One Day on Netflix is a Wonderful Adaptation!

Grace Lapointe
5 min readMar 9, 2024


Note: spoilers for the novel and Netflix series One Day

Dex (Leo Woodall) and Em (Ambika Mod) lie on a carpet near Christmas, laughing, in One Day.
(Netflix, 2024)

I recently read One Day, the 2009 novel by David Nicholls, and watched the limited series on Netflix. I’ve never seen the 2011 movie. Nicole Taylor, a huge fan of the novel, is the Netflix showrunner and head writer. The show stars Ambika Mod as Emma Morley and Leo Woodall as Dexter Mayhew. Both romantic leads are excellent actors with believable chemistry.

For years, I wasn’t interested in reading this bestselling novel because it was described in such a gimmicky, contrived, and misleading way. This logline from TV Guide is a typical description of the story: “In this touching romantic drama, a working-class woman (Anne Hathaway) and a wealthy playboy (Jim Sturgess) reunite every July 15 for 20 years.” This inaccurately suggests they meet only on that date. Did anyone else get that misconception about the story?

The book and series check in on them every year on the same date. After they first meet at their college graduation in 1988, Emma and Dex kiss, write each other long letters, talk on the phone almost daily before falling out, and even go on a vacation to Greece together for over a week. They’re close friends with lots of sexual and romantic tension long before they become romantic partners. The book’s narrative structure is unique but not contrived.

Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall have a mesmerizing connection throughout the ups and downs of Em and Dex’s relationship. Em is working-class and has always worked hard in school and her career. Dex has lots of generational wealth and privilege, so, he often easily coasts into relationships and jobs he doesn’t even like. He sometimes takes people and opportunities for granted, but they each grow so much over the years. Mod (a British actor of Indian descent) has said she didn’t envision herself as Emma at first because most romantic leads were cast as white when she was growing up.

As an essayist and fiction writer, I love intertextuality (connections between texts). Here are the first and last epigraphs in the novel:

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“[Tess] philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year. Her own birthday, and every other day individualized by incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought, one afternoon, that there was another date, of greater importance than all those; that of her own death; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there. When was it?”

―Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I love epigraphs, but they can be overdone or polarizing. I like both of those books quoted above, but people who dislike or haven’t read them might feel disconnected from the story. I sometimes think that epigraphs reflect more about the author’s tastes and influences and the overall story than its characters. The Netflix series avoids this potential problem beautifully. Emma reads both quotes out loud in the series: the Dickens quote in a wedding speech for her friend Tilly and the Hardy in a flashback at Dexter’s family home. These quotes don’t only apply to the story. They’re from Emma’s favorite books, which she wants to share with Dex. Emma is bookish and Dex is not, so it works. They learn from each other and share their favorites.

The series’ changes from the novel are mostly insignificant and make sense. One minor change comes when Emma is a teacher, directing a middle school production of the musical Oliver! In the book, Sonya, Emma’s student, who plays the Artful Dodger, gets in a fight with the student who plays Oliver. In the series, Sonya has anxiety before the performance instead. This was probably much easier and safer to act and film than staging the fight between children from the book.

In the book, Dexter’s designer clothes get stolen after he and Em go skinny-dipping. This is hilarious because Em and Dex are safe together and because the thief ignores Emma’s off-brand clothes. Instead, the show sustains the sexual tension and angst in this scene, which is a good narrative choice.

Maybe I only noticed minor changes like these because I read the book right before watching. Most scenes and lines are directly from the book, such as the climb to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, a heartbreaking argument in a restaurant, and the sadistic parlor game Dex’s new girlfriend plays with her family.

I didn’t much like the scene when Dexter imagines Emma is with him, two years after her death. As always, Woodall and Mod’s acting is emotional and feels real. Dexter has a new girlfriend by the end of the book, but not in the show. Everyone grieves differently, and not everyone needs or wants romantic relationships at any time throughout their lives. But according to Dexter’s characterization in the book, his new relationship with Maddy is helpful and an important aspect of moving on with his life.

The music evokes the mood and the era perfectly, for example: “Glory Box” by Portishead, “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields, and “Saturday Sun” by Nick Drake. I was born in 1989, but friends and family who graduated from high school or college in the late ’80s or early ’90s love these songs. I have varied music tastes, and I know and love these songs too.

I know I write a lot about media I dislike or find harmful. For a change, I wanted to recommend a show I loved! Be warned, it is heartbreaking!