The Levelling (2017)
Written & Directed by Hope Dickson Leach
Clover is a veterinary student estranged from her father, Aubrey. She has returned to the family farm in Somerset Levels wetlands in the south west of England in the wake of her brother, Harry’s death. Clover can tell right away that her brother’s death was a suicide despite Aubrey’s insistence that this was just an accident with a gun in the bathroom. The farm has been in decay since a massive flood which the insurance company would not pay out damages for. As Clover seeks the truth about what drove Harry to kill himself, she finds the tension between she and Aubrey growing.
The Levelling is one of those debut films that stuns you with how masterful the artist is at their craft. It is apparent from the first frames that Hope Dickson Leach was able to communicate her vision for this film to every member of her cast and crew. The director of photography, Nanu Leach, delivers a muted washed out and textured landscape. The sogginess of the land and earthiness of the people is translated perfectly. There is also a filth that is added to the pastoral vistas, a result of the flooding carrying human trash across the land and this does play a crucial part in the revelations Clover uncovers.
The acting in this picture is phenomenal and does the very thing I have praised shows like Mad Men for. The space between lines and reactions of actors to whom is speaking tells me more about an actor’s skill than the most brilliant and well-delivered monologue. Ellie Kendrick is likely best known to audiences as Meera Reid on Game of Thrones. The Levelling is a strong example that her talents were utterly underutilized on that program. Her portrayal of Clover is so steely and subtle, sudden unconvincing switches from breaking down emotionally in private to an attempt to appear fine to visitors. It speaks to that part of the audience that has ever tried to weather intense emotional trauma without revealing it to the people around you. Clover is determined that she doesn’t need to communicate with Aubrey and he is just as committed to continuing going along like it is business as usual.
The action of the film doesn’t jump around to too many locations, everything is centrally located in and around the farm. But in this limited space, Leach is able to tell a very layered and complicated story. In the same way, that silence between words communicates volumes about these characters and their relationship the waterlogged farmhouse tells us just as much about them. Clover’s old bedroom, full of anti-meat eating and Greenpeace posters and paraphernalia, informs us about how the conflict between she and Aubrey grew during her adolescence. When it’s revealed that during this time she began to try and show how things could be done better on the farm and Aubrey told her to leave, we realize we already knew this in the wordless way Leach explored the space.
The Levelling is a movie about the guilt people feel about leaving home, even if their relationships with the people they leave behind is broken and complicated. Clover is of this marshland no matter where she goes in the world. She begins to take over the duties of the farm as Aubrey starts to face the reality of his son’s death. Clover is faced with a terrible decision: leave her less than caring father and the farm that stirred a love for animals in her behind or stay and try to salvage what her brother died for.