The Levelling is a family drama directed by Hope Dickson Leach, who has previously only worked on short films and TV shows. Oftentimes the jump to a full-length film can cause difficulty in the scriptwriting process, and in this film it sometimes shows. I have a sneaking suspicion that this film’s basic concept was thought up as a short film originally, before making the transition to feature-length. The movie does drag, and there is a hefty amount of padding to push through, but when the important moments come along and the pacing picks up, they hit well and truly hard.
To call this film emotional wouldn’t really justify it. The word implies that there is a lot of crying and yelling and anger and sadness and all that, and while that is certainly present, they are justified by many more quiet moments. Our main character Clover, played by Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick, is constantly misunderstood and pushed away by, yet also misunderstanding of, her father, Aubrey. The two go together about as well as elves and dwarves in Lord of the Rings, that being they actively despise one another until they learn to accept their differences, by which point they co-exist harmoniously. Clover’s introverted nature means she often goes unnoticed and has done for much of her life. she struggles to articulate just how she feels after the sudden death of her brother, Harry, constantly reminding others she she’s okay and doesn’t need any help. This is the trait she tragically shares with Aubrey, who feels personally responsible for the fate of his son but refuses to come to terms with it. He has unknowingly mistreated Clover for much of her childhood and adult life, as a result of her inability to speak up about her problems causes all of that to happen. Clover tries many times to get her dad talking about the incident, but he simply waves her away and she isn’t able to muster the courage to persisst and support him regardless of the abuse he hurls her way. In a strange reverse form of mutualism, their personalities unwittingly clash, damaging and hurting one another without a single word.
These character, in those very few words, become so complex and layered through the smallest of interactions and the tiniest of throwaway comments, and the actors do wonderful jobs in portraying all of this. Kendrick especially is able to convey so much inner pain and torment through a single look and an awkward shuffle, and David Troughton, who plays Aubrey, portrays his character by having him avoid eye contact or make any meaningful connection with his daughter. Clover is never hugged or shown any semblance of love until it really matters, whilst Aubrey remains friendly with everyone except her. By the end, the circumstances of Harry’s death are made irrelevant as the estranged family is finally willing to accept one another.
The film focuses on the possibility that we know a lot less about the ones we love than we care to admit. Many secrets about Harry are revealed throughout the 83 minute runtime, causing Clover to question how well she really knew her brother. Aubrey is put into such shock that he refuses to believe that there was something he could’ve done for his son when he needed it most. However, Clover and Aubrey’s knowledge of one another is also tested. They are opposites in many respects: Aubrey believes in very traditional values whilst Clover is more modern; Aubrey has no trouble killing animals out of necessity whilst Clover is actively against the idea; Aubrey is very confident and outgoing whilst Clover keeps to herself and doesn’t stray into places she is unwanted. They juxtapose one another, but must to terms with that and work with it. They are only able to accept one another once they learn to overcome their flaws for each other. The ending itself is rather beautiful in that sense.
However, the film is not all positive. There is a lot of filler in this movie which could have been cut with no real repercussions. Entire scenes play out with no dialogue, no substance, and ultimately, no point. Upon seeing that aforementioned 83 minute runtime, it became clear instantly that these scenes were inserted for the expressed purpose of stacking up the film to feature-length. From the halfway point onwards, I kept thinking to myself a key question: would this work just as well, if not better, as a short film? And as the credits rolled, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that this is the case. The film lacks conciseness, and you can almost feel Leach struggling to justify its length as she writes. The aforementioned scenes aren’t necessarily bad and most of them at least add something to the narrative, but that “something” simply doesn’t hold them all together well enough.
Regardless, I would absolutely recommend The Levelling. Despite suffering from sometimes flabby segments, the moments that were required to work absolutely worked wonders. As someone who has thankfully never had to endure such a tragedy, it is made easy to imagine the kind of pain that one would experience after such a horrendous incident, and I can see the film resonating with a lot of viewers who have had similar experiences. It is clear that this movie comes from a personal place, and while it isn’t perfect, it definitely feels like the movie Hope Dickson Leach wanted to make. The Levelling won’t be for everyone, but if you want to see something refreshingly different for a change, here’s as good a place as any to start.