'One Day'

Giles Keyte/Focus Features

A skillful adaptation of David Nicholls' best-selling romantic novel.

Lone Scherfig, the Danish  director who is fast becoming one of the foremost interpreters of British culture, has performed a bit of magic in One Day, the film adaptation of the best-selling novel by David Nicholls. The conceit behind the novel was that a reader could track the lives and friendship of two characters -- lower class, politically engaged Emma Morley and wealthy, handsome Dexter Mayhew -- over two decades through a snapshot of their evolving relationship revealed on a single day.

In this version, Scherfig (An Education) has orchestrated each short segment so the episodes flow smoothly together. The classic three-act structure of most romantic dramas isn't so much dismissed as subverted into tiny beats that chart the ups and downs of a relationship. With two glamorous stars in Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess and an appealing mix of locations, the Focus Features release should attract a following from college age upward, no doubt skewing toward women.Nicholls adapted his own novel to the screen, but someone along the way -- Scherfig? -- gave him some killer notes, for he has considerably improved the story from his novel.

The novel represented one of the longest cases of coitus interruptus in literary history. It began with the couple, newly graduated from university in Edinburgh, in bed in 1988 -- but they don't consummate their feelings for each other until 2001! Much worse, the novel's Dex is a louse from day one. Which makes Em a loser for mooning over him for so many years.

In the movie, though, Nicholls has considerably freshened up his male protagonist by letting his charm and not his alcoholism shine through the early years. Other than reducing Dex's globetrotting to occasional excursions to France, the movie stays true to the novel's dramatic trajectory but makes each character more likable and less bedraggled. Now you actually root for them to hook up and wonder (as you do in the novel) what takes them so long.

With this film, Sturgess stakes his claim as the new Hugh Grant -- only without the fussy mannerisms that have infected many of the latter's performances. Sturgess can now play any number of charming Englishmen with any number of weaknesses and flaws that women easily forgive.

Release date Aug. 19 (Focus Features)
Cast Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall
Director Lone Scherfig
Screenwriter David Nicholls
Producer Nina Jacobson
Rated PG-13, 107 minutes