Review: In ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer,’ life is ordinary — and beautiful

Angsty teen Daniel (Earl Cave) and mom Sue (Monica Dolan) share a season of discontent in "Days of the Bagnold Summer."
The bitter taste of cake: Angsty teen Daniel (Earl Cave) and his trying-her-best mom Sue (Monica Dolan) share a season of discontent in “Days of the Bagnold Summer.”
(Greenwich Entertainment)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Not much happens in the understated British comedy “Days of the Bagnold Summer,” and that’s rather the point. It’s a truthful and sometimes moving slice of life (and cake) elevated by vivid lead performances.

Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave), 15, is supposed to spend the summer with his father’s new family in America, but when those plans are dashed, he sulks, finding himself stuck with his mom, Sue (Monica Dolan), in their English suburb. The wannabe rocker with the greasy hair, Metallica shirt and pale skin of a cave dweller is the picture of the angsty teen who, rather than confronting his feelings of rejection and insecurity, finds nothing amusing and can’t give his mom a break. As the song says, he’s “the only person who’s completely certain there is nothing here to be into.”


Middle-aged Sue is a nervous librarian just trying to do her best with a kid who can be a total tool and an ex who can’t regularly connect with his son or send support checks but can buy himself a sports car. As the summer drags on, their days bring little tragedies and chances for triumphs. Will Daniel try out for a local metal band? Will Sue go on her first date in forever with a local lothario who happens to be one of Daniel’s teachers?

Based on Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel, “Bagnold Summer” is the directorial debut of British comic actor Simon Bird, adapted by his wife, Lisa Owens (her first screenwriting credit). Both bring light touches rather than reaching for the absurd or overdoing with cinematic flourishes. They trust ordinary situations will matter to us because they matter to the characters. And their trust is repaid, largely because Cave and Dolan so fully inhabit their roles.

Cave has been making a name with projects such as True History of the Kelly Gang” and the “Alex Rider” TV series. Here, his disrespectful teen character might make you want to ground him in minutes, but Daniel’s real pain is also palpable.

BAFTA winner Dolan (“A Very English Scandal”) gives a winning performance. Your heart immediately goes out to Sue as she tries to talk her gloomy son into dress shoes or sharing a bit of cake. Even if you sense things can’t turn out well when Mr. Slick asks her out, you want her to have the adventure. She deserves it. There’s light in her. She really loves her son; she feels it when he receives the news about his summer plans. Her small reactions to things said by the beautiful, sort of cosmic mom of Daniel’s only friend, her interactions with her sister — they’re all delightfully alive. Watching her do something as ordinary as ineptly attempting to skip stones is comedy gold, without a hint of slapstick.

Indie folk-poppers Belle and Sebastian provide the film’s sensitive soundtrack because of course they do. That musical choice, rather than illustrating Daniel’s metal dreams, is another way of plainly telling the story’s truths. The modest reality of “Bagnold Summer’s” season of discontent is conveyed in little things that mean a lot and exchanges such as Sue’s “You’re in a good mood” and Daniel’s “No, I’m not.”

'Days of the Bagnold Summer'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 19, Laemmle Virtual Cinema; also in limited release where theaters are open; and available on digital and VOD