The Levelling

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Levelling
"Dickson Leach makes good use of the countryside setting, to suggest the additional pressures that exist for farming families while allowing the environment to provide poetic interludes."

When a bullet from a gun he points himself, kills Harry, the son of a dairy farmer, it ricochets destructively through the rest of his family in this taut and melancholic debut feature from Hope Dickson Leach. The Somerset farm where he lives has already seen its fair share of troubles, with the main building flooded and the insurers unwilling to pay out. Dad Aubrey didn't invite his daughter Clover (Ellie Kendrick) to the party to celebrate Harry taking over the farm, and where his son went on to shoot himself, accidentally Aubrey insists. "You never want to come," he tells her when she arrives after hearing the news.

This is exactly the sort of assumption that Dickson Leach probes throughout the film - the everyday judgements family members make, often themselves building on previous speculation, that bubble to the surface when stress and grief are applied. For while it may be true that Clover has missed out on key events in the family's life, we will learn that her motivations for doing so differ dramatically from her dad's playbook. She, in turn, will find her own theories challenged by the reality of the truth she begins to discover.

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Father and daughter - notably she almost always refers to him by his first name - may have a shared body language and stubborness but when it comes to talking, words fail. Kendrick, putting in a star-making performance here, gives Clover a tendency to speak in 'blurts', as years of bottled up issues, including being sent to boarding school and the earlier death of her mother, spurt out with increasing frequency despite her efforts to stem them. Aubrey (David Troughton), meanwhile, has taken refuge in a long-cultivated gruff persona as though he hasn't got time for mourning.

Dickson Leach makes good use of the countryside setting, to suggest the additional pressures that exist for farming families while allowing the environment to provide poetic interludes. These both break up the action and serve to remind us of the inscrutability of nature, not to mention the welcome - or remorseless - way it ploughs on regardless. These sections, along with a beginning marked by fire, the flooding of the house and the tears shed by Clover, also give the film an elemental, timeless feel despite the modern-day setting.

The slight flirtation with melodrama towards the climax may not be for everyone, but the yearning for understanding that lies at the heart of this film is something anyone can relate to, wherever they live.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2017
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A woman returns to her family farm after her brother's suicide.

Director: Hope Dickson Leach

Writer: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden, Joe Blakemore

Year: 2016

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: UK


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