Hope Dickson Leach’s debut drama is one that addresses of a number of issues as a father and daughter attempt to understand the son’s recent brutal death whilst coming to terms with their own differences – their confrontations from the past and their expectations for the future. It is an utterly compelling character based piece set in an agricultural environment that is a realistically portrayed example of family grief.
Clover (Ellie Kendrick) is studying to become a veterinarian, living away from the family farm in Somerset run by her father Aubrey (David Troughton) who has recently given the operation to her brother Harry (Joe Blakemore). But her studies are cut short when Harry dies, forcing her to return home. He shot himself in the head after an evening of drinking and partying at a barbecue to celebrate his taking over of the farm. Clover struggles to understand what has happened: “Aubrey said it was an accident,” but the police are not so sure. When Clover asks them, “You think it’s suicide and not an accident then?” their response is clear “You don’t accidentally put a gun in your mouth.” This leads to Clover investigating the lead up to the tragic events whilst having to cope with her relationship with her often drunk and frequently aggressively tempered father who has his own perspective on events as well as the future of the family and the farm. The business has been in trouble for some years and their problems do not seemed to have been resolved since the floods in 2014 that ruined the farmhouse, which is still unrestored, raising issues of insurance, inheritance and the consequences of Harry’s death.
In one of the interviews in the extras provided with the film Ellie Kendrick explains the motivation of her central character: “To reconnect with her father and come to terms with the demons of the past,” which sums up the purpose of the film in a nutshell. Harry’s potential suicide is the focus which helps us to analyse the relationships between father and kin and the past issues that have blighted all of their lives. Clover was clearly a natural farmer and obvious successor to her father but determinedly left the family home to pursue her own goals, even if, in their own ways, they are related to the family agricultural business. This, then, is emphasised by her father’s apparent disapproval of everything she has undertaken, often after swigging his whiskey, leading her to berate him by declaring “I’m about to be qualified as a vet, I’m not stupid.” Aubrey’s attitude has, for the most part, not altered since his actions led Clover to leave home and he still abides by his mantra to her that he tries to place on her shoulders now as then “Just go. Go if you like.”
The relationship focus is predominantly that surrounding the losses and misunderstandings of the family but there are nods to the wider community that sees unpaid party farming boy James (Jack Holden) helping out with a number of chores as well as revealing some of the truth behind Harry’s problems, as well as a number of neighbours who try to assist in any way they can, bringing flowers and food to an often ungrateful Aubrey. In focussing on the reason for Harry’s death, the film also addresses wider issues of farming and agriculture – the precarious financial situation that farmers face as well as a realistic and honest portrayal of some of the harsh decisions that need to be made, such as that of culling a newborn male calf who can provide no commercial value to the business.
The Levelling is an remarkable debut about grief within a family coming to terms with a number of tragic situations, which is enhanced by delicately shot scenes of the countryside which accentuate the locational constraints as well as the physical and emotional claustrophobia of the characters, all enhanced by a realistically portrayed cast. The extras on the DVD helpfully provide interviews which discuss the context and background to the film-making.