Runtime: 95 Minutes
Director/Writer: Lucy Brydon
Stars: Sian Brooke, Amanda Burton, Fabienne Piolini-Castle
By Calum Cooper
Lucy Brydon’s “Body of Water” (2020) is a terrific film with sage, meditative weight on its shoulders. Its subject matter is an issue that requires a level of sensitivity to properly address. Brydon herself commented about the horrific fetishisation of such a subject in popular culture during the Q&A after the film. By refusing to fall in line with such trends, she has crafted a film that is simultaneously cathartic and melancholic.
Sian Brooke plays Stephanie, a woman who is seen leaving a care facility at the start of the film. She has been grappling with an eating disorder but appears ready to return home. Waiting for her is her mother Susan (Amanda Burton) – who is about to marry her new partner – and her teenage daughter Pearl (Fabienne Piolini-Castle). Her relationship with both has been fractured due to her struggles with her disorder. Upon her return, Stephanie must put the pieces back together while also dealing with the threat of relapse.
“Body of Water” succeeds and more like a platform of empathy. Most media addressing eating disorders tend to focus on teenage to young adult women. “Body of Water” has a mother front and centre, with a mother and a teenage daughter of her own. By doing this, not only does the film show the vast and diverse amount of people anorexia can affect but how it seeps into past and future generations. It’s a difference in character that makes for the significant elevation of the film’s message.
There are also cyclical attributes to consider. This is not the first time Stephanie has been cleared to go home. It is implied that a traumatic event in her past line of work – war photography – may have brought on her disorder. But its inception is not as prevalent as its recurring nature, for the film recognises that disorders of this kind are more a state of being than it is a choice. Stephanie is clearly doing her best to overcome this, but the toll has already been taken.
“Body of Water” succeeds and more like a platform of empathy. Most media addressing eating disorders tend to focus on teenage to young adult women. “Body of Water” has a mother front and centre, with a mother and a teenage daughter of her own.
Susan no longer believes Stephanie is capable of overcoming her disorder – a result of years of stress and attempted support to little avail – while Pearl has been acting out to fill the void left by her mother’s on and off absences. Stephanie has her care worker, Shaun (Nick Blood), offering advice and guidance, but is he in it because he genuinely believes in her, or is he just playing the saviour? As such, every day since Stephanie’s return is a struggle, both directly and indirectly due to what she is going through.
Brydon makes no judgments. On the contrary, she has nothing but sympathy for all involved. It is a complex issue that affects everyone differently, and there are no easy answers when tackling something of such magnitude. In choosing to portray anorexia and its effects in this way, Brydon has created something powerful, unique, and, most importantly, authentic. She combines a fine blend of sharp dialogue, stellar performances across the cast (Brooke and Piolini-Castle being the standouts), and a natural eye for visual storytelling to generate raw emotion, engrossing drama, and haunting imagery that conveys the film’s thematic richness. She does not hold back nor does she glamorise any of the material, keeping the narrative grounded and commanding the audience’s interest with visceral intensity.
“Body of Water” is a multi-character piece in which the strains and regrets of the past influence and conflate the issues of the present.
Simply put, this is a remarkable feature, made all the more impressive as it is Brydon’s debut. Inspired by such films as Todd Haynes’ “Safe” (1995), “Body of Water” is a multi-character piece in which the strains and regrets of the past influence and conflate the issues of the present. The relationships between three generations of women are explored with compassion and captivating weaponization of the ‘show don’t tell’ rule.
From its magnificent opening scenes, which lay the groundwork for the story with expert swiftness, to its devastating final scene that feels inevitable in its tragedy, “Body of Water” is rarely happy, but consistently condoling and sage.
Eating disorders are common and destructive but are often misguidedly capitalised for the sake of entertainment. This leads to at best misunderstandings and at worst dangerous romanticising. With her first feature, Brydon presents a more realistic, and far more powerful, showcasing. She has an exciting career ahead of her and “Body of Water” is a harrowing yet important picture that should not go ignored.