Warning: This article contains full ending spoilers for One Day, which is available to watch now on Netflix.


If you aren't familiar with David Nicholls's best-selling novel One Day, then you probably weren't emotionally prepared for the tragic ending of the new Netflix adaptation.

Romance series typically end when the couple is at their peak point of infatuation with each other. Nuptials are read, babies are born, flats are bought, and then the credits roll. Love is the only end to contemplate. Happy endings are guaranteed. But not all of us are so lucky, are we?

Some relationships break down, leaving heartbreak in their wake. Others are ripped apart by the death of a loved one, as we see in One Day.

The hefty 14-part series follows two students, Emma (Ambika Mod) and Dexter (Leo Woodall), as they navigate their extraordinary, ordinary love story from friends to lovers. Yet, instead of a fleeting university romance, this series (and the book) spans two decades to explore the profound loss that's inextricably bound up with true love.

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Dexter and Emma sat on the sand next to one another at the beach
Leo Woodall as Dexter and Ambika Mod as Emma in One Day.

Episode 13 sees Emma take that fateful bike ride that fans of the book and the 2011 film adaptation know all too well. Mid-turn in the road, Emma is hit by a car and dies moments later.

If there was any doubt about the series's emphasis on the wildly contrasting turns different lives can take, the camera then cuts to Dexter, stood on the doorstep of the property they'd arranged to view together, in a typically heart-warming romantic tableau as he listens to Emma declare her love for him in a final voice message. Smiling to himself, drunk with love, the screen then cuts back to his partner taking her final breaths, alone, on the tarmac.

But as with real life, One Day doesn't end at the point of tragedy. It looks beyond their love story, depicting Dexter's life after Emma's death to show that life does indeed go on after someone you love has died.

One year later, half-bruised and beaten after a drunken night out, Dexter is taken back to his dad's house. Aimless and bereft, the worn thirty-something is a shadow of his former self, having lost all of the lightness and joy he found with Emma – and in a moment of rare honestly between the two men, Dexter admits to his dad Stephen (Tim McInnerny) that he doesn't know how to live without her.

Though his awkward father shrugs off a "heart to heart", he does offer him one piece of advice, as someone who has also lost the love of his life: to "live as if she was still here". Unable to meet Stephen's gaze, a hopeless Dexter says that he can't, until his widowed father tells him that that is how he's managed to keep going for the past decade.

As their eyes lock, it's clear this final episode is a tribute to the universal immeasurable pain we all experience when faced with the challenge of learning to live again when someone you love has died.

Dexter writing his phone number on a piece of paper for Emma in the middle of the street
Leo Woodall as Dexter and Ambika Mod as Emma in One Day. Netflix

In those early years without Emma, Dexter has to figure out how to exist again. But rather than entertain the idea of "getting over a loss", One Day instead explores how a person can live with the stark and unimaginable pain of losing a loved one for the rest of your life.

This powerful message about human resilience is echoed in the final tear-jerking scene on the second anniversary of Emma's death, when Dexter climbs Arthur's Seat with his daughter Jasmine, a walk he took with Emma, all those years before.

Both memories are slotted beside one another as he feels the impact of Emma's love in his present life, also. She could never be a "footnote" to him, as she first fears not long after they've met, because she's embedded firmly in his memory and in the cobbles of the Edinburgh streets where he walks once more.

As the scene flits between then and now, we see Dexter physically co-exist with the pain and pleasure of these two memories. He has discovered how to hold onto his connection and love to Emma in a way that isn't self-destructive while also creating new memories.

Dexter and Emma lying together on the floor laughing
Leo Woodall as Dexter and Ambika Mod as Emma in One Day. Netflix

It's agonising to watch, but it's a source of comfort, too. Former loves don't have to be denied or forgotten for us to move forward, nor does grief have to be about leaving someone in the past.

For Dexter, his relationship with Emma doesn't cease to exist after she's gone due to the profound impact her life had on him, and continues to have on him. The mark she made on his life and the love he felt for her doesn't stop when she dies. Instead, he learns to embrace the heartache that comes with that.

So, when you put it like that, perhaps One Day's ending is more romantic than it's often given credit for. In spite of the tragedy that unfolds, it shows that true love can last a lifetime, even if a person doesn't.

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One Day is available to stream now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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