The final frames of British drama The Levelling are quite frankly devastating. In her feature debut, writer-director Hope Dickson Leach expertly curates a landscape lorn, thanks to a deft understanding of place, personality, and purpose. Winner of the IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award at the BFI London Film Festival last October, this rustic social realist piece echoes the work of the Dardenne Brothers and Kelly Reichardt respectively; underpinning the palpable pathos and poignancy which lingers in ethereal silence.
Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed in HBO’s Game of Thrones) stars as Clover – a young veterinarian in training – who returns home to her family farm in Somerset following the sudden and mysterious passing of her elder brother, Harry. Set against the harsh backdrop of the 2014 floods which levelled her home, Clover confronts her estranged and passive-aggressive father, Aubrey (David Troughton); attempting to uncover the truth behind the saddening affair. Shadowed by unspoken regret, and the heavy burden of guilt, the pair’s fractured relationship will undergo its most tormenting test, as we near-ever to the funeral, and the unearthing of the truth.
This quietly atmospheric and thoughtful piece is a truly brilliant slice of homegrown cinema. With its rich visual palette, and understated symmetry, Dickson Leach has entered the fold with integrity and intelligence. The Levelling‘s deeply symbolic commentary shared between agriculture and family is arguably its masterstroke. The catastrophic ruin that is the farm – caused by the deluge, a lack of funding, and ill-suffering livestock – paired with the fragility of Clover’s connection to her father are both so beautifully realised in their subtlety and restraint. Never does the film feel the need to bellow in order to be heard, instead finding heightened decibels in its nuance and calm assurance.
Dickson Leach’s vividly observed screenplay provides the talented duo of Kendrick and Troughton with fantastically textured dialogue. Laden with intricacies and finite powers, her text populates the sparsely sodden environment; adding additional layers of cinematic and emotional tactility throughout the supple 83 minute duration. Elsewhere, Nanu Segal’s expressive location photography renders a harshly weathered environment, which is evocatively punctuated by Ben Baird’s majestic sound design. Both aesthetic elements are rightfully understated, yet wholly cinematic; maintaining the film’s artful approach to turmoil.
The contrast in performance is too one of The Levelling‘s most disarming and engaging traits. The finite and restrictive sentiment of Kendrick’s young heroine, paired off with Troughton’s garrulous and hard-drinking patriarch makes for uncompromising and entirely rewarding screen chemistry. Both actors provide brilliant work throughout – deftly carrying the profound weight of Dickson Leach’s drama – whilst additional support from the likes of Jack Holden also impresses.
With its contemplative approach, expressive imagery, and accomplished directorial control, The Levelling is a text simply saturated with skill. Some viewers may be tested by its mediative slow-burn, but there are vast rewards for your patience and attention. British cinema is enjoying a thunderous year in 2017, and this debut nestles in comfortably among the best offerings thus far.
The Levelling arrives in select UK cinemas and On Demand on 12th May. For VOD details, click here.