of the piece. The story holds a lot of layers. She was always tuned in to how to guide us through it.”
Hathaway relates, “We found the shared truth to tell Dex and Em’s story. As a result, there is a joyous quality to One Day.”
Scherfig concludes, “I wouldn’t want to make a movie that was lacking in love or in humor, and this one has a lot of both. So I hope audiences will laugh and cry – sometimes at the same time – with Emma and Dexter.”