The Levelling

 

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Life on a Somerset farm centres on family conflicts that play out dramatically.

 

 Levelling, The

Ellie Kendrick

 

There was a time when one expected very little of British debutant filmmakers because so many of them opted for banal material in an attempt to be commercial. But that's no longer the case and the change has come about thanks to the emergence of directors with greater ambitions and talent to match. One can cite such works as Radiator (Tom Browne), The Survivalist (Stephen Fingleton), Second Coming (Debbie Tucker Green), Hinterland (Harry Macqueen) and The Goob (Guy Myhill). However, that means that the standards are high and Hope Dickson Leach, making her debut as a writer/director with The Levelling, a work of promise, is to some extent a victim of that.

 

The closest comparison that arises is with The Goob since that film which was set in Norfolk and this one filmed in Somerset are both rural dramas involving family conflict. Myhill's film was not perfect, but it sucked one in and became more and more involving. In contrast, The Levelling, despite holding the interest, does not compel belief, especially in its later stages. The story takes place on a dairy farm which, even before flooding causes havoc, has been struggling. The farmer is Aubrey Catto (David Troughton) who had been planning to hand over the farm to his son, but the film begins when his daughter, Clover (Ellie Kendrick), having earlier left home with plans to become a vet, returns due to the fact that her brother has died. Aubrey may want to see the death as an accident involving a gun, yet in truth this is a refusal to accept the fact that it was a suicide.

 

The mystery of this death may hang over The Levelling but the essential focus is on the troubled relationship between father and daughter. The pacing of the film and the quality of its images both indicate concern with art and Hope Dickson Leach has referred to the French filmmaker Bruno Dumont as an influence. However, this approach is adopted at some cost to the power of the storytelling while intercut shots of a hare caught up in surging water suggest a strained effort at significance through symbolism. Furthermore, the conflict between father and daughter reflecting as it does their different interpretation of earlier issues leads to a confrontation and a resolution that never quite convince. The Levelling feels to me like an ambitious undertaking earnestly done but somehow failing to convey to the viewer (or to this viewer at least) the emotional depth and connection that Hope Dickson Leach must have hoped to achieve.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden, Joe Blakemore, Clare Burt, Angela Curran, Stephen Chapman, Joe Attewell.

 

Dir Hope Dickson Leach, Pro Rachel Robey, Screenplay Hope Dickson Leach, Ph Nanu Segal, Pro Des Sarah Finlay, Ed Tom Hemmings, Music Hutch Demouilpied, Costumes Tess Loe.

 

Creative England/BBC FIlms/BFI/Oldgarth Media/Wellington Films/iFeatures-Peccadillo Pictures.
84 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 12 May 2017. Cert. 15.