This absorbing feature debut from writer-director Hope Dickson Leach is expertly controlled and assembled, with convincingly detailed sets and a barely-there score which never crowds the central performances.
The Levelling is almost a two-hander, and there’s a lot of unresolved resentment and hostility between Clover (Ellie Kendrick) and her father Aubrey (David Troughton), but Dickson Leach never lets it get too claustrophobic. She uses her eye for a good composition to frequently open up the close-knit drama with beautiful observational shots of wildlife. While some of these seem like mere filler, the best are striking otherworldly sequences of waterlogged animals which allow the catalytic flooding to haunt the narrative’s present.
With Clover returning home after a long absence, The Levelling sometimes takes on the shape of a mystery as she tries to piece together events along with the audience. The importing of such a familiar structure at first seems misjudged, yet the screenplay doesn’t simply follow it through but develops back story and nuance, prioritising an emotion-led dramatisation of a scarred relationship over tidy explanatory closure.
Clover’s many questions make her seem a proxy for the curiosity of the audience, yet very little is revealed about her and so she remains engagingly enigmatic. Kendrick proves to be very well cast, conveying all the appropriate emotions while still allowing Clover to feel guarded, and Troughton gradually builds a character that could have been merely a clichéd stubborn curmudgeon into something far more sympathetic.
Always emotionally volatile yet never histrionic, The Levelling is an impressive directorial debut written, directed and acted with poise and a commitment to authenticity. The film seems an ideal union of creator, material and star, and sensitively plays tribute to the real-life sufferers of the 2014 floods while interestingly calling into question the reliability of human memory.
CAST: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden, Joe Blakemore
DIRECTOR: Hope Dickson Leach
WRITER: Hope Dickson Leach
SYNOPSIS: Somerset, October 2014. When Clover Catto receives a call telling her that her brother is dead, she must return to her family farm and face the father she hasn’t spoken to in years. As she learns what has been going on in her long absence she and her father forge a new understanding.