The Falling Review
Director Carol Morley is best known for the semi-documentary Dreams of a Life, which recounted the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, the young woman who passed away in her bedsit in 2003 but remained undiscovered for more than two years. Morley’s new work, The Falling, explores themes of adolescence and womanhood. While the film’s premise is intriguing, its overall delivery is disappointing.
It’s 1969. Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abby (Florence Pugh) are best friends, both students at a claustrophobic girls’ school. Abby’s pregnancy provokes a series of events which lead to a fainting epidemic among students. Meanwhile, Lydia struggles with her cold, distant mother (Maxine Peake) and her brother’s (Joe Cole) eager interest in her friends. Williams is brilliant as Lydia. Her tomboyish, defiant character is similar to her portrayal of Arya in Game of Thrones. Monica Dolan, as Miss Alvaro, the headmistress of the school, also delivers a tremendous performance. She creates in each of her scenes a palpable undercurrent of things unspoken, balancing a harsh no-nonsense conduct with flickers of vulnerability.
Morley, who also wrote the script, most of all emphasises the repression women faced in the late sixties. The fainting girls are not believed, and then diagnosed as hysterical – their response to a real trauma is not acknowledged, or taken seriously. Female staff confess to being miserable and lonely in their middle age, while younger teachers face with trepidation an unwanted pregnancy. The film also illustrates the extent to which undisclosed sexual violence can damage a life. The three male characters in the story (two of which make very short appearances) seem to misunderstand their female counterparts entirely. To add to the effect, Morley repeatedly uses sequences of quick successive cuts, throwing images of death, violence and terminated pregnancies.
There is, on the other hand, sexual tension present in near all interactions between characters, and this after a while becomes irksome, because it wholly lacks any discrimination. The soundtrack is hit and miss, with some songs brutally jolting the audience away from the story, while others work to enhance the school’s strange atmosphere. The tree and lake neighbouring the school are too often used as a transition device between scenes. If employed more sparingly, these two natural features could have worked well as thematic symbols, but in this quantity, they quickly become tedious.
The Falling is an appealing proposition, but its heavy-handedness detracts from its valuable message and skilful acting work.