“Daphne”: Film Review

This is a treat of a film. Its raw immediacy and wit both delight and worry.

Set in East London, close to the city’s centre and in an area where so many young people flock in order to live out something exciting, it follows a few moments in the life of a woman, still young enough to live fast.

Daphne (Emily Beecham) works in the kitchens of a low-key, fashionable, but not chic restaurant, run by two hard-working chefs – a couple.  The husband (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is fond of Daphne, and covers up for her slapdash work. He seems to see through her nihilism and bleak wit. Perhaps she was different before. Her mother (Geraldine James) too, though unwell, is similarly patient, and visits her daughter despite wry rebuffs.

Daphne stumbles from day to day, from drink to drink – often drinking alone, and occasionally towards one indifferent man or another. There is little joy in any of this, but it provides her with opportunities to display her gift with words, cod philosophy and pithy remarks. She reads Slavoj Žižek, but is too intelligent to take him seriously. He simply offers more material for her to disarm men with blasé homilies. Her conversations with strangers, colleagues, loved ones, are to savour. She proffers delicious insults, which will no doubt become in time a cherished part of the London vernacular.

Emily Beecham plays Daphne with integrity. She does justice to her sharp tongue and repartee. Her character’s urchin-like personality – in both senses of the word – shines.  Beecham perfects that art of not being sorry for oneself when one is, in fact, rather sorry for oneself.

One night, Daphne witnesses a shocking incident, which forces her to engage with life more gently. But that takes time. The incident is a depth-charge, as if slowed down by water resistance, a low rumble rather than an explosion. In her customary, desultory manner, she continues in her ways – on the surface, insensitive and droll, tomboyish and brave, adept at deflection. And she is a Londoner. However hard London life can be, and however robust Daphne wants to be, she does not escape the kindness of strangers, in the same way as she herself was a kind stranger to someone else, at a desperate time.

This film is wonderful snapshot of a particular kind of London life, both grimy and hopeful.

Screening on Film4, Wednesday 29 January, 10.50pm
Stream, rent or buy from Amazon.

Director Peter Mackie Burns
Writer Nico Mensinga
With Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Nathaniel Martello-White, Osy Ikhile, Sinead Matthews

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