Daphne review: an anti-Bridget Jones for the Fleabag generation

Emily Beecham is an appealing mess of uncertainties in this strong debut feature

Emily Beecham as a thoroughly modern Millie

Film Title: Daphne

Director: Pete Mackie Burns

Starring: Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Nathaniel Martello-White, Osy Ikhile, Sinead Matthews, Stuart McQuarrie

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 87 min

Wed, Sep 27, 2017, 08:00

   

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 titular 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 hook-ups 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), expresses misanthropic sentiments 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 the bouncers at a club door, they are more than a little bemused by her banter: “You, sir, are a fabulous c***,” 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.

The technical specs – including 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.