Daphne is a rare 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 – without risking a rapid middle-aged decline.
Daphne; dir.: Peter Mackie Burns; UK 2017, 88 minutes. Our Rating: ★★★★/5
Daphne (Emily Beacham) works in the kitchens of a low-key, somewhat rustic, 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 in the past. 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 to another. There is little joy in any of this, but it does provide her with good opportunities to display her gift with words, her cod philosophy and pithy remarks. She reads Slavoj Žižek, but she 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 Beacham plays Daphne with complete integrity. She does justice to her sharp tongue, repartie, intelligence. Daphne’s urchin-like personality – in both senses of the word – shines. Beacham perfects here that art of not being sorry for oneself when one is, in fact, rather sorry for oneself.
One night, Daphne witnesses a shocking incident, an incident which forces her to engage with life more gently; but this engagement takes time – the incident is a submarine depth-charge, slowed down by the resistance of water, a low rumble rather than an explosion. In her customary, desultory manner, she continues in her ways – on the surface, insensitive and droll; she keeps herself together. She is tomboyish and brave, adept at deflection; not ever the type to reflect or have a little cry, and for that matter, not brittle either.
And she is a Londoner. However hard London life can be, and however robust Daphne wants to be, she will not escape the kindness of strangers, just in the same way as she herself was a kind stranger, at a desperate time, when someone else had needed her help.
This film is a wonderful snapshot of a particular kind of London life and feels very true to that. It is a love letter to London and Londoners, acknowledging both the grime and the hope.
Nadia Bee is a writer and filmmaker. She tweets @NadjaBee.