Body Of Water: the story of a debut feature addressing eating disorders

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Writer/director Lucy Brydon chats to us about her movie Body Of Water, and the stereotypes that it’s challenging.

In her feature debut Body Of Water, writer/director Lucy Brydon cuts through the stereotypes surrounding eating disorders with a raw and honest portrayal of how they can affect older people, following a successful woman in her 30s as she leaves a care facility. Out in the ‘real world’, the film’s lead character, Stephanie, struggles with not only grappling with her anorexia but also balancing her familial relationships which have become fractured as a result.

I spoke to Brydon about bringing this important story to the screen, why she refuses to accept the current narrative about anorexia and the problems with the term ‘strong female leads’.

I understand this film is personal to you, drawing on your own experiences…

It’s not autobiographical but I had an interest in this subject, because I had issues with my eating in my 20s and 30s. I talked to my friends about it and realised how common it is, to varying degrees. Also, in my family, older women had it, and I was conscious maybe it was partly inherited.

The thing that stood out to me is that it focuses on a woman in her 30s with anorexia, and analyses the impact this has on her family.

The stereotype of anorexia is a teenager who wants to be in the cheerleading squad, and it’s just not like that. There are plenty of films about addiction and it’s not a dissimilar mental state as it is a compulsive, addictive behaviour. But with food, you can’t get away from it.

I was also interested in this dynamic between these three women, and how this ongoing thing has splintered this family, and how that manifests. I also want to highlight the disconnect between treating eating disorders and how they present. It’s very weight dependent and once you are at a certain weight you are okay apparently.

We join Stephanie leaving a care facility, but it’s clear she has been in and out of treatment centres. Why did you decide to pick up the story there?

When I was doing my research, I met a woman of the same age as me at a facility. The thing that struck me was at 16 a boyfriend called her fat, and that got into her head, and she has had anorexia on and off since then. She has spent her life yo-yoing between being in and out of treatment centres. She would get well enough, be let out, and then just go back. Coming out of these facilities is difficult, people try to reconnect with family, get back into a groove. It’s tough.

The impact of social media often dictates the narrative when it comes to eating disorders, and whilst this is highlighted in your movie it’s never the focus.

There are constant conversations about it and I just wanted to touch on it, I didn’t want it to be exploitative. But it’s important to highlight because as much as we say we are moving beyond this, now more than ever we are jammed with images of perfect people who face tune themselves into oblivion.

How do you reconcile what you look like or who you are with all this surrounding you? Even if you are older, this can affect you.

And for Stephanie, at this point she is isolated and looking for validation, and this online pro-anorexia subculture, she sees this as the only way to get that. And that’s the danger of it. The point of this is it isn’t meant to draw conclusions, but instead recognise its presence.

One scene is particularly affecting, as are the ones which simply sees Stephanie eating alone at her dining table. I felt here the long takes and sound design emphasises her isolation in her battle.

I always envisioned the camera being respectful and restrained, because I didn’t want it to be in her face. Also, the visual language changes as the story develops, and Stephanie loses control. The sounds of her stomach and chewing become insidious, almost animalistic. And the length and repetition of these kind of shots represent the compulsiveness of her behaviour.

We must talk about Sian Brooke, as she is phenomenal as Stephanie.

Oh yes, she makes the film, her commitment and integrity. We didn’t see many people for the role as it was such challenging material, and the thing about Sian was she asked probing questions, she wanted to get to the heart of who the character was. She brought her own ideas and made it her own. She admitted she was scared of reading the script, knowing what would be involved if she liked it. It was a big physical undertaking, she lost in the region of 30 pounds, she transformed herself.

Were you ever concerned about Sian, considering the physical challenges of the role?

I was mindful of the gamble Sian was taking to do this, and it did weigh on me. I didn’t want to cause anyone any harm doing the role. But Sian put it on as a costume, she was able to say this is just the character, and once we wrapped she got back to normal quickly. But it’s a scary thing, and I’m glad she was tough enough to take it.

What is next for you?

I’m developing a couple of features, one is a historical drama and the others psychological thrillers. I’m also working on a TV series which is a murder mystery. They all have interesting, complex women at the centre. I refuse to say ‘strong female characters’.

There has been talk recently about the problems with that term. Why do you avoid it?

It’s become a catch-all label for anything without a male lead. But how many different kinds of male characters have we seen? It’s not about strength, it’s about complexity. She can be strong but there is so much more to her. Also, everyone is strong in their own ways, but has flaws too.

Body Of Water is out now.

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