When her brother commits suicide, Clover does something she hasn’t done in ages: she goes home. ‘Home’ is a relative term – right now it’s the trailer beside a crumbling farmhouse damaged by floods where her surly father sleeps at night. Having just deeded the farm to his now-deceased son, her father is working at keeping what’s left of the farm running. Clover, meanwhile, is trying to piece together what would make her young, whole-life-ahead-of-him, brother put a gun to his head. Neither is mourning in a conventional way, and they’re certainly not doing it together.
The Levelling is somehow beautiful without trying to be. So is its star, Ellie Kendrick. There is strength and vulnerability to both. Shot on location in Somerset where floods actually did threaten farms, director Hope Dickson Leach was fascinated by the plight of farmers who invest so heavily in something so fickle as land. The Levelling, her first feature, is told from the stark perspective of people for whom life and death are matters of course. When death is part of business, part of the lifestyle, part of every day, what toll does it take, and at what remove do they experience more personal brushes with mortality?
Blunt emotions roil beneath a landscape of precise, economical film making. Dickson Leach keeps a cool, steady tone. Her lead, Ellie Kendrick, is perfectly distilled in her restrained performance, never boiling over in a role that could easily have been histrionic in less capable hands.
The Levelling had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, in its discovery section. Dickson Leach is in fact a discovery, and having discovered her, it will be just as important to keep an eye on her for great things to come.