Urban Alienation

A stirring character portrait, Daphne is the directorial debut of Scottish filmmaker Peter Mackie Burns. Starring Emily Beacham, it’s a low-key British answer to Lena Dunham’s Girls, a dialogue-driven angst-ridden story that will feel all too familiar to those fighting loneliness in the big city. Played by Beacham, Daphne Vitale is a young half-Sicilian Londoner, living alone with just her pet snake for company. For money, she works as a prep chef in a small restaurant. For kicks, she bar-hops, drinks, takes drugs and enjoys fleeting sexual encounters, with little restraint or sense of self-worth.

But Daphne is more than just a tale of youthful hedonism; rather it’s a cry for help. The sort that pushes others away – notably potential partner David (Nathaniel Martello-White), who endures a date-night from hell with her – Daphne’s only meaningful connection is with her mother (Geraldine James), who is fighting cancer. When she encounters a violent incident in a corner-shop – a shocking sequence as the owner is stabbed, entirely out of keeping with the rest of the film’s casual rhythms – it sends her on a downward spiral. More drink. More sex. More ennui. Against her better judgement, she even visits a shrink, recoiling at the very idea of peeling off her layers of cynicism. Scripted by Nico Mensinga – who, like Beacham, collaborated on Burns’ 2013 short Happy Birthday To Me, something of a dry-run for Daphne – it’s a smartly-engineered indie with enough bravery to think for itself. There are no easy solutions here for Daphne, no catharsis-inducing lover waiting in the wings.

At the film’s core, the pale-skinned, red-haired Beacham (currently featuring in AMC’s Into The Badlands) is superb, offering a highly credible rendering of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A breakout performance from Beacham, it’s an untouchable portrait of millennial malaise, perfectly honed by her and Burns.   Comparisons have already been made to both Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977) – with Diane Keaton as a promiscuous teacher – and Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011), starring Anna Paquin as a young women who witnesses a bus accident. But Daphne is its own beast. It’s not perfect: the narrative meanders, rather like Daphne herself, but the result is quietly affecting.

James Mottram

Daphne opens in cinemas on 29 September. For more information: www.altitudefilment.com

1. Still from Daphne. Courtesy of Altitude Film.