The Levelling (2016)
Dir: Hope Dixon Leach | Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden, Joe Blakemore | 83min | UK | Drama
English filmmaker Hope Dixon Leach explores some thorny contemporary themes in her assured directorial debut that deals with intergenerational conflicts, suicide and the plight of UK dairy farming in a moving family drama where a girl is forced to return home from college to face her troubled past and the unexpected death of her younger brother
Creating just the right mood of sadness and brooding tension, Dixon Leach casts Ellie Kendrick in the central role of Clover who has left home under a cloud to study to become a vet, leaving in her wake family bereavement and unresolved tension due to the death of her mother. Her father Aubrey (David Troughton) is an old school army type who believes in duty though somehow resents his daughter, not least because of her leaving the family farm at a difficult time during the devastating floods of 2014. As is often the case, father and daughter are driven apart by a tragedy which should have brought them together in their grief.
The narrative is fraught with enigma and unanswered questions as to why Clover (Ellie Kendrick) was not invited to her mother’s funeral; why she calls her father by his Christian name, and whether her brother Charlie committed suicide or died in an accident. None of this is revealed adding to a sense of mounting mournful introspection that embodies this often gruelling story. But life must go on where the farm is concerned, and when a male calf is born Clover is forced to kill it, adding to her own sense of woe.
Somerset offers a sorry sight as a backdrop: waterlogged fields awash with mud; her father has been forced to leave the flooded farmhouse and retreat to a sordid caravan. The motif of a hare swimming along the riverbed is redolent of the gloomy state of affairs where even animals seem dejected as they fight for survival in the uncertain climate. Clover bickers with her father as they wallow in sadness, her dog Milo offering the only affection and respite from the unleavened sense of doom. Kendrick carries the film with a sensitive turn and able support from Charlie’s friend James, played by Jack Holden. A friendly neighbour offers much needed practical help as the funeral looms. David Troughton feels awkward with the emotional despair as Aubrey, a man brought to his knees and not used to sharing his feelings. THE LEVELLLING makes for a grim but resonant viewing in this promising debut from a fresh English talent in the making. MT
RELEASES AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | 12 MAY 2017