[Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for the film and series “One Day,” both based on David Nicholls’ 2009 novel of the same name.]
If you went to see the 2011 film “One Day” in theaters, you may remember one thing and one thing only. That thing. In fact, as we type out this article, unsuspecting viewers all over the world are booting up Netflix’s superior adaptation and probably receiving the shock of a lifetime in Episode 11, refreshing the battery life on this harrowing plot twist for a whole new generation.
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But Nicole Taylor’s new series has way more going for it than the film did, and a lasting power that includes compelling leads, inviting chemistry, and genuinely adept storytelling — none of which were present in the movie (that Anne Hathaway/Jim Sturgess misstep is currently rocking a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
In her review, IndieWire Senior TV Writer Proma Khosla noted, “‘One Day’ as a limited series leaves a much stronger impression than it ever could have as a film, minting [Ambika] Mod and [Leo] Woodall’s chemistry, charm, and adaptability.”
It’s feels so rare for a second adaptation to get things right, but “One Day” now joins the ranks of “Percy Jackson,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Looking for Alaska” (the film never got made and Josh Schwartz’s screenplay eventually found life as a Hulu series).
Below, Khosla and Executive Editor, TV Erin Strecker discuss the film they barely remembered and the new adaptation they won’t soon forget.
ERIN STRECKER: Proma! Like you, I barely remembered the 2011 film — at that point, I hadn’t read the book yet so I went in expecting Anne Hathaway Romantic Comedy and instead watched her get hit by a bus. Rewatching the film last week after viewing Netflix’s superior TV adaptation, what really stuck out to me was how episodic the movie feels; it’s a series of vignettes!
That makes sense given the source material, but watching the film unfold, I can’t imagine why anyone who wasn’t bringing their own book love to the project would be expected to care. We don’t spend enough time with them in any year to really develop that decade-spanning relationship: All we see is a man with a pretty significant alcohol problem and a young woman (with a truly terrible British accent) bopping along unhappily waiting for him. Didn’t work in 2011 and certainly doesn’t work now.
Taylor’s adaptation, on the other hand, knows the main duo has to have a chemistry, and deeper backgrounds, that really sizzle. Talk to me (swoon at me) about Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod.
PROMA KHOSLA: Swoon at me, swoon with me, swoon with us. First of all, whenever I go back to movies from not-so-long-ago (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” was another recent rewatch, thanks to Prime Video’s new version), I’m always floored by how normal it was to just cast dozens of white actors (it’s still common practice, but as a viewer I can at least now note that it feels weird). Mod’s casting is inspired and a great reminder that we’ve got a brown girl running Netflix — not to mention that she actually sounds like she’s from Leeds. I grew up around a lot of Liverpudlians and didn’t realize how necessary the detail of a British-Indian girl sounding convincingly Northern English now is for me.
I talked about Woodall in particular in my review since both film and show (and I assume book) are more from Dexter’s point of view than Emma’s, and the film really strips away a lot of what makes him human. Sturgess comes across as mostly an asshole during points in his life where Dexter is genuinely flailing, both with his mental and physical health and with big emotions that up until that point, this early 20-something hasn’t had to face.
All of that comes across masterfully in the Netflix version. I think about the day he visits his mother, or the disastrous dinner with Emma, and in both of those you can now see that struggling young man, and you feel for him and help him (I believe I texted someone “I want to hug” while watching those episodes). His breakdown at the phone booth is so heartbreaking, and the series also builds out the secondary characters in a way the film never even attempted.
STRECKER: The scripts definitely make it a point to flesh out Dexter’s breakdown and struggles, and just genuinely made it significantly easier to actually want to root for these two. And while the duo are helped along by the creative team, Woodall and Mod’s chemistry shows why casting for romances is so important (and why the Emmys should follow the Oscars’ just-announced decision to instate a casting Oscar in 2026).
The two nail all the tricky bits (and yes, convincingly sell the de rigueur tropes) that abound in romantic stories in general — prolonged eye contact, whispered line delivery, jumping-off-the-screen charged energy, even a knowing wink at a one-bed situation. Perhaps my favorite moment in the whole show was when Dexter goes to Paris, learns Emma has a boyfriend, and attempts to play sick to get out of going to dinner with the happy couple. Mod’s whispered, “Your pretend tonsillitis, I told Jean-Pierre I was coming down with it too,” …it’s the ideal sweetly sexy vibe and so much more satisfying than simply running after each other in the street. Ugh. I’m once again wishing these two could just drift off into the sunset together.
We have to talk about the infamous ending: Did it work for you?
KHOSLA: I was so much more invested in them this time around that part of me was desperately hoping for a new ending. It’s abrupt, it’s random, it’s hurtful — in short, it mirrors how a lot of people lose loved ones. I think it was smart to time jump immediately after the accident and to take us through Dexter processing, because stewing in the immediate grief is tough with fiction. Remember when “Jane the Virgin” skipped ahead three years to preserve its tone? Sometimes you gotta move things along.
And to that end I think the final episode worked really well. You go on that journey with Dex while Emma feels both near and far as a character (I love that conversation on the bedroom floor), and the full circle ending stands as this lovely monument to the time they had, rather than full emotional whiplash for the audience.
STRECKER: SIGH. You’re probably right. I liked the full-circle aspect of the ending, but it got me thinking about how this show is being marketed. Many reviews called it a rom-com which it decidedly … isn’t. We’re in full-on romantic tragedy, baby, a la another breakout book turned hit adaptation, “The Fault in Our Stars.” (Oh God, we’re totally going to get a “Fault in Our Stars” TV show before too long, right?!)
I may be not giving Gen Z enough credit, but I think current teenagers aren’t super-familiar with the book and/or movie. You and I both knew this thing ended in death. I’m curious how many people sampling this on Netflix this weekend are going to be a little shellshocked how this all wraps up, given how it has been advertised and discussed. (Fun fact: The book ends with Dexter “moving on” with his manager at the cafe where he works, Maddy. The TV show made the right call not depicting that!)
KHOSLA: First of all, you should have given me a trigger warning before “‘Fault in Our Stars’ TV Show,” and I am very grateful for the Maddy erasure. I do think a large swathe of the audience is going to be horrified, but maybe more receptive to it than they would have been when the movie came out because shocking deaths weren’t so ubiquitous in television back then (fun fact: “One Day” premiered the same summer as “Game of Thrones”). We’ll see!
I think this adaptation is a great testament to why some shows work better as TV shows and others as movies … but we’ve also moved more toward the TV model in recent years, to the point that things which have no business being adapted are getting mediocre series (and sometimes additional seasons!). The best thing anyone can do for “One Day” is accept it for what it is and move on — which is ultimately the show’s main message.
“One Day” is now streaming on Netflix.
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