An isolated young woman who fills the lonely hours with vodka and strangers, Daphne is a very difficult protagonist to like. She dodges her mother’s calls and has evident chemistry with her married boss. She short changes the take away delivery guy and verbally abuses the security men who remove her from clubs when she’s at her drunkest. Lots of her behaviour is a defence mechanism, evidently part of her inability or perhaps fear to be truly intimate with anyone else. When she witnesses a violent assault, she processes it slowly and unpredictably. What follows is a portrayal of subtle but serious depression and the impact such a life experience may unexpectedly have upon someone. Daphne is littered with problematic obstacles but it thrives in the unspoken moments where Daphne battles her own mind set. The state of her mental health is invisible but evident in her unruly and self sabotaging behaviour. Daphne is a character piece which follows in the footsteps of Mike Leigh’s superior Happy Go Lucky but which lacks the same depth of character and focus. All in all Daphne is over ambitious. Our lead character is coping with her mother’s potentially fatal illness, dealing with a pursuing gentleman and battling her own addictions and demons. This is a crowded space in which her reaction to the violent crime that the film’s narrative centres around is ultimately trampled. Yet, at the film’s centre is an intriguing turn from Emily Beecham as a woman trapped in a painful downward spiral towards self-destruction.
Daphne is utterly unlikable and, despite the film’s rather wooden dialogue, Beecham breaks through it to deliver an aggressively unattractive performance. It’s hard to sympathise with any thirty one year-old who, despite barely holding down what appears to be a part time job as a chef, somehow affords a one bedroom flat in central London but Daphne redeems herself in the occasional and powerful moments of silence. At one point Daphne is analysed by a stranger, with whom she is sharing cocaine, who points out that “she talks a lot”. This is certainly true and only makes the film’s muted moments more powerful. It becomes apparent that Daphne is numb – often a much more horrid and dangerous way to feel than sad or angry. Her numbness steers her towards drink, drugs and sex but never towards love or care. She isolates herself, self medicates and is volatile towards anyone trying to break down her protective layering – recognisably bad decisions for, but decisions often made by, people struggling with chronic depression. Daphne sadly left much to be desired but also challenges us to believe in a protagonist within whom we struggle to identify any redeeming qualities. There is a lot of food for thought on offer here if you stretch yourself to read the body language and unspoken cries for help alongside the troublesome script. It’s an admirable and interesting directorial debut from Peter Mackie Burns despite the film’s inability to focus more prominently upon the gory crime at its centre. Daphne has lots of layers to unravel and although the layers don’t necessarily enhance or compliment one another, it remains an intriguing insight into mental illness in the life of modern, cynical young women.
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