An anti-Bridget Jones for the Fleabag generation
DAPHNE Directed by Peter Mackie Burns. Starring Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom VaughanLawlor, Nathaniel Martello-White, Osy Ikhile, Sinead Matthews, Stuart McQuarrie. Club, IFI members, 87mins There’s quite rightly a great deal of buzz around Peter Mackie Burns’s spiky debut feature.
Daphne, a character study that, much like its subject, refuses to conform to neat, trite expectations (as marvellously inhabited by Emily Beecham) is an appealing mess of uncertainties.
A thirtysomething Londoner who quotes Slavoj Zizek to sometimes smart and sometimes pretentious effect, this anti-Bridget Jones seems to be wasted in her kitchen job. Or perhaps the kitchen job is wasted on her? She drinks too much and casually does hookups and drugs, but not to tragic or destructive effect. (Classic Daphne moment: “Whenever I do coke, I think about Freud,” she tells one snorting companion.) She endlessly bickers with her mother (Geraldine James), and is an all-round difficult sod.
She’s obstreperous, but funny-obstreperous. The kind of person who loudly declares that she has “given up on people” only to stumble home to look at pictures of Ryan Gosling online while eating a bucket of fried chicken. When she unsuccessfully attempts to slip past bouncers at a club door, they are more than a little bemused by her banter: “You, sir, are a fabulous c**t,” she shouts haughtily, as she retreats into the night.
And then, in common with Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, Daphne witnesses a random act of violence. She moves on, dismisses the incident in a glib, drunken soundbite and proceeds to unravel. Not too much: just enough to potentially screw things up forever.
Happily, Nico Mensinga’s script never moralises in the manner of “bad things happen to bad girls”. Chats with a police-appointed psychologist (Stuart McQuarrie) make for slow, steady progress. Two potential suitors – including Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Daphne’s adoring, cheese-sharing boss, and charming wannabe boyfriend David (Nathaniel Martello-White) – drift in and out of the film without tripping white-knight or friend-zone alarms.
Adam Scarth’s cinematography and Joakim Sundström’s sound design are impressive; Beecham provides the fireworks. Her vibrant turn as a thoroughly modern Millie has been variously compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Lena Dunham’s Girls. It’s more pleasingly contrarian than even those comparisons suggest. TARA BRADY
An all-round difficult sod: Emily Beecham in Daphne