Director: Hope Dickson Leach
Screenplay: Hope Dickson Leach
Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden
Runtime: 83 Minutes
Something to be defended of The Levelling before anything more is to be said is that while it’s setting on the Somerset Levels – depicting the struggles of working on a farm in an increasingly bleak landscape of economic uncertainty – might be taken as an unflattering reflection on the contemporary state of the farming in the United Kingdom, it never once feels like an act of inflammatory condescension toward a lifestyle or state of work. It is a backdrop being used to personify the slow encroachment of death and hopeless desolation that has befallen the mindsets of the characters.
Upon Clover’s (Ellie Kendrick) return to her home following the death of her older brother – an apparent accident involving a shotgun which doesn’t quite add up – the farm has fallen into disrepair in the intervening years of her extended absence. Much of the film follows the lack of truthful communication between daughter and father (David Troughton), who she refers to as Aubrey as opposed to dad. Clover’s distance is immediately felt in her strictness in cadence, she just wants to handle the affairs, grieve and get out as soon as possible.
It speaks volumes without saying much as the images fill in the gaps of their backstories, and forced interactions only further this cavern between them. Clover’s progressive vegetarianism, animal activism and work as a training veterinarian clash almost intentionally with her father’s upright old-fashioned attitudes as she is forced to toil the land and handle the livestock.
This is director Hope Dickson Leach’s debut and her work is a promising start for greater work to come. The visions of the land through beautifully chilly cinematography, and waking dream visions of animals struggling to keep afloat in apparitions of the floods that devastated the farm years before, give the drama the feeling of a horror movie without the release of any real bloodshed. But violence is inferred and felt throughout; this is a desolate feeling picture with a sound design and score to match it, consisting of a moaning and wailing soundscape like an ambience of pain and sorrow.
Ellie Kendrick’s performance is incredibly believable and present, almost consistently on the verge of tears and barely containing herself when speaking to others. She is also someone who doesn’t like being talked down to, yet despite her educational background it still feels that she might be more than a step out of touch with the troubles they have faced in her absence following the passing of their mother, or just unwilling to accept any dependability altogether. She is matched by Troughton’s mannered yet disdainful role as the seemingly ambivalent father figure almost incapable of sustaining the farm in his son’s absence.
The Levelling is a moody and haunting piece of work that is also a sad depiction of real grief to a small and suggested degree. The climax is as ambiguous in its intent as it is a form of narrative closure, even if it doesn’t strive to take its themes in more explorative directions. It’s a single-minded but engrossing piece of tragic storytelling.