In Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 film Margaret, the 17-year-old Lisa witnesses a traumatic death. The film explores her struggle to cope with what she has seen: Lisa becomes volatile, prone to outbursts of anger and tears, astounded by the lack of feeling she observes in the adults in her life. Eventually, one snaps, yelling at Lisa, “This is not an opera!”
Daphne, the debut feature film by Peter Mackie Burns, resembles a British response to Margaret. Daphne (Emily Beecham) is an isolated 31-year-old in south-east London (beautifully yet unromantically shot by Adam Scarth), who is in denial about her alcohol dependency, ill mother and problems at work.
When she witnesses a stabbing in a corner shop, her emotions don’t boil over like Lisa’s. Instead, she grows numb and tough – perhaps like her namesake from Greek mythology (who hardens into a laurel tree) or Strauss’s opera. “I don’t feel… much, and that’s not normal,” Daphne tells her therapist. “I haven’t felt like I’m alive for a long time.”
Beecham is triumphant as Daphne. The camera rarely leaves her face, and some of her best moments are silent ones – meandering drunkenly through Elephant and Castle, or picking blood out of her fingernails with a pin. Her performance has notes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s posh, brittle Fleabag – but one less interested in using humour to impress the people around her.
While there are funny moments in Daphne – from awkward romantic encounters to Daphne, alone, attempting to feed chicken to a picture of Ryan Gosling – it’s not the millennial romcom that its trailer sells it as. “You know, Daphne,” says her therapist, “we don’t always feel what we might think of as the correct emotions at the correct times.” Daphne shows how, even when you can’t have “great, big, operatic emotions”, you can still be human.
This article appears in the 04 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich got richer