“I really should have perfected a pitch by now but frankly there’s not much of a plot or a narrative to the film.”
Simon Bird, star of The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner, is trying to sell his latest project. Days of the Bagnold Summer is the first feature he’s directed. Based on the graphic novel by Joff Winterhart and adapted by Bird’s wife Lisa Owens, it stars Bafta-winning Monica Dolan as Sue and Earl Cave (19-year-old son of Nick) as Daniel.
After Daniel’s dad cancels plans for his son to spend the summer with him (and his new family) in Florida, he’s forced to spend it at home with his mum. The film is funny, touching and perfectly in tune with the times, as parents and teenagers across the country are having to spend much more time than anticipated in close proximity – while at the same time, a lot of us have gained a fresh appreciation for family we’ve been unable to spend any time with. Even with not much plot or narrative… well, isn’t that life? Especially at this time of monotony where a trip to the shops has become a grand adventure. In that vein, Bird’s film feels very of the moment.
There are values in the mundane
“Yeah, this pandemic has worked out really nicely for me. No, you can’t be flippant, obviously,” he says. “It should definitely chime with people now even more than I hope it would have beforehand. It taps into something I think everybody is feeling now, which is that spending an intense period of time with your family can be both very stressful but also rewarding as well.”
The latest series of Friday Night Dinner began just before the pandemic, and finished in early May, in a very different world. Something as routine as eating with your parents had become an impossibility. The everyday had become exceptional, as boring as a concept became transformed.
“People are having to think about that sort of stuff a lot more,” Bird says. “That was already a big feature of the TV shows and films that I love, to other people they can often seem quite boring.
“That’s the question at the heart of the film, in Daniel’s head he has this fantasy of the most incredible time in Florida. Six weeks at home is the opposite of that but hopefully the film shows that there are other values in the mundane.”
We can identify with Daniel and Sue more than ever. We have all had our grand plans cancelled, relegated to the level of an angsty teenager being told we’re not allowed out. Simultaneously we’re all motheringly reminding people to do things like wash hands and stop touching things.
Days of the Bagnold Summer brings the best elements of American indie films – sharp, dry dialogue, bold colours and stylish widescreen shots (think Wes Anderson set in suburban England) – to celebrate the epic in everyday lives, complete with a woozy free-spirited soundtrack from Belle and Sebastian.
Can you imagine parents sitting at home with their awkward teenager after weeks of lockdown, finally bonding by watching this together?
“I’d love it if that was the case,” Bird says. “Don’t feel that you have to watch with your parents, feel free to watch it yourself. Just watch it is my summation there.
“But that’s a nice way of thinking about it. We tried to keep an evenly balanced portrait of this family. This is as much Sue’s story as it is Daniel’s. I think it might be easy to dismiss the film in the marketing. People have been keen to pigeonhole it as a – I guess this is probably because of my history – as a coming-of-age teen film.
“Coming of age is a very easy phrase. I literally don’t know what it means, except a lot of people have been saying it to me in the last few months. I don’t even want to try and define it. I guess it’s about some sort of personal growth or some sort of realisation about your character, which I think both Daniel and Sue undergo.”
It’s never too late to come of age.
When did you come of age?
“Still plenty of work to do on that front.”
Do you relate more to 52-year-old librarian Sue or 15-year-old Metallica-loving Daniel?
“I realised when we started shooting that I was exactly equidistant between Daniel and Sue age-wise,” Bird, still boyish at 35, says. “Maybe on some subconscious level that’s what led me and my wife to it. We’d just had our first kid and it’s about trying to understand both sides of the parental relationship.
“Maybe that is why it jumped out to both of us as people who were leaving our youth behind us and entering sort of a more mature arena.”
It sounds like you came of age there.
“Yeah, through answering that question.”
Talk of moving in between stages of life is a reminder of The Inbetweeners, which was Bird’s breakthrough, giving him the fame that he admits gave him a leg-up when it came to getting his directorial debut made.
“I was starting from an amazingly lucky position in that I was sort of known because of my acting background.”
Even so, with massive economic uncertainty – especially in the arts industry, would a film like this be made if it was due to start filming tomorrow?
“I don’t know whether it would be, to be honest. Our first bit of finance came from Creative England, who at the time were lottery funded. That process is amazing in that they get nothing out of it except helping people into the industry. Without organisations like that there’s no way privately funded organisations would have taken a risk on me. Why would they? Coronavirus has made what is already a very hard industry to get into even harder to get into.”
Days of the Bagnold Summer is now available to stream digitally