The Levelling: An unassuming family drama
by David Perrin
- Hope Dickson Leach scripts and directs her first feature about a rural family in throes of tragedy
Somerset, England: a landscape flooded by man-made rivers, a family flooded by grief. So goes the tale of loss and reconciliation by director Hope Dickson Leach in her tautly told debut feature The Levelling [+see also:
film profile], which had its UK premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is competing in the First Feature Competition. Favouring mood and an unassuming quiet tone, the film tells the story of Clover (Elle Kindrick), a character of strong will, yet hidden vulnerability, as she returns home to the family farm, after a prolonged and not wholly wilful absence, following the suicide of her brother, Harry, the night of a party celebrating his inheritance of the estate. In the dismally wet days leading up to Harry’s funeral, Clover and, more particularly, her reticent father, Aubrey (David Troughton), distract themselves by carrying out the minutia of day-to-day farm life; the morning milking of the cows, the constant digging of troughs to drain the flooded land. Aubrey, a man of fading robustness and a delusional get-on-with-it attitude, is unwilling, not only to admit that his son’s death was a suicide, but also his own potential role in it.
Quickly Clover begins to discover the unwholesome state of the farm, from digging up a batch of dead badgers shot by her brother, to the unhealthy state of the herd. As a result of the incessant flooding, not only is the land made infertile, but also father and daughter are forced to live in a cramped trailer home instead of the main house, thereby exacerbating their already strained relationship. Just as the flood has caused work problems to surface, so too do bitterness and mutual blame begin to overwhelm their father-daughter relationship. A series of tense exchanges, wherein we find out just how dysfunctional this family is, puncture the false façade of normality that the characters, particularly Aubrey, have surrounded themselves with. Blind as Aubrey is to the reality of the deteriorating family business and his own failings as a father, so too is Clover unable to see how her absence from her family may have contributed to the tragedy. With a script as tightly wound as the performances, each confrontation acts as a slight parting of the curtain, revealing patches of truth leading inevitably to the final, rain-drenched climax.
Serene shots of mud-splattered landscapes, brown-coloured waterways, groups of gyrating pigeons in the greying sky off-set these scenes of familial tension. They are a welcome respite from the filthy claustrophobic interiors of the trailer, the aura of dread that lingers over the house and Clover and Aubrey’s own emotional myopia. No time is wasted trying to romanticise rural life. Life on the land in the world of the film is unforgiving. A poignantly eerie soundscape, designed by Ben Baird, complements the atmospheric visuals and deepens the well of ennui that hovers over such scenes. With her first feature, Leach has proven herself to be an interesting and welcome addition to UK cinema.
Produced by Wellington Films, The Levelling was developed by iFeatures4, a low-budget feature film development programme by Creative England. Additional financing came from the BFI, BBC Film, and Olgarth Media. Peccadillo Pictures holds the UK and Irish distribution rights.
Our 60th BFI London Film Festival coverage is run in collaboration with the UK National Film and Television School's MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation.