For all the fuss British films tend to make over the pastoral landscapes of their home country, few ever seem to utilise them for more than a picturesque backdrop. Which is why it’s so astonishing that Hope Dickson Leach – in her first feature, mind – has made a film that should be considered great not just for its smart script or fine performances, but for the fact that it is one of the most convincing depictions of the British countryside in years.
Set in Somerset, it follows Clover (Ellie Kendrick, Game of Thrones), who has returned to her home town following the suicide of her brother. She goes to stay with her father, Aubrey (David Troughton), owner of a farm struggling to stay in business. The two do not get along; he undermines her in subtle ways, bossing her about while milking the cows, or treating the local farmhands with superior warmth. He seems to resent her for leaving to go to veterinary college; that if she had stayed home, her brother might not have shot himself in their toilet during a party.
Their conflict builds gradually, but each scene demonstrates an electrifying confidence. Leach portrays England as muddy and rain-soaked, constantly overcast. The farm is filled with both literal and metaphorical skeletons; it’s no surprise that digging up the ground reveals a mass grave of dead badgers. Dreamlike imagery involving blood-soaked rabbits hold connotations of horror, though the story eventually gives way to a series of beautiful pillow shots, including a flock of starlings, darting across a sunset vista.
Kendrick gives a performance full of nervous energy. She stutters and forces her way through conversations, as if consumed by perpetual embarrassment, eventually gaining in confidence. Troughton’s tough farmer act is a layered performance as well, a product of hereditary masculine quiet. They have tremendous chemistry, each interaction bordering on revelation, but limited by their fear and long-term distance.
Familiar tropes are given real weight by details. Anyone who has ever grown up in the country will know the value neighbours place on Tupperware, much as they do on the phrase “my love!” There’s also the specific setting of Somerset, whose flooding crisis in 2013 caused massive damage to farmers’ livelihoods. Though it’s to the film’s credit that this merely gives texture to the story: the core of the grieving father-daughter relationship is heartfelt and completely devastating. Do not miss this.
The Levelling is released in select cinemas on 12th May 2017. Read our interview with director Hope Dickson Leach and star Ellie Kendrick here.
Watch the trailer for The Levelling here: