Director Hope Dickson Leach’s latest film The Levelling follows Clover (Ellie Kendrick), who is forced to return to her family farm in Somerset following the sudden death of her brother, Harry. However, when she arrives, she finds out her brother actually shot himself: her father Aubrey (David Troughton) claims it was an accident, that Harry was wasted at the time; the police, however, have ruled it a suicide, which Aubrey insists cannot be the case. Harry had just inherited the family farm and they’d been celebrating that same evening. He was, to all appearances, happy and optimistic about the future.
Although it sounds like the stereotypical setup to a murder mystery, The Levelling manages to avoid that route. This is pure human drama, through and through. Centring around the tense relationship between Clover and Aubrey, the films is fraught with decades of absence on one side and misunderstanding on the other. Harry’s death looms over both of them and especially over their relationship: Clover is struggling with her guilt surrounding her long absence and failure to realise anything was wrong with Harry, and its clear Aubrey too has his own demons to face.
The bleak landscape of the Somerset farm forms the perfect backdrop to this understated drama. The farm and house have been ravaged by the 2014 floods, and the insurance company’s failure to pay out has led to Aubrey living in a trailer on his own property. Clover’s surprise when she finds out – “but that was months ago!” – speaks volumes about the emotional distance between father and daughter. On top of all this there is still the day-to-day business of the farm to be carried out: the cows need to be milked, the fields need work and, most importantly, Harry’s funeral needs to be planned. This almost casual combination of heartbreak and anguish with everyday drudgery is surprisingly powerful and makes the emotions seem, somehow, even greater.
Emily Kendrick – best known as Meera Reed from Game of Thrones – is perfect as Clover. She’s not a melodramatic protagonist, and her understated emotions are both realistic and immensely relatable. David Troughton delivers a strong performance as the troubled Aubrey and, together, the two actors create a convincing story of heartbreak. That The Levelling is Dickinson Leach’s first feature film is surprising, since there isn’t a hint of uncertainty in the crafting and pacing of this film. Only 83 minutes long, the story being told is so beautifully contained within the film that its obvious Leach has used every scene with clear purpose.
Whilst it can definitely be bleak at points, at the same time The Levelling feels incredibly real and is definitely worth watching – British drama at its best.