Monday 16 January 2023

Mubi Monday: The Levelling (2016)

I've seen quite a few movies and TV shows recently that seem to be focused on families and pain. Maybe you can't have one without the other. You certainly can't have a strong connection to someone without an increased worry about losing them, that much is for sure. The Levelling is about loss, but it's about someone losing their life in a way that creates a sudden void in the lives of others, perhaps urging them to rethink whether or not they want to stay disconnected from other people who share their worries and hurt.

Ellie Kendrick plays Clover, a young woman who has to return to the family farm after receiving the news that her younger brother, Harry, has shot himself. This means that Clover has to deal with her father, Aubrey (David Troughton), a man who doesn't seem to view her as the capable and intelligent young woman she is. There's also a few lads ready to help work on getting the farm back into shape, including James (Jack Holden), who was a friend to Harry. The more that Clover discovers about the way her brother was running the farm, the more questions start to arise. 

A slow-moving film, The Levelling shows just how suddenly drops of grief and resentment can build up to create a raging river. The title of the film can be taken a number of different ways, but I think it mainly refers to the accusatory tone that Clover and her father aim at one another, as well as a reminder that death itself IS the great leveller. Bearing that in mind, many scenes work as well as they do because of the layers of what is said, what is unsaid, and what is being twisted up in the pained minds of characters who aren't necessarily the best communicators in the best of circumstances.

Writer-director Hope Dickson Leach does well with her feature debut, keeping everything nicely tight and focused, thematically, and allowing for many moments that show characters working around one another, whether that is trying to run the farm or trying to get answers to probing questions. Although it’s a very small central cast, basically just a two-hander for many scenes, Leach is also helped by having the right people onscreen.

Kendrick and Troughton are both equally excellent, the former trying to keep her hurt and confusion contained while keeping herself busy on the farm, the latter realising just how his life has suffered from the loss of his children, even before the sudden death of his son. Holden does very well in his one or two main scenes, and Joe Blakemore appears in flashback to give us the very briefest glimpse of the deceased Harry.

Not necessarily an easy watch, it is cold and slightly awkward at times, but that is how it should be. That is how it can feel when grief forces people to reunite, to reconsider the past, present, and future, and to keep everything moving along when all you really want to do is hide under a duvet and cry your heart out.


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