Danish director Lone Scherfig is making an international name for herself as a female director whose films tend to focus on human relationships — think of 2002's Italian for Beginners and 2009's An Education. Her latest film, One Day, is a romance based on the best-selling novel by British author David Nichols. The story chronicles one day in the life of two characters, Emma and Dexter, as it occurs over 20 years.
Scherfig tells NPR's Jacki Lyden that the day itself — July 15 — is not particularly significant.
"It's just the day when we check in on the characters every year whether they are together or not," she says. "And it's deliberately a random day. But it lets you see the characters sometimes on days when you normally wouldn't see them on film and at other times at bigger events or crucial turning points."
When we first meet her in 1988, Emma, played by Anne Hathaway, is an insecure A student with a huge appetite for literature and a dream of becoming a writer. She runs into privileged, lazy Dexter (played by Jim Sturgess) as they are both graduating from university. They are an unlikely pair, but that's part of what attracted Scherfig to the story.
"It is an ongoing theme [in my work]: odd couples or people who are not very good at expressing themselves," she says. "I like to see losers win, so I do get attracted to scripts that have some sort of unpredictability built in."
Still, transferring Nichols' novel to the screen was not an undertaking that Scherfig took lightly.
"This book is so loved and became extremely popular while we were shooting," she says. "[Making the film was] a big responsibility both to the writer and the readers."
It was particularly challenging to fit the entirety of Nichols' story — and the passage of 20 years — into two hours. Doing so required Scherfig to tap her broad director's "toolbox," including costumes, props and a soundtrack that flows from 1988 to 2008.
Scherfig hopes the end result will appeal to the book's legions of fans as well as those who have never read it. But as personal as the film feels to her, she realizes that the time has come for her to let go.
"With One Day, it's like the feeling you had when you saw your child walking to school for the first time. ... I have to just get re-used to it. It's not my film anymore. It belongs to the audience," she says. "I can't keep fixing it."