Com­plex, pro­mis­cu­ous and hard drink­ing: Daphne star hails ‘re­al­is­tic’ fe­male role

Emily Beecham tells Vanessa Thorpe why her new film role, al­ready ac­claimed by crit­ics, is pro­vok­ing strong re­ac­tions

The Observer - - NEWS -

Any film fan who spots Emily Beecham out and about this au­tumn might well be wary. Af­ter watch­ing the ac­tress star in

Daphne, the ea­gerly awaited Bri­tish film out in cin­e­mas later this month, it would take a steady nerve to ap­proach her for an au­to­graph.

“I’ve had strong re­ac­tions to the part. Some peo­ple have said to me, ‘Why is she some­one who de­serves to have her story told?’” Beecham told the Ob­server.

Va­ri­ety , the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try jour­nal, went fur­ther: “It couldn’t have been easy for Beecham to live with this char­ac­ter, and to her credit she doesn’t try to make her lik­able; the real mys­tery is why any­one wants so much as a cof­fee with this char­ac­ter.”

Beecham’s con­vinc­ing per­for­mance as a sharp-tongued, way­ward and un­happy young woman liv­ing alone in Lon­don is, how­ever, earn­ing her high praise from crit­ics. The signs are that this could be her break­through mo­ment.

“It’s a crack­ing lit­tle show­case for ris­ing Bri­tish ac­tress Emily Beecham, who’s sel­dom off screen for long as the tale’s lively, com­plex, in­trigu­ing quasi-hero­ine,” judged the Hol­ly­wood

Re­porter , mak­ing favourable com­par­isons with Lena Dunham’s Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion hit, Girls.

Beecham, 33, was last seen on the big screen play­ing op­po­site Ralph Fi­ennes and Chan­ning Ta­tum in a much-ad­mired comic vi­gnette from the Coen Broth­ers’ 2016 re­lease Hail Cae­sar! The film, which starred Ge­orge Clooney, was an af­fec­tion­ate study of 1950s Hol­ly­wood and Beecham ap­peared briefly as an ice-cool, glossy-haired stu­dio star­let. It was quite some dis­tance then from her role in Daphne as the epony­mous drink-ad­dled, pro­mis­cu­ous kitchen worker and univer­sity dropout.

“Emily’s lovely. Noth­ing like Daphne. She is very friendly,” said Peter Mackie Burns, the film’s di­rec­tor. “And she is noth­ing like she was in the fa­mous ‘would that it were’ scene from Hail Cae­sar! ei­ther.”

Burns and Beecham de­vel­oped the char­ac­ter of Daphne over sev­eral years, to­gether with the screen­writer Nico Mensinga. For Beecham, the part an­swered a big need for com­plex and less sac­cha­rine fe­male screen roles. “There is a real thirst for it,” she said. “And they are very sought-af­ter jobs when they do come along. Au­di­ences may see these char­ac­ters as un­lik­able, but from the ac­tor’s point of view it is great to find a real char­ac­ter to re­late to.”

The prob­lem, Beecham sus­pects, is that film­go­ers have been fed a diet of ide­alised lead­ing ladies and as a re­sult more re­al­is­tic por­tray­als seem mean. “The girl­friend roles that we are usu­ally of­fered are nearly al­ways just kind and sup­port­ive. So it is re­fresh­ing for women and for men to see some­thing dif­fer­ent,” she said.

Burns agreed that cinema has been slow to catch up with its rep­re­sen­ta­tions of women. “Film is still prob­lem­atic,” he said. “It is a very con­ser­va­tive form in many ways. Tele­vi­sion re­sponds to things much more quickly.”

Com­plex fe­male char­ac­ters ap­peared in lit­er­a­ture, yet rarely made it to the big screen, Burns added, cit­ing no­table ex­cep­tions such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969, star­ring Mag­gie Smith, di­rec­tor John Cas­savetes’ 1970s films with Gena Row­lands, and Ken Loach’s Poor Cow in 1967. Crit­ics have also com­pared Daphne with the 1977 Amer­i­can film of the best­selling book, Look­ing for Mr Good­bar.

For the fu­ture, Burns said, he would like to ban the phrase “strong woman” from film-mak­ing. “What does it mean? You should make any char­ac­ter three di­men­sional, that is all: some­one you can recog­nise from your own ex­pe­ri­ence. In Daphne we are re­ally ask­ing what hap­pens when you become the per­son you were pre­tend­ing to be. When you have put up a cara­pace and then re­alise you are liv­ing in a way you prob­a­bly should not be.”

The Scot­tish di­rec­tor and Beecham, who grew up in Cheshire and Hert­ford­shire, have al­ready made a short film, Happy Birth­day to Me, based on a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter. Burns then wrote a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of Daphne, in­clud­ing what she reads (Slavoj Žižek) and what mu­sic she lis­tens to.

“I would give the pages to Emily and set her to work,” said Burns. “Once we got on set I didn’t ever dis­cuss how she would play a scene. We were very col­lab­o­ra­tive and we tried not to re­hearse much or have too many takes.”

Beecham found it hard to leave Daphne be­hind when film­ing fin­ished. “We all got at­tached to her as a char­ac­ter. We only had four weeks on the shoot and it was sad it came to an end,” she said. “I ab­so­lutely would re­visit her. It is a rite of pas­sage film, in a way, and I recog­nise my­self and my friends in some of it.”

Beecham is a friend of Phoebe WallerBridge, cre­ator and star of the ac­claimed tele­vi­sion se­ries Fleabag, and the two share views about cre­at­ing bet­ter roles for women.

“We’ve known each other for about 10 years now and I re­late to her feel­ings about what she went through. When you leave drama school you get a bit of a shock when you find you are stuck in your own cast­ing bracket. And it is all about your looks. Now peo­ple are start­ing to write their own roles in re­sponse to that.”

Be­fore the Bri­tish re­lease, Burns of­fers his star the ul­ti­mate bou­quet. “She is like Gena Row­lands and there is no higher ac­co­lade from me. I think you for­get that she is act­ing.”

‘We all got at­tached to Daphne. It’s a rite of pas­sage film and I see my­self and my friends in some of it’ Emily Beecham

Main pho­to­graph by Agatha A Nitecka

Emily Beecham, left, helped de­velop the char­ac­ter of Daphne, above, with the film’s di­rec­tor, Peter Mackie Burns. The role has elicited strong re­ac­tions from view­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.