| After the 2014 Somerset floods, a young woman returns to the family dairy farm following the tragic death of her younger brother.
Probably unknown to most people, but 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. The phrase “quietly devastating” can be a tad overused in the realm of film criticism, but it’s all too appropriate when a modestly scaled film, one largely dealing with a tragedy with unsentimental honesty, manages to hit you like a ton of bricks with even the smallest moment of uplift. Such is the case with The Levelling.
A farm that refuses to philander, and stains that refuse to leave. The Levelling strikes as an exercise in struggling catharsis in a world without answers. Ever constant is the striking photography, setting an eerie sense of rugged mysticism to the Somerset levels. This is not a new premise. The disconnect between ages and genders through what is not said and what cannot be said is an age-old formula, but what keeps Leach’s film stunningly fresh is the intense tone which rings throughout. With two powerful performances at the helm, from Kendrick and Troughton respectively, The Levelling only grows in effect throughout its runtime, producing an edge-of-seat show of paranoia and grief against the strength of love in threat of tarnish.
Without the two amazing performances of Kendrick and Troughton this film would not have been the exceptional little film that it is. Especially Kendrick. Her face is an open register of a million different emotions at once. Pain and confusion are etched into the hard lines of her face. Another highlight was the way they so genuinely affected shock and surprise when they confronted and challenged each other with the different versions of a painful past that each of them had been holding on to.
It is difficult not to mention the incredible visual sharpness of this movie, not only the visual power of the movie itself, but the masterful use of the pillow shots in this movie, which brilliantly punctuates the emotional intensity and suffocating nature of the atmosphere, with something more removed, zen like. This is exactly the kind of film which equates to cinema for me, the youthful energy and dynamism almost screams off the screen, a film so full of inventiveness and emotive power, as to damn the notion there is no next generation of auteurs. That is before mentioning that the result is one of the best British movies of the last decade without a shadow of a doubt.
The Levelling manages to leave a lasting impression, while maintaining a brief runtime that is over 80 minutes long. It’s so perfectly timed, in fact, that I was surprised to see it end so soon and not fall in to the common trap of unnecessarily elongating plot points. This brevity works in its favour; you can imagine another director making this in to a three hour-plus miserable epic, whereas Leach sticks to her guns and perfectly tailors her story to the film’s running time.
‘The Levelling’ gets an 8.1/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.6 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.6 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.6 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.6 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.6 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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