Daphne (3 stars)

Daphne

EIFF 2017: Emily Beecham radiates charisma in Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns' debut

Young women in crisis are still a rarity onscreen, especially outside of rom-coms. The narrative feature debut of Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns has its share of unconventionally packaged romance and comedy but eventually plumps for a more sombre outlook. In the kind of lead role usually reserved for men, Emily Beecham plays 31-year-old Daphne: heartbreaker, wisecracker, know-it-all and headcase, who's yet to get her shit together and is spiralling even before she witnesses something which knocks her for six.

Daphne features fine work from Beecham as the titular protagonist (she won the EIFF's Trailblazer Award in 2009 for The Calling but has yet to really catch fire). Although not well-served by Nico Mensinga's script, which fails to gift her the kind of pithy put-downs the character deserves, Beecham radiates charisma and is shot with such reverence by Adam Scarth that Daphne inhabits London Town like a 60s siren (think Julie Christie crossed with Blow-Up era Vanessa Redgrave); she's a trainee chef, cynic and thoroughly independent women, prone to ill-advised hook-ups and mouthing-off half-cut.

Scarth's vibrant cinematography captures the thrill of big city living, the sheer busy blur of it, the random encounters and the equally random acts of violence. However, there's not much meat here for the supporting characters, including a wasted Geraldine James as Daphne's mum Rita, and the film never finds its footing tonally, meandering in a way that suits its directionless protagonist but that isn't always compelling or insightful. Daphne's destructive nature rings true, as do many of the awkward interactions, but a scene where a friend confesses their true feelings is eye-rollingly obvious. Still, it has ample promise for a debut and Beecham makes a persuasive pitch for star status.

Screening on Fri 23 and Mon 26 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 29 Sep.

Daphne

  • 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.

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