During a party late at night on the farm, there was a tragedy when the son of the farmer shot himself. It is believed to be a suicide, and his sister Clover (Ellie Kendrick) has no choice but to return home and see if she can assist - at the very least she can help with the funeral. However, on her arrival she sees the whole place, where she grew up, is in a very bad way, initially she believes thanks to the river nearby bursting its banks a few months before, but then she comes to realise this is merely the latest in a series of mismanagements that led to her brother's untimely demise. Can she make her father Aubrey (David Troughton) aware of this, and is she welcome at all?
The Levelling was Hope Dickson Leach's feature debut after testing the waters with a handful of short works, and in the main was very well received, if predictably not exactly on blockbuster success at the box office. It took a very pressing topic and made drama out of, not histrionic for that would have turned a sympathetic audience away, but quiet and measured to allow us and Clover the opportunity for the upset to truly sink in. The topic was the suicide rates of farmers, which had been a problem for some time before this was made, the pressure of staying afloat and the easy availability of guns meaning that the temptation to end it all was too much for some to resist.
What this did not do was present a solution, so do not go looking for a social lesson or constructive criticism about the society that permitted such deeds to take place, it was more an examination of the aftermath and in that way a warning to those who were considering taking their own lives of what you would leave behind, which in this case was a group of bewildered people damaged by association with the act itself. In that manner it was as much a self-help guide for the survivors of suicide, though the message that it was essential to communicate, among those who were depressed or if the worst came to the worst, those who were affected by it, was the same however it went.
Kendrick at the time, and probably ever after, was best known for megahit fantasy series Game of Thrones, but you cannot sustain a career with one role unless you're one of those soap opera actors (and even then), so she cannily chose this with which to demonstrate she was well able to carry a vehicle of her own: she was in more or less every scene, and Clover was the focus of the emotions and potentially the only person with the capability of allowing some form of healing to play out. She did not get a lot of chances to show her lighter side, and although it was not all doom and gloom it did appear to be mostly that once the story had reached its conclusion, yet Leach was not about to leave us bereft of hope, since that would go against the anti-suicide themes she was keen to weave into the plot.
Whether The Levelling was going to open up a debate on the subject dear to its heart was debatable in itself, as too often you sense it was dismissed as yet another miserable Britflick for a tiny audience, but Leach displayed a skill with her material, not least because she said all she needed to say in a compact running time well under an hour-and-a-half. We don't need Clover to point out the family farm is running itself into the ground, and there were dejected scenes of her setting about the business of culling a calf (mostly because her increasingly inept father demands it) or washing the gore from the walls and floor where her brother blew his brains out. She is pandering to Aubrey to keep him on a level that would sustain both himself and his farm, though he refuses to give anything back, not unfriendly but in clear denial of what this life has done to his nearest and dearest, and Troughton matched his screen daughter every step of the way in an empathetic combination of actors getting it right. It may have been simply too desolate for most, but the last sequence moved for all that. Music by Hutch Demouilpied.