The real story behind Netflix’s One Day and why it will make you cry your eyes out

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Feb 14, 2024 at 10:19 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Whether you’ve read the original novel that was released in 2009, watched the movie adaptation that followed in 2011, or binged the Netflix show that was released less than a week ago, by now, you’ve probably come across the title One Day somehow.

But why is the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew simultaneously so endearing and heartbreaking that it deserves not one but two screen adaptations, and is it based on real-life events as so many netizens have been wondering? Here’s everything you need to know.

What happens in One Day?

The story follows Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who spent one memorable night together after graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1988. Although the hook-up—if you can even call it a hook-up—doesn’t lead to a romantic relationship, their shared night sparks a genuine friendship between the two protagonists. The storyline visits their lives and relationship on 15 July in successive years for a duration of 20 years.

Now here comes the spoiler alert, so avert your eyes and scroll down a bit if you don’t want to know any of the juicy twists and turns of this tale.

Throughout the years, both characters move to London, where Emma becomes a teacher and Dexter a famous television personality. Although they both date different people, the fact that they have feelings for each other remains clear to anyone but them. When Dexter treats Emma rudely at a restaurant, Emma breaks up the friendship and their lives develop separately after being closely intertwined for many years.

In the years that follow, Emma becomes a successful writer while Dexter destroys his TV career due to a drug and alcohol addiction. When they meet again at a wedding, Dexter is about to get married to another woman (plot twist), whom he is expecting a child with (major plot twist).

Fast forward a few years and Emma goes to Paris to write another book. Dexter visits her after his divorce and the two finally get together in the most romantic city on earth. Yay, happy ending! However, the story does not end there…

On the anniversary of the day they met and started their romantic relationship, aka 15 July, Emma dies in a bike accident years later.

The story ends with Dexter visiting Edinburgh with his young daughter, Jasmine. While visiting multiple sites that were important to their relationship, he has vivid memories of the first day he spent with Emma.

Is One Day based on a true story?

No, One Day is based on David Nicholls’ best-selling fictional novel of the same name. Fans of the book were quite happy to find that the mini-series closely followed the plot and layout of Nicholls’ story. Even the posters for the TV series seemed to pay homage to the book and its movie adaptation in 2011.

@aynsley_broom

Prepare to be sick of me! One Day is truly one of my FAVE books and film! I’m SUPER excited about the mini series😭 it looks absolutely AMAZING and I can’t wait to revisit Em and Dex’s story! 💖🥹 #oneday #onedaybook #onedaymovie #onedaynetflix #emmamorley #dextermayhew #annehathaway #jimsturgess #ambikamod #leowoodall

♬ ceilings - Sped Up Version - Lizzy McAlpine

Furthermore, the series renewed interest in the novel that was released more than a decade ago.

@compulsivebookbuyers

Youre gonna have to get a full and nuanced review from me later😭😭 #compulsivebookbuyers #oneday #onedaybook #onedaynetflix #ambikamod #leowoodall #filmtok #tvtok #booktotvshow

♬ original sound - Kemi & Busayo🍉

Overall, the internet seems to be quite convinced that this series needs to make it on your watch list. But you should probably stock up on your tissues before you get going…

Why is One Day trending everywhere?

One Day is a timeless and bittersweet love story that hides a larger parable about life. It examines how our relationships with others change over time and explores how love, resentment, yearning, joy and regret are sometimes all felt at the same time. Therefore, the decade-spanning British love story is still able to capture audiences 15 years past its initial release and cause some quite intense reactions to its ending:

Many viewers are now taking to social media to warn each other about the despair and heartbreak that awaits them when watching the latest Netflix drop. Some of them are even recording themselves crying while watching the ending.

@gillianerin

NO THIS FINALE SHATTERED MEEEE😭😭😭😭 #onedaynetflix #netflix

♬ original sound - gill
@jahelis

Literally cried so hard i gave myself a migraine #onedaynetflix #oneday #whattowatchonnetflix #romanceseries #annehathaway

♬ original sound - Jahelis
@tahlie.mcinnes1

Its one of the best and saddest shows I have ever watched

♬ wait m83 - ✧・゚: *✧・゚:*
@mariah.barents

I hsd to share because it’s really good but like.. SO SO SO SAD… #oneday #momlife #2024mama #mominfluencer #showstowatch #netflixshows

♬ original sound - Mariah Barents

It is rare for the internet to feel such strong collective pain over a moment in pop culture. The only thing in recent years that seems comparable was when Jon Snow died in the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones.

“I woke up with swollen eyes after watching this episode. I’m still DISTRAUGHT,” one user on TikTok shared. Another added: “Once you’re done with the series – watch the movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess! I only watched it once and now I’m ready to be heartbroken again.”

One Day made me realise not to take someone for granted or deny my feelings for someone because it could be too late by then. I bawled like a baby,” someone else noted.

At this point, Netflix’s remake of One Day might be this generation’s Titanic.

Gen Zers, who are no strangers to situationships, naturally seemed to fall in love with this tragic ‘right person but wrong time’ tale. Look at this. Less than two months into the year and we’re already undergoing a cultural reset due to what is undoubtedly one of Netflix’s biggest releases of 2024.

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