After the sudden and suspicious death of her brother Harry, young trainee vet Clover (Ellie Kendrick) returns to the Somerset family cattle farm and the man she thought she’d escaped years ago; her ebulliently bullying father Aubrey (David Troughton).

Ravaged by the recent, almost Biblical, floods both the farm and her father are shadows of their former selves, Aubrey just about clinging on after the insurance company refused to pay out, reduced to living in a caravan in the shadow of his storm-damaged, dilapidated farmhouse, stubbornly refusing to admit Harry’s self-inflicted gunshot death during a wild party was anything other than a “stupid bloody accident.”

Torn apart by guilt and grief, Clover is determined to uncover the truth behind her brother’s suicide and to finally make a connection with the man she feels has pushed her away most of her life – her father.

Bleak and brooding, writer/director Hope Dickson Leach’s wintry debut feature, The Levelling, is almost comically miserable, a grim, intense exploration of grief, recrimination and guilt, a dysfunctional father and daughter coming to terms with the devastation wrought by a loved one’s suicide even as they try to find some common ground, to falteringly rebuild their fractured relationship, a relationship destroyed by old wounds and long nursed hurts.

Grounded in a muddy, rural reality of quiet desperation, one could argue that nothing much happens in The Levelling. One could equally argue that everything happens in The Levelling. As Ellie Kendrick’s pinched Clover strives to get to the bottom of her brother’s suicide or to forge some sort of relationship with Troughton’s Aubrey, the mundane intrudes; the cows still need to be rounded up and milked, basic maintenance needs to be done, those drainage ditches won’t dig themselves, someone’s got to sort the flowers for the funeral. Even in the face of devastation, whether the natural disaster that has befallen the farm or the unnatural death of a beloved son and brother, life goes on, Dickson Leach and cinematographer Nanu Segal beautifully capturing this landscape of decay and rebirth.

Veteran character actor Troughton is wonderful as the bluff, stern Aubrey, an emotionally repressed bull in a china shop, defeat as alien to him as honestly expressing the love and hurt he holds for his children while there’s strong support from Jack Holden as Harry’s best friend James who quietly nurses his own shame over Harry’s death. The real revelation though is Ellie Kendrick as Clover. Previously best known as that angry wee girl with the bow and arrow in Game Of Thrones, she gives an intense performance of brittle fragility, anger and emotional hurt warring across her face, suppressed, only bursting free in those moments when she’s alone in the shower or forced to euthanize a surplus calf with the same shotgun her brother killed himself with.

Understated and unshowy, The Levelling’s raw and unflinchingly unsentimental exploration of grief quietly announces the arrival of two major new British talents in Dickson Leach and Ellie Kendrick.


Movie Review: The Levelling
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