Traditionally speaking, the coming-of-age drama focuses in on a protagonist somewhere between the ages of thirteen and twenty one. The formative, adolescent period, in which you discover exactly who you are, and what your place is in the big bad world. But few come out the other end with answers to their myriad of questions, and for many – the perpetual search for one’s own identity extends into their 30s.
Particularly in a contemporary landscape – and specifically in London – everything happens at a later stage. There’s no stigma attached now to living with your parents after you’ve graduated from University, nor is there anything to be ashamed about if you’re still interning as you approach the big three-o. Generally speaking, getting a mortgage, settling down and having children happens at a later date – and it’s why Daphne, a candid character study of a 31-year-old woman living within her means in London, is a modern day coming-of-age production.
It’s a fascinating period in someone’s life to observe too, for it’s an age where you’re still too young to know exactly what you’re doing, and yet old enough to know better. Daphne (Emily Beecham) is emblematic of this notion; she works as a chef by evening, and is out on the town by night. She’s dating (sort of), and getting her head around her mother’s (Geraldine James) illness. Her life is at something of a crossroads, and then on one fateful evening she witnesses the stabbing of a defenceless shop keeper. An incident she’s not willing to admit has had an effect on her, but it’s one that most definitely has.
Partly what makes Daphne a successful cinematic endeavour, is how flawed the lead role is. She’s stubborn and she’s selfish, and she’s the sort of person who will pay the Indian delivery driver two quid less than he’s owed and just close the door in his face (I know, I know) – but she’s real, and she’s relatable and in a project of this nature, that’s the most important aspect of them all, and the film would fail spectacularly without it. That said, Peter Mackie Burns’ focuses in so closely on his eponymous lead, that almost forgets the viewer may require a stronger narrative to correspond with it. It’s engaging as we watch this woman float around London, going on dates, having one too many and finding herself in the queue at the local chicken shop more times than she’d like to admit – but there is a distinct lack of story, and perhaps just an injection of a more palpable narrative curve would be beneficial, as we’re left wanting in that regard.
Thankfully, however, if you are going to have a film which studies its lead in such an intimate manner, having an actress as accomplished as Beecham involved helps matters immeasurably, as she turns in a fine performance – and ensures the viewer always remains on Daphne’s side, just. The portrayal of London is also an authentic one, though perhaps it’s just such an authentic situation and relatable character, that the setting feels genuine simply off the back of that. Either way, it’s great to see the English capital explored in this real way on the big screen, and what transpires is Britain’s answer to Frances Ha, just without the pretension.
Daphne is released on September 29th.