Dir: Hope Dickson Leach
On paper, Hope Dickson Leach’s 2017 farm-based drama about a suicide and an estranged father and daughter, doesn’t quite sound like a riveting way of spending 90 minutes. However, when not being treated to some of the most beautifully ‘normal’ compositions of the English countryside, the performances in The Levelling are some of the best of the year by quite a margin. I didn’t really imagine that flooding, insurance and pesky badgers could be compelling subjects but the chemistry between David Troughton’s heavy drinking Aubrey and Clover, his long absent daughter, played by Ellie Kendrick, is subtle when it needs to be and electric when it counts. We learn fairly early on that Clover’s brother Harry committed suicide, prompting Clover to return to the family farm after many years of absence. Father and daughter clearly resent each other over historical acts and subsequent arguments but as the story unfolds the characters develop and a misery emerges. Influenced by the likes of Kelly Reichardt and the Dardenne Brothers, The Levelling is quite the feature debut. Much of the film cut through me, while never once becoming anything more than ordinary. Harry’s suicide is referred to as just a ‘stupid mistake’ and when Clover is asked by a concerned friend if there is anything he can do, she quips “Unless you can make it my father instead of my brother, then no”. There is a bleakness to it but it is well worth the perseverance as there is, for once in a British drama, a sense of purpose and resolve. It is grey and muddy but after the plot has been fully mucked out and the animals fed, you can see a much larger and brighter picture. Life is tough, farm life is really tough and watching a trainee vet and vegetarian cull a new-born purely because it is born a male and there for non-profitable, it highlights the attitude attributed and the ‘stuff’ needed to survive such a lifestyle. The film is like a painting brought to life and it has a menacing presence about it, an eerie feeling of impending doom that turns out to be something quite different than what I first anticipated. There is a richness of quality about the production, it is ultra-real but also otherworldly at times. The performances are brilliant; David Troughton says everything in his silence and the swift changes of emotion that Ellie Kendrick conveys are just phenomenal. It’s a visually stunning film and it has a strong script, but it would be only half the film it is without the two lead performances. Independent British films often fall by the wayside, hopefully The Levelling has received enough hype now for that not to happen, because it is easily one of the best British films of the last decade.