Days of the Bagnold Summer is an upbeat, positive comedy that explores the chasm between a librarian single-mother, and her shy but heavy-metal obsessed teenage son.
In its early scenes, the film is set up to explore Daniel, played by Earl Cave, whose planned trip to Florida with his estranged Dad has been cancelled. Instead, he is stuck with his librarian mother for six weeks, whose optimistic personality makes his life miserable. Cave conveys a bleak, anti-social attitude dressed in head-to-toe black attire, while shoving in earphones with heavy metal music to drown out the world’s noise. However, it is clear over time that this persona may be an affectation that does not reflect who he is as a person. With glimmers of care for his mother, and his family dog, as well as a blind rage at his friend Ky for mocking his passions, the film suggests this persona is a veneer to emotionally disconnect from others.
While Daniel feels central early on, the film equally invests in the character of Sue, who evokes greater sympathy as she navigates heavy emotional burdens with an earnest optimism. Monica Dolan expertly instils a nervous twitchiness to Sue that is easy to sympathise with, but also expresses an outpouring of emotion when she bursts into tears in one scene on account of juggling numerous hardships.
On the one hand, she desperately tries to establish a relationship with her disappointed son who cannot go to America, while also combatting her own loneliness. In one sped-up montage, Sue whizzes in and out of the kitchen completing countless daily chores, while Daniel is unmoved on the table on his phone. Meanwhile, sleazy history teacher Mr. Porter, played by Rob Brydon, manipulates her into a romantic interlude with a painful realisation which challenges her sense of goodwill toward people.
Although together as family, they have an icy relationship with very little emotional connection. This animosity thaws as they become understanding of each other’s needs. From the outsider’s perspective, it feels like they have a palpable history that is not contrived in any way. The seamless repartee they engage in feels like their conversations have played thousands of times before, and their lives plausibly exist outside of what is seen on screen.
Notably, the film is very beautifully shot, with symmetrical framing reminiscent of Wes Anderson. In particular, characters are often seen through windows or doorways that symbolises an emotional disconnect, as well as a literal reduction in size that implies being subsumed by a societal pressure.