The book was a roaring success, selling more than five million copies around the world. But when it came to the film adaptation of One Day, the reaction was less enthusiastic, with heavy criticism levelled at its female lead, Anne Hathaway, a Hollywood A-lister cast as down-to-earth Yorkshire lass Emma Morley.
The backlash – most of it from passionate fans of the book devastated that their beloved Emma had developed an American twang – was a difficult pill to swallow both for the actors and David Nicholls, the novel’s author who also wrote the screenplay for the film.
“I think Anne gives a really lovely performance but because of the nature of the production a lot of people were anti-her and I felt for her because she got a lot of stick,” he told an audience at Cheltenham Literature Festival.
“It wasn’t uncontroversial and I’m far enough away from it now to say that was quite hard for all of us.”
Ironically, it was Hathaway’s involvement in the film that secured the project at a time when the book had yet to become a publishing phenomenon.
“I was writing the script before the book had come out in America and it hadn’t even come out in paperback in the UK. The book went around lots of British film producers and no one wanted to make it… The only way to make it was to get quite a name attached. Anne read the book and really loved it and was incredibly supportive of the project and took a real gamble. She really took a deep breath and decided that she wanted to play the part and she got the film made.”
However, by the time the film was ready for release in 2011, the book and the will-they-won’t-they relationship of its protagonists Emma and Dexter, had captured the imaginations of readers all over the world.
“Suddenly the book was really popular and we had to do this impossible thing of appealing to people who knew the book and loved it as well as people who had no idea about the book and who had no expectations of the film. That made it very difficult and it changed the perception of the film. Suddenly it looked liked this compromised Hollywood mega-production but in fact it was this very tightly budgeted indie movie made out of great love.”
Although Nicholls “really loves the film,” he admits that he wasn’t completely satisfied with the final cut.
“I wish it was longer. There’s a two hour twenty minute version which would be my preferred version but we had to cut half an hour of stuff which I really, really loved.”
It’s an experience that has made Nicholls reticent to see his latest novel, Us, adapted for the big screen. The story of a hopelessly devoted husband battling to save his marriage over the course of a summer trip to Europe was rumoured to have sparked a Hollywood bidding war for the film rights spearheaded by Russell Crowe – a rumour that Nicholls denies.
“It’s an exaggeration but there has been interest in turning it into something for the screen. The Russell Crowe thing –he has a big following on Twitter and he tweeted something incredibly generous and kind about the book and that’s the limit of it really.
“With this book I’m determined not to do anything until it’s had a life as a book. It’s very hard to adapt… especially as it’s written in the first person. It’s a very tough adaptation so I’m very happy to step away and see what happens and not even think about it for a number of years.”