The Levelling is an unusual, well-made British first feature from writer and director Hope Dickson Leach.
After the Floodby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Set on a dairy farm in Somerset – the Somerset Levels – still recovering from the catastrophic floods of 2013-2014, Hope Dixon Leach’s film is grounded in the details of farm life and the natural world surrounding it. Amid the human drama there are cutaway flashes to a hare running across a field, an otter swimming, owls falling out of the sky.
It stars Ellie Kendrick from Game of Thrones as Clover Catto, the veterinary student who returns to the family farm for her brother’s funeral after his unexplained sudden death. She finds her estranged father Aubrey (veteran David Troughton) now living in a trailer in the yard because the farmhouse is still uninhabitable from the floods, a shadow of his former self.
The film opens with scenes of a wild open-air party, an outburst of light and fire, and their significance is revealed gradually as the story unfolds. Clover arrives at the farm to find the atmospheric, uneasy aftermath of a tragedy that no one will talk to her about. As she sets to, dons wellies and helps her father with the routine of looking after the cattle, their prickly relationship is difficult for both of them but it starts to change as they adjust to a new relationship. The secrets of a family that can’t communicate come to the surface as the funeral approaches.
The surrounding landscape is flat, sodden, muddy and overcast and somehow menacing, and the drama is correspondingly low key. As farm life carries on, dead animals are unearthed, a calf is born and hard decisions have to be made. Country life is treated with respect in the film. The floods were underreported and farmers are still fighting to get the rivers dredged again – they are working with land they love, Dickson Leach says, and they are the stewards of life.
Hope Dixon Leach is a talented new director to watch. The Levelling was produced though iFeatures and was made with an all-female camera crew and the production team were almost all female.
The Levelling had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2016 and its UK premiere at the London Film Festival in October 2016, screening in the First Feature competition. Dickson Leach’s award-winning short The Dawn Chorus is available online.