Peter Mackie Burns – 'It wasn't so much our eyes meeting across a crowded room, more like finding each other in an agent's reject pile'

Peter Mackie Burns – 'It wasn't so much our eyes meeting across a crowded room, more like finding each other in an agent's reject pile'

Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns collaborates with writer Nico Mensinga on debut feature Daphne, screeing at EIFF

'It wasn't so much our eyes meeting across a crowded room, more like finding each other in an agent's reject pile!' Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns is talking about his collaboration with writer Nico Mensinga on their debut feature Daphne, screening at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival. 'Nico and I both have the same representation at United Agents, and he said, "I don't like either of your work, so maybe you two should team up!" I'm paraphrasing; the bottom line was that Nico and I got on, and Daphne is the result.'

Emily Beacham (Hail, Ceasar!, Into The Badlands) was cast as Daphne, an objectionable young woman living in London whose attitude to life changes when she witnesses a stabbing.

'It's a city film. I'm fascinated by a particular area in London, Elephant and Castle, which is going through massive regeneration. I told Nico that I wanted to make a film about a contemporary female character who lives there, and asked if he had anything. He had a piece that had been rejected a few times, and that short, Happy Birthday To Me, became a prototype for the film,' says Burns. 'We showed it to Caroline Cooper Charles (head of Creative England at the time) and she suggested we take it to The Bureau (London and Paris-based film production company). When they saw Emily in the role, they got the tone immediately.'

Burns and Mensinga knew that they had found the right creative home with The Bureau, who had found critical and commercial favour with Andrew Haigh's 45 Years. ('I think it would have been a tougher sell to get it made without them. If the character and the world interest them, they'll work with you on a micro level to get the script ready,' says Burns.) While Burns has his own style, he's happy to admit to two specific influences on Daphne's creation; Mike Leigh's 'organic' character development and Woody Allen's stunning evocation of Manhattan.

'Obviously, Emily is nothing like the character of Daphne, who is based on two people that I knew. We developed the character on a biographical level with Emily; it's a bit like Mike Leigh's approach, except we can't afford to hire the actor for two years to prepare,' says Burns. 'Adam Scarth was our cinematographer, and we wanted something like the way Gordon Willis shot Manhattan, we used the same lenses and shot quickly, and did fewer takes to keep it fresh. And we'd shoot without rehearsing. We didn't have the money to do 50 takes of a scene like Kubrick, I'd be handed my jacket if I did that!'

Burns won plaudits for shorts in the past, including Golden Bear winner Milk in 2005; now, Daphne will bring his unique sensibilities to a wider audience.

'Daphne as a person is foul-mouthed, funny, but you want to spend time with her,' says Burns. 'It's been interesting seeing how people reacted at Rotterdam and Texas (South By Southwest), and I'm looking forward to seeing how Edinburgh audiences take to her.'

Daphne screens at Cineworld, Edinburgh, Fri 23, Mon 26 Jun as part of EIFF. General release from Fri 29 Sep.


  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 30min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Peter Mackie Burns
  • Written by: Nico Mesinga
  • Cast: Emily Beecham, Geraldine James, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor

Daphne (Beecham) is a wisecracking 31 year old who thinks she knows it all before she witnesses something which knocks her for six. The script could be punchier and James is wasted as Daphne’s mum, but Burns’s narrative debut benefits from Beecham’s charismatic performance: a star in the making.