Days of the Bagnold Summer, the feature film debut of Simon Bird (most famous for his starring role in The Inbetweeners) based on a graphic novel of the same name by Joff Winterhart, is a beautifully specific and universally comforting coming of age dramedy. The film focuses on young metalhead Daniel (Earl Cave, son of Nick Cave), his librarian single mother Sue (Monica Dolan), and their summer together.
The movie opens with what may be one of the most painfully relatable moments I’ve ever seen on film. Daniel and Sue are shoe shopping for a relative’s wedding that they must attend at the end of summer, and Daniel, wearing a Metallica shirt and with his face framed by long greasy hair, argues that he doesn’t need new shoes and can just wear his trainers/sneakers to the wedding. I looked like this as a teen (and sometimes still do) and I’ve worn Doc Martens to far too many events that call for much nicer shoes, so the film had me from its opening scene.
Back home, after the shoe store trip ends in a stalemate, they receive a call to their landline from Daniel’s father in Florida. The landline brought up the question of when the movie takes place and while it’s certainly meant to take place sometime well after 2012, much of it feels like it could be a period piece anywhere between now and the ‘80s. On the phone, Daniel’s father cancels Daniel’s trip to Florida for the summer because his new wife is about to have a baby.
The movie then shows the relationship between mother and son spending much of their free time together, getting on each others’ nerves and yelling horrible things at one another, but also being sweet and loving toward one another. Their behavior towards each other fluctuates rapidly, especially for Daniel. They go from being cruel and hurtful, to taking care of and protecting each other. Perhaps the most endearing moment in the entire movie is when Sue holds back Daniel’s hair as he vomits after a night out.
They also each have their own storylines and one of the great strengths of the movie is that it gives them equal time on screen and gives their stories equal weight, care, and empathy. Daniel spends his summer time without his mother going out in search of a summer job, discovering a band seeking a frontman, and hanging out with his best friend and fellow metalhead Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott). Sue has her job, chats with her sister Carol (Alice Lowe) and Ky’s reiki healer mother Astrid (Tasmin Greig), and goes out with Daniel’s history teacher played with great smarm by Rob Brydon.
As a small scale dramedy and coming of age film these side characters lend the movie much of its charm and some of its funniest moments. Ky and Astrid are both barely a step above caricatures of overconfident teenage boys and new age hippies respectively. This means they are central to many of the funniest scenes in the movie, but they are also given human moments. Greig is particularly good in a later scene in the film where Astrid comforts Sue.
Beyond the empathy that the film has for all of its characters, there’s also an authenticity to the portrayal of teenage metalheads. Daniel and Ky are silly together, they joke and make each other laugh, and when Daniel spends time with Sue, he pretends (poorly) to be morose when they’re actually having a nice time. The decorations that adorn Ky’s and Daniel’s walls and shirts that they wear are real bands that real teenage metalheads idolize. And the soundtrack throws classic grindcore and death metal songs in with the usual indie folk and pop songs that soundtrack coming of age dramedies. Though there are still a lot of indie pop songs given that Belle and Sebastian worked on the film’s score and soundtrack.
The film is also beautifully shot. There’s nothing super flashy or stylized, but it’s all perfectly framed and every so often the camera lingers behind allowing us to watch these characters as if we were sitting in the same restaurant or watching them leave the house from the living room.
Days of the Bagnold Summer isn’t anything particularly exciting or new, but it tells a specific coming of age story about a metalhead living with his single mom in England that will resonate on some level with any viewer simply because of how much love the film has for all of its characters.
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Days of the Bagnold Summer is a beautifully written and acted coming of age dramedy about a teen metalhead and his single mother’s summer together.
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