Lucy Brydon’s powerful drama Body of Water is unusual in showing anorexia affecting an adult, rather than the teenage girls we usually associate with the eating disorder.
Needing to be Freeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
At the start of Body of Water Stephanie (stick-thin Sian Brooke, who lost weight for the role) is discharged from seven months of residential treatment with an ‘eating plan’ – for her fourth time. She’s a former war photographer and single mother of a teenage daughter, Pearl (Fabienne Piolini-Castle), who is living with her grandmother, Stephanie’s mother (Amanda Burton). Relationships ruined by Stephanie’s recurring illness now have to be rebuilt.
The film follows Stephanie unflinchingly through the gamut of anorexia issues: liking pro-anorexia websites (she connects anorexia photos with those of war victims), obsessive exercising, wearing baggy clothes to disguise the body, group therapy and the confession of the thrill of feeling empty, the danger of inherited predisposition, self-harm, panic attacks while shopping for food and, to top it all, an inappropriate relationship with a care worker.
She also has personal issues to deal with such as the hostility of her daughter, precocious teenage sex, drug taking, solitary eating and being a bridesmaid at her bossy mother’s forthcoming same-sex wedding.
Linking all these is the recurring image of water: bare feet walking along a pebbly beach, the anorexic’s ploy of drinking many glasses of water to fill the stomach before a meal and Pearl’s swimming.
Unfortunately, the dialogue seems stilted and the film’s setting is not explained. How can Stephanie and her mother afford to live in such large, well-furnished houses while not having any obvious income? Why do these three generations of women speak with such different accents? Once again for a British film, the location is an out-of-season seaside town and the action includes a chase in a deserted funfair at night.
Body of Water convinces as being painstakingly accurate and is unremittingly serious. Sadly, anorexia seems to be an incurable illness. First-time feature director Lucy Brydon conveys much drama-doc-type information using a grim colour palette. It’s clearly a very valuable film if you have specific concerns, simply wish to learn more, or want to understand an anorexic’s need to be truly themselves and how they believe the disease allows them that control.
Body of Water is released on 16 October 2020 in the UK in cinemas and on digital on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema and Sky Store.