Body of Water

 

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A bold British first feature that confronts a life lived with anorexia.

 
Body of Water

Siân Brooke

  

This is a film which left me with very mixed feelings. It marks the feature debut of Lucy Brydon both as writer and director and I can say with confidence that Body of Water shows a fine cinematic eye. Working with Darran Bragg as photographer, Brydon opts for the 'Scope format and has a clear instinct for telling compositions. Furthermore, if the images do well by the film's unfamiliar location (Canvey Island in Essex), the film also retains the intimacy of the story despite its ratio and the leading players all give sound performances.

 

The doubts that I soon started to feel relate to the story and to the way in which it is told although one never for a moment questions the sincerity of the filmmaker in putting the central focus on a woman in her thirties, Stephanie played by Siân Brooke, who is suffering from anorexia. Indeed, this is a subject that has concerned Lucy Brydon for some time and she further researched it when preparing this film. She makes the subject central from the outset since the first scenes show Stephanie leaving an in-patient unit having been there for seven months for what she later refers to as a fourth round of treatment. However, it is characteristic of the film that no details are given as to the nature of this unit (we are merely shown a building akin to a care home without even being told that the inmates are anorexics). Even when Stephanie is collected by her mother, Susan (Amanda Burton), and enquires about her teenage daughter, Pearl (Fabienne Piolini-Castle) for whom Susan has been appointed guardian, further details are not immediately forthcoming although we do know that a male nurse, Shaun (Nick Blood), is making regular calls to check how Stephanie is doing.

 

Naturally the penny drops in time (Stephanie attends a form of group therapy at which things are spelt out) but, even when it has become evident that eating problems are seriously affecting Stephanie, the film fails to make it absolutely clear exactly what steps Stephanie needs to take to recover. Perhaps Brydon knows so much about it that she fails to see the need for more information. That applies no less in helping us to understand the attitudes of Pearl, who shows great hostility to her mother, and of Susan who is generally sympathetic to Stephanie's predicament but is also capable of sudden bursts of bitterness. In each case the response is born of being faced with dealing with the problem for years, but the film offers no flashbacks to bring this home to us and takes place within a short period of time.

 

Eventually Stephanie's state will dominate the climax of the film as one might expect. But, prior to that, Body of Water has drifted around other issues. These include a somewhat melodramatic turn in the relationship of Shaun and his patient, Pearl's involvement with an undesirable boyfriend (Archie Renaux) and the impending wedding of Susan and her lesbian partner, Annette (Kezia Pelka) - the latter treated admirably in a matter of fact way. If these elements don't altogether cohere naturally into a single narrative thrust, a further factor does seem more closely linked to the main issue, that being the way in which Pearl's attitude to her mother gradually changes. However, this moves so far away from the character of Pearl as first established that it feels less than wholly persuasive. But, if this development might be considered a positive aspect in the tale, what ultimately emerges is a work so downbeat that I fail to see the point of it. A story about anorexia and the struggles that follow in its wake might have given anorexic viewers and their families a chance to identify and thus to gain courage from a work which showed that they were not alone. But Body of Water is far too dark for that.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Siân Brooke, Amanda Burton, Fabienne Piolini-Castle, Nick Blood, Adeyinka Akinrinade, Ilaria Ambrogi, Debra Baker, Adam Bellamy, Sophie Brooke, Kezia Pelka, Archie Renaux.

 

Dir Lucy Brydon, Pro Dan Cleland and Jeannette Sutton, Screenplay Lucy Brydon, Ph Darran Bragg, Pro Des Sarah Jenneson, Ed Erline O'Donovan-Clarke, Music Rory Attwell, Costumes Natalie Humphries.

 

Film London/BBC Films/BFI/Lions Den Films/Microwave/Bright Shadow Films/Boudica Films-Verve Pictures.
92 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 16 October 2020. Available in cinemas and on BFI Player. Cert. 15.