A Film a Week - The Levelling

British countryside has always been considered romantic in films and on television. The houses are big and restored to perfection, the grass is always green and the cows are always clean, if we are treated with animals aside from beautiful hound dogs in that idyllic landscape. Just think of Midsommer Murders or Poirot or pretty much any film that takes place there. We don’t see all that rain, mud, floods, animal carcasses and beat-up cars. Somebody would think that farming in The UK is just a hobby. The Levelling, the feature debut by writer-director Hope Dickson Leach who has a lot of experience with shorts and TV, fortunately, tries to treat it the opposite way.

The protagonist Clover (played by Ellie Kendrick) is coming back home after a long and not entirely voluntary absence only to see the farm where she grew up as a mess and her father as a wreck. The farm was almost destroyed by the floods earlier that year and the insurance company is not planning on paying, so her father Aubrey (David Throughton) is slowly selling his livestock. The reason for the visit is even darker, since Clover’s brother Harry (Joe Blakemore, only seen in flashbacks designed like amateur videos) has probably committed suicide earlier on, just after he had inherited the farm from his father, which makes little sense. Maybe Harry’s best friend and neighbour James (Jack Holden) knows a bit more about that fateful night and the party that supposed to be a celebration...

The Levelling tries to work on three levels, achieving a lot in the process and in the relatively short format of 83 minutes, but never going all the way on either one of them. The mystery of Harry’s death is more of a backdrop for the story and a part of an alibi for Clover’s staying before and after the funeral. It does not have to be solved. Social drama about the hardships of country life is pretty much the context, present throughout the film, but never a core subject.

Leach is really interested in another kind of mystery, the one that has to do with Aubrey’s depression and the deteriorated (and still deteriorating) relationship he has with Clover. She is not a stupid girl (her own line) and she has never been, but her father was quick to dismiss her as such. And Aubrey, once cold and poker-faced stone of a man that always cures himself with more work just cannot pull that kind of burden alone anymore, but is still stubborn enough not to work together with his daughter. It has something to do with some events in the past, but it is more of a character trait.

Shot in natural colours with predominant grays and browns by the DoP Nanu Segal and deliberately slow-paced, The Levelling is all about the gloomy atmosphere and small, realistic details. Things unsaid as the skeletons in the closet are divulged earlier on in the form of some badger cadavers buried in the ground. People are not all that eco. and animal-friendly, which is not necessarily a bad thing, they will bring food to an old farmer but will state that they will come back for the Tupperware. It is that kind of film, the one that drags a bit past the mid-point, but is not that life as we know it?

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