• 'The Levelling'

    The return is a powerful trope of drama. The former love, the old enemy, the retired professional, the Prodigal son; all have been effective jumping-off points for inter-relational conflict. The absorbing feature debut of Hope Dickson Leach begins at a point in the narrative – which is written by Dickson Leach herself – where both a son (Harry, played in flashback by Joe Blakemore) and a daughter (Clover, played by Ellie Kendrick) have been lost. Only the latter can actually come back, however, as her brother has died in a shooting incident on the Somerset levels family farm. And although Clover is delivered there in the initial scenes, it is clear from what follows that physical return is only part of the process of homecoming.

    As Clover renegotiates her place in the childhood world she left a few years before, sparring with her brittle, bitter father Aubrey (David Troughton) but at relative ease with workers and family friends as they repair a smallholding devastated by flooding as well as grief, she also works to uncover the truth of what happened to Harry. Here the film sinks new hooks into the viewer, as Clover presses people for their understanding and experiences, restlessly wanders the shattered farmhouse and uncovers fragments of a story that suggests very little is as it appears or was as she remembers. As Kendrick herself puts it in a Q&A after the screening I attended, “She [Clover] thinks she’s in a detective film, but she’s really in a social-realist drama.” Memory forms a large part of the screenplay, with Clover and Aubrey constantly at odds as to their recollection of the past and their reasons for decisions and the audience itself uncertain of the truth. Clues are scattered and discovered (Kendrick explained how she asked not to be shown the contents of prop bags, envelopes etc., to enhance her reaction), but the facts remain elusive.

    Neatly interwoven with this story and acting as commentary on it is the presence of animals and the manner of their depiction. Cattle, starlings, badgers; a hare, the pet dog, a pony; live, dead, caged, free. Seen in extreme close up, from a distance, in water, air and earth, they function as a mute Greek chorus on the action. The moment when Clover walks in the woods and meets, seemingly at their discretion rather than hers, two horses is extraordinary. There is, too, a clear connection that places Clover (note that name) and her surroundings within the rich vein of rural drama explored in English film, television and even art, from Quatermass to Penda’s Fen, The Changes to Masquerade, and Kill List to Wake Wood.

    Throughout all this, and appearing in almost every scene, Kendrick is simply magnetic. Whether rent by sadness or fiery with anger, she is utterly convincing and simply carries the film. Its fast shooting schedule - just four weeks - was, she explained to me after the screening, preferred by her in that it helped her maintain the intensity of her performance thanks to the absence of multiple takes. Appearing younger, perhaps, than her years works in Kendrick’s favour, connecting her character’s present more readily to its past and evoking the resilience and persistence of the teenager. Yet Clover’s toughness does not suffer either, holding her own during rows with her father – himself brimming with resentment over the loss not just of his son and daughter but also his wife, his livelihood and his future – or buckling down with the farmhands digging a ditch. Two moments bridge these extremes and remind us of Clover’s true vulnerability: her determined but heart-breaking cleansing of the room in which Harry died, domesticity horribly perverted, and a gently revealing early-morning scene, this subtly shot by the all-female crew.

    The tangled webs of these damaged individuals and their disrupted, disordered home are unravelled carefully and with sensitivity. Closure of sorts is achieved, but its ambiguity is acknowledged by Kendrick herself. Asked by an audience member whether the future for Clover and Aubrey is bright or dark beyond the final frame, she responded: “Can I ask you a question first – what do YOU think happens?”

    'The Levelling' is on general release; I watched it at the BFI Southbank, where Ellie Kendrick spoke about the film to the audience and - kindly - to interested individuals afterward.

    0 Comments

Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

final cover

Chris's third book reveals the hidden gems and well-known landmarks of London's rich built history, from shops that survived the Great Fire to the 2012 Olympic village's Deconstructivism, from Royal palaces to pleasure palaces, and from extravagent banks to Modernist apartments. Chris appeared on London Live to chat with presenter Reya El Salahi about the book; click on the still below. Follow the book's Facebook page for more events and news.

You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.


Get Flash Player