Daphne (2017)

A strong directorial debut by Peter Mackie Burns features an award-winning performance by Emily Beecham as the compelling central character in Daphne.

London Calling

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

As brilliantly portrayed by Emily Beecham, never off screen, Daphne is a compelling character study of a 31-year-old woman drifting in contemporary London. But this is London shot in a different way – it’s the non-touristy urban southeast of the grimy and gritty Elephant and Castle streets, but vibrant with carefully chosen colour, movement and sound.

Daphne is abrasive, eloquent and confrontational. She lives alone and she’s a trainee chef in a busy neighbourhood restaurant. She meets friends at night in bars and clubs, drinks too much, goes on dates that she makes go wrong and has casual sex. Then one night she’s the only customer in a corner shop when it’s violently robbed, the shopkeeper is stabbed and her life changes.

Though she doesn’t realise it at the time or acknowledge it to herself, she’s struggling to cope with the sudden event. It’s like a thrown stone disturbing the pond of her life. As a result, her behaviour becomes even more erratic, she drinks more, at lunch time turns up for work drunk and creates chaos and is even ruder to everyone around her. This includes the kind bouncer who asks her out (Nathaniel Martello-White), her long-suffering boss who’s quietly in love with her (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and her ailing and fraught mother (Geraldine James). It’s not until one day travelling on a bus that she breaks the unwritten rule of commuting in London and lets all her post-traumatic stress come out to another passenger in a way that she can’t to her victim-support therapist. And in the end this unexpected and overdue release leads to a scene of such original catharsis and awkward almost-epiphany for her that it takes your breath away.

Debut director Peter Mackie Burns and screenwriter Nico Mensinga have created a fascinating character who encapsulates a certain kind of contemporary urban London life, not always nice or pretty, still finding its way, often hungover, multicultural and hip at times. It’s an environment can be harsh and unforgiving if you’re a woman who’s too old to be a teenager, too young to settle down, thinks she’s given up on her life and finds it hard to care, and yet can’t help kicking against the pricks.

Emily Beecham deservedly won Best Performance in a British Feature Film at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival as Daphne.

Daphne was released in cinemas on 29 September 2017 and on DVD and digital download on 22 January 2018 in the UK.

Join the discussion