Netflix’s One Day is this year’s Normal People

Woodall, who viewers might know from season two of The White Lotus, is also hugely impressive. He arguably has the trickier job as an actor because we’re rooting for Emma while Dexter can be – how to put this? – a monumental arse; self-centred, pretentious and shallow. But thanks to the script and Woodall’s nuanced performance, we also see his vulnerability and insecurities. He’s often reprehensible but never irredeemable and we’re prepared to put up with him because Emma’s prepared to put up with him.

Aside from the two leads, there are some fabulous performances from the supporting cast. Jonny Weldon, hitherto best-known for his funny social media videos about the life of an actor, is tremendous as needy stand-up comedian Ian who is besotted with Emma. Amber Grappy is hilarious as Emma’s sex-positive friend, Tilly. Essie Davis is utterly charming as Dexter’s mum. Tim McInnerny, Dexter’s buttoned-up father, should win a Bafta just for his look of panic when someone asks him a personal question.

The writers have really got inside the characters and there are some delightful details. Of course Emma would have tickets for gigs by Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti and a flier for a Reclaim the Night march pinned to the noticeboard in her student bedroom. Of course she would take five books to the beach in Greece and of course they would include AS Byatt’s Possession and Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The series also excels at capturing the special atmosphere of particular magical moments in time: a boozy graduation ball; a hazy summer evening spent drinking wine on London’s Primrose Hill; a midnight heart-to-heart in the middle of a lamplit maze. The atmospherics are enhanced by an evocative soundtrack that’s a music nerd’s dream: Lambchop, The Magnetic Fields, Massive Attack, Karen Dalton, Suede, Joan Armatrading, Jeff Buckley, Vanbur, The The, Belle and Sebastian, among others – give the music supervisor a raise.

And, like all the other great screen romances, from Brief Encounter to Titanic, from Portrait of a Lady on Fire to Normal People, it’s full of tantalising what-ifs. What if Emma hadn’t left her house five seconds before a distraught Dexter called her from a railway station? What if they had actually kissed that summer evening on Primrose Hill? What if, on that one day…

There has been some debate recently about whether the golden era of high-quality, prestige TV is ending. One Day is here to triumphantly tell you it’s definitely not over yet. It will make you laugh, a lot. It will definitely make you cry, a lot. Watch it.

★★★★★

One Day is released on Netflix on 8 February.

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *