Dir: Hope Dixon Leach | Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden, Joe Blakemore | 83min | UK | Drama
English filmmaker Hope Dixon Leach explores some thorny contemporary themes in her assured directorial debut. The Levelling deals with intergenerational conflicts, suicide and the plight of UK dairy farming in a moving family drama that sees a girl forced to return home from college to face her troubled past and the unexpected death of her younger brother
Creating just the right mood of sadness and brooding tension, Ellie Kendrick plays Clover, a recently qualified vet who is now back home on the dairy farm in Somerset after leaving her family in a mood of unresolved tension after the sudden death of her mother. Her father Aubrey (David Troughton) is an old school army type who believes in duty though somehow resents his daughter’s reappearance, not least because of her disappearance at a difficult time during the devastating floods of 2014. As is often the case, father and daughter are driven apart by a tragedy that should have united them in their grief.
The storyline is fraught with enigma and unanswered questions as to why Clover (Ellie Kendrick) was not invited to her mother’s funeral; why she calls her father by his Christian name, and whether her brother Charlie committed suicide or died in an accident. None of this is revealed adding to the sense of mounting introspection in this often gruelling story. But daily life must go on where the farm is concerned, and despite her professional credentials, Clover finds it difficult to kill a recently born male calf, adding to her own sense of misery and anguish.
Somerset is a sorry sight as a backdrop: waterlogged fields awash with mud; her father has been forced to leave the flooded farmhouse and retreat to a sordid caravan. The motif of a hare swimming along the riverbed is redolent of the gloomy state of affairs where even animals seem dejected as they fight for survival in the uncertain climate. Clover bickers with her father as they wallow in sadness, her dog Milo offering the only affection and respite from the unremitting sense of doom.
Kendrick’s thoughtful performance carries the film supported by an otherwise all male cast of Jack Holden as Charlie’s friend James, as David Troughton as her father Aubrey, a man unused to sharing his feelings of emotional despair yet desperately needing to do so. The Levelling is a grim but promising debut from a fresh British talent. MT
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