Daphne (2017) starring Emily Beecham and Geraldine James
Fate meets a drop-out
Emily Beecham plays Daphne, a young London woman who works in a pretentious cafe with her pushy Irish boss cum off-the-job drinking buddy Joe (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). She’s the kind of woman who could be described as being a bit of a “ladette”, and, less charitably, as a societal drop-out who spends her evenings snorting cocaine, drinking to the point of getting thrown out of clubs and happily wandering into meaningless sexual encounters with any man who comes on to her. She also has to deal (reluctantly) with an awkward relationship with her own mother (Geraldine James).
One day, when she is attempting to buy some rolling tobacco and aspirins at a corner shop in an attempt to cure a hangover, she is interrupted by a robber armed with a knife who demands all the money in the shopkeeper’s till. When the shopkeeper resists, he stabs him before her eyes. She calls the ambulance and helps to comfort him while he lies bleeding on the floor behind the counter.
The rest of the film follows her as she attempts to cope with the psychological after-effects of witnessing a violent act as well as confronting the difficulties her unstable personality has in maintaining relationships with others.
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A character puzzle
I went into Daphne with expectations rather different than what I actually received. Indiewire’s quote "feels like a romantic comedy with all of the bullshit taken out" had me believing that it would, indeed, be a superior class of romantic comedy. However, while it is indeed a good movie and is fairly funny, it isn’t an out-and-out comedy. Likewise, while there’s a hint of romance in the story it certainly isn’t the crux of it. It’s more of a freewheeling character study than anything else.
It’s the kind of film where the story is revealed in a fragmented but natural manner via small clues throughout rather than being fed to us in large expository dollops. It’s an approach that takes time to warm to, partially because Daphne initially comes across as a rather obnoxious brat and partially because it’s not clear where the story is headed until we are quite far into the film. However, as we continue to watch, the gradual revelations, as well as a late act of redemption, enable the viewer to increasingly warm to her.
The film largely rests on actress Emily Beecham’s shoulders, and she carries it extremely well. She’s spunky, cheeky, outright annoying on occasion and generates genuine sparks with her other co-stars. The character she portrays is hilariously snarky and standoffish - and unafraid to use female genitalia-based swearwords based in the most off-the-cuff manner imaginable. However, while she’s great at playing this sort of aggressively tomboyish act, her performance never loses sight of the fact that she’s a rather fragile human being underneath. The film never becomes overly sentimental but clearly creates a sense of catharsis out of her gradually opening up to others.
The other performances are pretty good, in particular from Nathaniel Martello-White as a nightclub bouncer who Daphne starts dating, but most of them (except Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Joe) are only really in the movie for a handful of scenes. Director Peter Mackie Burns pretty much stands back and lets her do her thing, although he does manage the odd stylistic flourish such as an effective overhead shot where we see Daphne - clearly smashed - struggling to make her way over a zebra crossing.
On the whole, Daphne is one of the more enjoyable and rewarding films of the year - even if you might want to throttle her during the early stages.
Runtime: 88 mins
Dir: Peter Mackie Burns
Script: Nico Mensinga
Starring: Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Nathaniel Martello-White, Osy Ikhile
Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?
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