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Film Review: The Levelling

23 August 17 words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy

Miriam Blakemore-Hoy reviews the independent, local film that's created a real buzz...

The Levelling is an independent, locally-produced film that’s been gathering a serious amount of attention recently, including nominations at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) and the London Film Festival. It's up-and-coming director Hope Dickson Leach's feature debut after the critically acclaimed shorts The Dawn Chorus and Morning Echo, and was produced by Nottingham based Rachel Robey (London to Brighton, Better Things).

It's a gritty drama set in a bleak and rural Somerset landscape. The small cast of characters are bound together through family secrets and tragedy as they negotiate a personal crisis against the wreckage of a blighted and struggling farming community being pulled under through flood and disease. Clover Catto is a veterinary student returning to her family's farm after the news of her brother Harry's sudden death. She finds the farm littered with detritus from the party where her brother died, and tension hangs heavy in the air.

Slow paced yet measured, there is a suggestion of folk horror influences right from the start with flashbacks of ritualistic orgy-like scenes of her brother and his friends dancing around a bonfire. As the story progresses, nothing appears certain and the audience is drawn in to expect anything to happen at any moment, with a sense that the potentially gruesome lurks around every corner. The strain that the characters are under is absorbed into the audience until the room is palpable with it.

All the way through I can’t shake the feeling that something very dark is going to come creeping out of the plot and scare us all to death, and I find myself literally on the edge of my seat. Yet the real darkness lurking here seems to be what each character carries around inside themselves, each filled with repressed desires, words unspoken and lies. There is mystery surrounding Clover's brother and his life before he died and it is up to her to figure out the missing pieces. It's not just about finding out what happened, but also why.

Ellie Kendrick (Game of Thrones) shines in the role of Clover – showing the breadth of her talent and potential as she carries the film, together with excellent performances from David Troughton (Fingersmith, The Hollow Crown) and Jack Holden (Journey's End).

The cinematography in the hands of Nanu Segal is sublime, giving the film a lilting, dreamlike quality. This is perfectly complimented by sound designer Ben Baird's mastery in creating the perfect atmosphere to match the bleak landscape.

The powerful imagery of a hare fighting its way across the landscape, swimming, drowning, running for its life intersperses the action, leaving the audience to make their own conclusions as to what it represents - definitely a fight for survival, but who's doing the fighting and what they are fighting for is down to interpretation.

It’s a film that will stay with you, long after the credits have rolled. Is it a tale of possible redemption and hope or one of darkness and despair? I'll leave it to you to find out.

You can buy The Levelling on DVD now.

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