With Game of Thrones finally back on our screens after an excruciatingly long wait, there seems no better time for Ellie Kendrick's phenomenal lead performance in The Levelling to reach DVD and Blu-ray. Better known to Thrones fans as Meera Reed, Kendrick has often been one of the most overlooked cast members. Yet beyond George R. R. Martin's wintery world, Ellie has made a name for herself over the years in various projects such as The Diary of Anne Frank, Misfits and most recently on stage in Gloria to rave reviews. It's no surprise that Hope Dickson Leach was more than happy to have Kendrick lead her debut alongside David Troughton (son of Patrick of Doctor Who fame) and Jack Holden (best known for the West End play War Horse).
Telling the tale of a Somerset farm and the people that struggle to keep it alive, The Levelling balances the splendour of location with the underlying terrors and devastation of relationships torn apart and an industry that fights every day to stay alive. Kendrick plays Clover, a strong minded independent girl who has ambitions beyond the limits of the household. While the influences are clear in her career choice of becoming a vet, this isn't something she feels needs to be tied to the farm itself. A tragedy involving her brother brings her back to the place of her childhood and her strained relationship with her father Aubrey (Troughton) makes for some tough and challenging scenes along the way. Both Kendrick and Troughton are powerhouses here with an emotional range and believability that keeps your attention and throws gut punches all over the place. There are twists and turns along the way with secrets coming out, but they never feel like twists for the sake of it and that’s an important lesson Dickson Leach has learned early.
The setting gives the film a quintessential British feel to the film but the character dynamic and context of the overall storyline is something that anyone can relate to worldwide. Dickson Leach uses the floods as a catalyst for bringing the father and daughter back together to face their fears and issues, things that are buried deep inside and brought to the surface through tragic circumstances. There's a huge cinematic scope here with the visuals of Somerset yet The Levelling also manages to feel very personal at the same time. Through their time together both Clover and Aubrey seek answers, and this journey is cathartic for the both of them and the viewers too. It would be easy to get lost in all the farming lingo and debate about animals but really that's not what we're here for. This is an intimate family portrait we just happen to get a window into.
Nothing about Dickson Leach's vision here feels unreal or unbelievable which is why it feels so uncomfortable to watch. The familiarity of wanting more for yourself, while trying to stay loyal to your own relatives and doing the best you can for them is something many of us are faced with through our lives. Parents will watch this and recognise the difficult nature of trying to fight your way out of an inevitable downfall, especially with a career like farming. It's frustrating, upsetting and disturbing all at the same time and it takes a special talent like Ellie Kendrick to deliver such a highly charged performance without it feeling too over the top. There are quiet reflective moments as we go along, and Leach balances these out well, but on the whole it's an unrelenting story that shows how dysfunctional and challenging life can be.
The Levelling is as dark and unsettling as any movie I've seen in recent memory. Dickson Leach has a way with her writing and direction that puts the viewer right there with the characters, feeling uneasy with an overbearing sense of foreboding that doesn't let up right from the initial scene to when the end credits roll. Focusing on realism with a subtle tension, Dickson Leach displays a surprisingly confident mastery of her characters to the point where you would never realise this was her debut. The Levelling truly puts her on the map as one to watch in the future.
EXTRAS: The eaturette Working On The Levelling gives some good insight into the overall process of filmmaking and the Somerset location, while In Conversation With Hope Dickson Leach shows the passion and enthusiasm that Dickson Leach has for the story and her cast. This is reciprocated in the interviews with Ellie Kendrick, Jack Holden & David Troughton, all of which speak highly of Dickson Leach, her writing and working methods. Overall it's a solid package of extras that reaffirm the feeling you get when you're watching the movie – that the cast and crew believe in the strength of the material and that they're involved in something quite special.