The result is a compromise – but not a disastrous one. Nicholls’ script follows his novel closely as a ‘greatest hits’ spin on the book, rather than taking it anywhere new. Dexter follows a path of success, hubris and self-destruction, followed by rehabilitation, while Emma takes equally as long to discover what she wants from life and a friendship with Dexter, but without the accompanying obnoxiousness.
Inevitably, the story feels filleted, although thankfully it gains substance later on. There are strong comic turns from Rafe Spall as Emma’s boyfriend and Romola Garai as Dexter’s joyless wife, while Scherfig avoids laying on the period tics too thickly even if she doesn’t display huge insight into these years. Troublingly, Hathaway’s accent is too wayward to convince, but there’s a lightness to her acting that helps paper over the cracks. Sturgess’ performance emerges as more layered, perhaps because the book, too, was always less about the two of them and more about the world waiting for Dexter to grow up.
Visually, the film is warm and uncomplicated and deals in easy extremes: shabby flats look like Victorian London, upscale ones like hotels and no trip to Paris is complete without shots of the Seine and cute cafés. The film might make the book look less astute and interesting than it is, but it still has an undeniable emotional wallop by its close.