Days of the Bagnold Summer – mom and teenage son are forced to bond over an unplanned summer staycation
Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel, Days of the Bagnold Summer is a funny yet sweet coming-of-age story about single motherhood and Metallica. Daniel was supposed to spend the summer with his dad and his dad’s new wife in Florida, but when his dad cancels the trip Daniel and his mom suddenly face the prospect of six long weeks together. An epic war of wills ensues in their suburban home as Daniel just wants to listen to heavy metal and start a band while his mom hopes to rekindle the fun times they used to have together. Featuring original songs by Belle and Sebastian.
Set in the English suburbs, Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film was based upon, unspools over one long summer as Daniel, a 15-year-old metalhead, finds himself stuck at home with his 52-year-old librarian mum, Sue, when his trip to Florida to visit his dad and his dad’s pregnant new wife is cancelled. Drenched in ennui, pathos, gentle humour, anger and affection, it is an intimate, beautifully observed tale in which very little, and at the same time everything, happens.
In 2016, while cutting his directorial teeth on short film Ernestine & Kit, Simon Bird was searching for appropriate material to fashion into his feature debut. Bird was best known for playing hapless, put-upon Will McKenzie in E4’s hit coming-of-age series The Inbetweeners (and the two movies that followed), but it had always been his dream to direct.
“There were various things we were looking at, exploring and developing,” recalls Bird, “but as with everything in my life, my wife, Lisa [Owens], was the key. She’d given me the graphic novel Days of the Bagnold Summer as a present. I loved it, she loved it, and she reminded me of it when I was scrabbling around, saying, ‘What am I going to adapt to turn into a film!?’ It felt like a perfect fit. It’s in exactly the tonal world that I love, and also, on a very boring, pragmatic level, it just seemed manageable – small cast, English, not that many locations, and no
explosions or helicopters.”
“It felt like it was the sort of thing that somebody might be stupid enough to give me the budget for,” grins Bird. To raise the money, Bird turned to Matthew James Wilkinson, a producer of 10 years’ experience who had worked on Ernestine & Kit. Like Bird and Owens, Wilkinson was thoroughly charmed by Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel – the characters, the world – and approached Random House to inquire as to the availability of the rights.
“I think Joff was incredibly surprised someone had read the graphic novel and thought there was a film in it,” smiles Wilkinson. “But he was a big fan of Simon, and said, ‘Go with my blessing.’” This Wilkinson and Bird did, beginning the search for a writer to adapt the graphic novel before deciding that the best person for the job was not just close to home but in the home.
“Simon showed me Lisa’s book, Not Working, and what really stood out from that was her ability to take on voices and make them feel authentic,” explains Wilkinson. “Her characters are contemporary, young, interesting, believable. And Bagnold is all about characters.” With this winning combination locked in place, Wilkinson took the package to Creative England, who had funded Ernestine & Kit. Creative England bought in, and a year was spent developing the screenplay.
“The process of getting the script written was amazingly straightforward and enjoyable,” says Bird. “I think we were both worried about how it would work, and the people who gave us the money for the script were worried about how it would work! But it seemed very easy. I left Lisa to get on with it. There weren’t too many falling outs about it. I mean, the other option would be to work with a writer I’m not married to.” He chuckles. “It’s much more fluid being able to discuss the latest draft over dinner than having to get a script delivered and then write up a formal list of notes and worry about how that’s gone down.”
DANIEL, SUE AND OTHERS TOO
As Wilkinson stated, DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER is all about the characters, so it was essential that Bird find just the right actors to play Daniel, Sue and the colourful cast of supporting characters. Robert Sterne, who works as part of Nina Gold casting, was brought on board, and while he oversaw the casting of all of the adult roles, he in turn employed Sally McCleery, who specialises in child casting, to find the film’s Daniel.
One of the first names that McCleery mentioned was Earl Cave, but he was in Australia shooting Justin Kurzel’s THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, and so a process began that took in agencies, drama schools and street casting. Then the shooting dates of DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER were put back, and Cave
became a viable option.
“As soon as he came in, we knew,” says Wilkinson. “He was beautiful, soulful. He’s someone you want to spend time looking at, but not so rarefied you can’t buy him as an ordinary teenager.” “I remember him coming for that first audition and saying, ‘It’s definitely him,’” nods Bird. “He achieves that amazing balance of being vulnerable but also funny. We saw so many actors for that part who were doing brilliant things, but… You read ‘moody teenager’ and it can become too one-note. The character isn’t just a grumpy kid, he should have something to him as well. The great thing about Daniel is that you see he’s going to be absolutely fine in the future. He’s self-aware
and he’s funny, he’s kind, but he’s just going through a rough patch at the moment. You need to see all that underneath the long hair and the swearing at his mum and the loud music.”
As for Cave, he got something of a shock when he opened the graphic novel. “Daniel really, really looks like me!” the 19-year-old actor laughs. “Strangely like me! And a lot of the relationship between the mother and the son resembles mine. Many scenes are almost word-for-word conversations with my mum. I related a lot to Daniel. The idea of Daniel’s obsession with Death Metal and the long hair and the black clothes is an identity thing. He hasn’t figured out who he is and his place in the world. I felt the same way. I’m only just figuring it out now.”
To play Sue, Bird only ever had one actress in mind. “Monica Dolan was our first choice,” he confirms. “I’ve been following Monica as a fan – not literally, but following her career – for years. She’s equally good in the high drama of Appropriate Adult as she is in the broad comedy of W1A. She can be hilarious but in a really understated and totally believable way. Now she’s becoming more of a household name – but that wasn’t necessarily the case when we cast her. I think part of me liked the idea that Sue and Daniel, the heroes of the story, were played
by actors that people wouldn’t automatically recognise. They’re supposed to be underdogs. It’s part of the story
that these are ordinary people who are normally overlooked.”
“I was in an intense period of work, doing my solo show [The B*easts] at the British Theatre,” recalls Dolan, “when I got a call saying, ‘Could Simon Bird deliver a script and a graphic novel to the Bush Theatre?’ Any spare moment I had, I was reading the script, and it was really beautiful. We met a few times and chatted. I went in with a few Post-It notes! We fleshed Sue out, deepened the characters and their relationship, Simon was amazingly receptive to my input. That immediately makes you want to work with a director. Bird said, ‘I’m working with smart people and I want to use them.’”
To round out the principal cast, Bird corralled the talents of Alice Lowe, Tamsin Grieg (who plays his mum in Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner) and Rob Brydon, with the latter playing Daniel’s rather smarmy teacher who takes Sue on a date. Daniel, as you can imagine, is horrified. So, did Bird’s reputation as a performer help to secure such a talented ensemble? “I guess so,” he shrugs, awkwardly. “I know Rob and Alice to say hello to, though not a lot beyond that. I think they just loved the script and the parts. I know I’ve been asked to do stuff in the past by people I semi-know, and whether you know them or not doesn’t really effect the decision. It’s always about the script. All those people were our first choices. We got really lucky and they bring so much to the
Days of Bagnold Summer is available on the following platforms: iTunes/AppleTV, Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, Microsoft Video, Verizon, Comcast, & Cox. Tickets
Available from Greenwich Entertainment
STARRING: Monica Dolan (Pride), Earl Cave (True History of the Kelly Gang), Rob Brydon (The Trip)
DIRECTED BY: Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners)
MUSIC BY: Belle and Sebastian
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.