Film Review: The Levelling

levellingDirected by Hope Dickson Leach

Starring Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton

Clover (Kendrick) never wanted to go back home, but the news of her brother’s death forces her to return. However, her arrival opens painful wounds for family and friends alike, particularly her troubled father.

Set in the aftermath of the devastation wrecked upon Somerset by the flooding of 2014, director Hope Dickson Leach‘s acutely observant feature debut subverts the typically kindly, bucolic countryside of The Archers by instead capturing it’s ennui in unsettling, semi-hallucinatory fashion. and adding a sinister aspect to those signifiers of England’s green and pleasant land.

This is where The Levelling really scores – in its depiction of country life beyond the pages of Horse & Hound. Evoking a strong sense of place and a stronger sense of the complex bonds that simultaneously keep families together and threaten to tear them apart, the film presents an engrossing portrait of the hardscrabble nature of modern rural life.

 There’s a clear Dardenne Brothers influence in The Levelling (indeed, Dickson Leach and cinematographer Nanu Segal have talked of their love for the celebrated Belgian duo). The somber realism is compounded by their chosen colour palette, which is washed with grey and brown, and by the haunting soundtrack of Hutch Demouilpied.

Scenes of muddy fields, waterlogged pathways and stranded trees heavy with ripe apples all paint a picture of how hard it is to make a living from the land and give the film a feeling of reality. There is nothing romantic about the setting or overly melodramatic about a daughter/father relationship that teeters between angry little stabs of conversation and the greater things that go unsaid.

The often romanticized British ‘stiff upperlip’, private fortitude in the face of adversity, is exposed as the toxic impediment to families discussing and confronting their hardships and sufferin

Kendrick is a compelling screen presence as Clover, a young vet who returns to the family farm in Somerset after the death of her brother. Clover feels like a character caught between her (faltering) family tradition of farming and the modernity of the outside world where she trained to be a pet. In the city she saves animals lives, at home she is forced to kill animals after they are contaminated. There is a fragile intensity to Kendrick’s performance conveying someone striving to keep control of her emotions in a situation where she is expected to fall to bits.

Her gruff father Aubrey (coincidentally The Archers‘  David Troughton) blithely carries on with business as usual, a dogged duty that life on the farm must continue regardless of the collapse in the fortunes of the industry that it helped run.

Neither seems inclined to share their feelings or address their sense of guilt. It quickly becomes apparent that the death was a suicide and that the farm is struggling in the wake of devastating floods the previous winter.

The sensitivity of the performances, the attention to detail and economical storytelling all help to mark out Hope Dickson Leach as a talent to watch

The film may not delight the local tourist board but it’s sure to delight audiences looking for something compelling and new. British drama often focuses on urban environments and the countryside tends to get neglected. The modern countryside is complex, exciting and rarely portrayed the way The Levelling shows it.

4/5

 

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