Writer and Director of numerous short films, The Levelling is Hope Dickson Leach's directorial debut feature length film and an incredibly moving and affecting one it is too.
"Can you make it so it's my Dad and not my brother?"
Hope Dickson Leach's directorial debut film is an independent production co-funded by Creative England, the British Film Institute (BFI) and BBC films and I was particularly attracted to watching this for a number of reasons and for two reasons in particular. One was the wave of positive reviews I've read and listened to in recent days but more importantly I have a personal fascination and love for directorial debut films as they are often the Director's in question rawest and purest visions and/or a project they hold incredibly dear to their heart and in The Levelling all of this and more is clearly writ large on the screen in an incredibly moving, touching and poignant debut film from Leach. It's also a brilliantly rounded film with a close collaboration with Director of Photography Nanu Segal capturing the raw essence of the Somerset levels (as in the film's title) as well as the earthy nature of a real working farm where the majority of the film is set. Hutch Demouilpied supplies a minimal but affecting mournful musical score that underpins ostensibly a "three hander", and a trio of truly outstanding performances in a similarly outstanding and highly recommended film that is bathed in themes of familial death and strained relationships inside a dysfunctional family unwilling or unable to fully communicate their feelings.
Front and centre of the triumvirate of the roles on display here is Ellie Kendrick as "Clover" who returns to the family farm for the funeral of her brother Harry after having left home to study at University and to train as a Veterinarian. She returns to a farm in a state of disrepair after the recent floods that decimated the Somerset levels and her Father "Aubrey" (David Troughton) with a constant air of denial and self deprecation as he refuses to believe his son committed suicide "it was an accidental death" or that his farm and grounds are in a precarious position as he describes it and the caravan he now lives in as his "own refugee camp". As the narrative unravels it's clear that Aubrey (who Clover refuses to call Dad and always by his name) is in a dire and schizophrenic mindset, trying to smile through the pain as well as being in complete denial as to his son's death but more importantly his distanced relationship with Clover who is both a "born farmer" and "not cut out for this" as well as adoring his daughter's smile but seemingly determined to drive her away again from the farm as quickly as possible. "James" (Jack Holden) is the third of the main roles of this three handed familial drama who has worked unpaid for many months trying to return the farm to some sort of normality following the flooding and was Harry's closest friend prior to his death but the film centres on the strained relationship between Father and Daughter and two absolutely stunning performances from Troughton and Kendrick respectively.
One of the film's many themes is the inability to communicate with even those we're closest with and the film is deliberately mired in so many long, slow pauses between our three main characters and Father and Daughter specifically. Troughton realises this brilliantly as Aubrey even though he has seemingly lost everything, his wife, son, farm and a means of making a living he's also seemingly determined to drive away his daughter who in Kendrick's performance absorbs everything thrown at her, condemnation, ridicule and it could even be argued misogyny, in her own stoical and reserved way. Her's too is a performance littered with long lingering pauses and glances, and brilliantly deliberately so, as she mirrors her Father's actions in this way, with both seemingly unwilling or unable to deal with the horrific matters of the present day as well as the past and in another of the themes of the film sweeping everything under the carpet and holding emotions in check, with both of the film's main characters seemingly swimming against the prevailing tide of grief, resentment and a feeling of disrespect. Coupled with Director of Photography Nanu Segal's excellent wide shots capturing the expanse of the Somerset levels, the flat landscapes of the countryside, flocks of birds in the sky, the muck and shit of a working farm and the lighting of two particularly tense scenes captured by the picture above that accompanies the beginning of this blog results in a stunning directorial debut effort from Hope Dickson Leach that continually moved me throughout it's lean running time of just 83 minutes. The Levelling is an emotional, heart breaking tale of loss, denial and the barriers to communication and a film I was so eager to see and one that has stayed with me long after the final credits. I simply can't recommend it highly enough!