The Levelling Review
Hope Dickson Leach’s debut feature takes a fresh look at the rural middle classes in the UK, set in 2014, just after the devastating flooding that affected much of the farming region in Somerset. An English countryside in recovery serves as the backdrop for a family coming to terms with their own tragedy. A father and daughter are forced to confront years of dormant emotions following the suicide of Harry: a son and a brother whose absence continues to haunt their relationship.
Clover (Ellie Kendrick) is the daughter in question, returning home from veterinary college after receiving news that her brother had suddenly taken his life. "Can't you make it my Dad instead?" These are the first few words of dialogue we hear her speak, mapping out the family fault lines that we later learn have festered in silence for years. Her father, Aubrey (David Troughton), is a man worn down by the demands and up keep of the family farm, firmly in denial about Harry's suicide, numbing his depression inside a bottle of whiskey that is never far from his reach.
Aubrey is a resolutely stubborn man; a husband that has lost his wife and a father disconnected from his daughter Clover, with a son that is now lost forever. They are all that remains of a family haunted by ghosts from their past and a history of not finding a way to resolve their issues. Leach’s script isn’t interested in pointing fingers to apportion blame where it may or may not be due. These are fully realised characters, both with their own flaws, unable to shake off the regret of decisions made in their past.
Kendrick carries the emotional weight of the film across her face, while others silently add the burden to a life overwhelmed by the recent flooding. Troughton is an experienced actor whose physical frame gives him real presence, but this large figure is unable to shake that tinge of sadness that lingers behind almost every line he utters. There is a certain amount of restlessness for Clover to be back home around her father, and you can feel those rising emotions struggling to contain themselves, as Kendrick gradually brings her character closer to those dormant feelings. This is one of the year’s outstanding performances that positions Kendrick as one of the most talented young actors in the UK.
The land itself provides fertile ground for the evolving emotional stakes in the drama, with Leach showing the wildlife continuing to find a way through its cycle. While diggers overturn the newly sodden ground, Clover picks through the debris of a family damaged by guilt, grief and broken communication. Set underneath near permanent overcast skies, the region feels washed out not only by the recent downpours but by a sense of hopelessness that now clings to the air. Accompanied by Hutch Demouilpied’s haunting score, the journey through this emotional and physical landscape always feels personal and deeply connected.
Seldom do you see a director announce themselves, not only, with such confidence, but with a film that feels so fully realised. Dickson is no newcomer of course, as she has worked on a number of shorts and TV shows over the past 13 years. If this is her starting point, then we can only wonder what else she has in store for us. The Levelling brings us to a part of the UK rarely seen on film in this country, telling a story that many of us emotionally repressed Brits can relate to.
The Levelling is available in UK cinemas and On Demand from today.
Click here to read our interview with the films' lead actor, Ellie Kendrick.